Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Personal Branding

Management guru Tom Peters is said to have first used the term personal branding in a 1997 issue of Fast Company Magazine:”To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” Since that time, the topic personal branding has gained increasing attention in our economically strained and fiercely competitive business environment. For a definition, I turn to branding expert Dan Schawbel. He describes personal branding as “the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. This way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.”

Two weeks ago I coincidentally attended three different personal branding sessions within 5 days. It just happened to be scheduled this way and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to look at the topic from different perspectives. So let me start by giving credit to the experts that spoke at these lecture and networking events: Actor, speaker, and trainer David Mann, consultant Chuck Bolton, and connection consultant and branding expert Kathleen Crandall shared their thoughts and wisdom and triggered me to look at personal branding from multiple perspectives. They provided their audiences with engaging and lively presentations containing questions and exercises to help formulate your personal brand.
I will share what I took away from these sessions in the form of questions for you to consider. Some of the questions overlap, but stating a question in a different way can trigger different thoughts and ideas. The answers to these questions can lead to your specific personal branding statement, starting with a twitter-size opening statement.  To this opening statement you add about two minutes including a story and your promise. The two minutes is a guideline, of course, but remember that people lose their focus quicker than any of us want to admit, and during speed-networking sessions or large gatherings, two minutes is probably all you have to leave the best possible impression, reflecting your expertise, your values, how you stand out, and what you deliver and promise.

The questions:
1.    Which are your five most important values that you live and work by?
-      What do you stand for?

2.    Why are you in this role?
- Convey who you are, clear and swift

3.    What happens because of you?
-      Referring to results, changes, growth and the like

4.    What is a good story that puts it all together and brings to live what you accomplish with your products/services?
-      Stories elicit emotions, speak to the imagination, draw attention, and thereby make it easier for people to remember you.

5.    In addition to the use of stories, how can you best grab attention?

6.    What do you want your clients to experience?
-      How can you move from what you do to what your client will see and experience?

7.    Whereto do you lead and how do you lead?

8.    What results and behaviors do your stakeholders need from you?

9.    How well do you walk your talk and how can you improve this?

10. Are your head (beliefs and strategy), heart (values and emotions), and hands (delivery, execution) collaborating towards the same purpose?

Your Personal Branding Text will be based on the answers to above questions and contain:
-      A brief, twitter–size opening statement that communicates the core and catches attention.
-      The desired experience: “I want you / your organization to benefit from … in such and such a way.”
-      The brief story
-      Your brand promise: “The promise (in terms of results and service) I deliver upon is … and I accomplish this through …”

You can cross check your statement by confirming that the three elements that Schawbel describes are present:

1.    Value Proposition: What do you stand for?

2.    Differentiation: What makes you stand out?

3.    Marketability: What makes you compelling?

Some last reminders:
Speak plainly, make it personal, know that images speak louder than facts, know that it is your body that’s really telling your story, know that voice says more than words, and practice, rehearse, and revise this statement and let people who know you provide you with feedback.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A conversation that moves forward – empathy and provocation

Whether you have a conversation with a business partner, your subordinate, a colleague, or with a friend or family member, I assume you aspire to really move forward in and through that conversation. In my work as a coach, trainer, and psychologist, I have seen many cases in which the highly regarded Rogerian empathic responses are being over-used and misused. When relied on too heavily and one-sidedly, they do not provide the necessary guidance and input to move the conversation forward but rather stall the conversation or keep it in so called ‘safe waters’.

Let me assure you: Empathy is crucial in relationships and in life. Empathic people can see the world through other people’s eyes. Empathy helps you understand the other person’s point of view, needs, and responses. Without empathy I would not be able to accomplish coaching and training goals as I do, nor would I enjoy the deep and reciprocal relationships that I do. Neither would you. For a good reason, empathy is one of the main elements of Daniel Goleman’s widely researched emotional intelligence. Your skillfulness in empathy impacts the satisfaction and the effectiveness of all your interactions. But, but, but. Empathy is not the end station, it is not the only element, and, above all, it should never provide an excuse for not confronting someone with feedback nor should it serve as a wall behind which you hide when facing difficult, painful, or unexpected situations that warrant an honest conversation.

I suggest that you carefully consider which approach and techniques to use in what circumstances. I suggest that you are aware of your motives for choosing one technique before another. Is it mere luck, convenience, coincidence, ease, or deliberate planning on the road to specific goals? Do you choose an empathic response as the best response given where you are in the conversation and in the relationship, and given the goal you are trying to accomplish, for example establishing trust or communicating understanding? Or do you choose an empathic response to avoid forming (or better: voicing) your opinion and risking a possible confrontation? Do you choose an empathic response because you are at a loss what to say or do next but reluctant to admit this impasse? Do you choose an empathic response to avoid taking responsibility, to avoid taking risks when things get tough and don’t run smoothly?

What do you do, when, what the person really needs, is a confrontation with his blind spots or when the person would benefit from a totally different perspective than his own but one he might not enjoy, at least initially? Too often I have witnessed managers shying away from one of their core responsibilities: taking action when an employee’s performance is not up to par. Of course, confronting an employee performance problem or an attitude issue is a difficult task, no denying that. It is one of the most avoided responsibilities, but it doesn’t have to be and, above all, it shouldn’t be, if personal and organizational effectiveness is on the top of your agenda (and of course, if the manager can trust his superiors to be supportive).

In many ways, coaches face similar challenges even though their relationship with the person who has performance issues is surely very different. As a coach or mentor you do not have to face the employee on a daily basis and you’re not responsible for him in a way the manager is. Still, too many coaches, and psychologists, shy away from much needed confrontations and provocations. Call it fear of rejection, call it the desire to stay in the so desired comfort zone, call it (misplaced) respect, or call it Dutch Directness, New York Honesty, or Minnesotan Nice. I don’t care what you call it, effectiveness, trust, personal growth, productivity and much more is at stake when you keep beating around the bush or avoid discussions about mishaps, blind spots, failings, darker sides, disruptive beliefs, or annoying habits.

So here is my take on the place and use of empathy, confrontation, and provocation. Yes, empathy is the number one building block to create rapport, to build a trusting relationship. Empathy should be a fundamental given in any relationship or conversation, including that of a manager, coach, or anyone. But know when empathy is not enough, when it’s in need of a more direct companion that can really move the conversation forward. With empathy as a given, you add a touch of confrontation and a dash of provocation wherever useful, despite the risk of temporary cooling down of the relationship because of shock, denial, fear, embarrassment, or any other response.

When you want to move someone toward specific goals, when you facilitate a journey of exploration and growth, or when you discuss a performance issue just to name three circumstances, it is important to not be afraid to share your opinion and to stir things up and provoke, as long as it’s based on a positive and mutually agreed upon goal and a strategy to get there. By plain mirroring the world, no coach, manager, co-worker, or psychologist moves conversations and people forward. If you avoid contradictions that lie within everyone, you are counterproductive in the face of change and growth. Respectful and thoughtful confrontation and provocation have its place in conversations and in facilitating learning and development. Confrontation and provocation, however, should never be perceived as rude, offensive, or provocative for the sake of provocation only. The real goal is to shift paradigms, to remove blind spots, to increase effectiveness, to add uncommon perspectives, and to get someone moving better or faster, or getting them to move at all! For crucial conversations to turn into valuable tools for learning and growth you sometimes need disturbing questions, upsetting perspectives, refreshingly new frame works, and responses that challenge beliefs and assumptions in addition to empathy.   

With thanks to Dutch authority on provocative work Jaap Hollander, who inspired me in the provocative approach, and to Frank Farrell, a brilliant therapist who is considered the founder of this approach and who developed provocative therapy while working with severely disturbed clients in an inpatient ward, exploring previously unheard of beliefs and practices to promote true and resilient change in chronic and recalcitrant patients. One of Frank’s clients is said to have remarked: "He is the kindest, most understanding man I have ever met in my whole life, wrapped up in the biggest son of a bitch I have ever met."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The other side of the Inner Critic: Too Little, Too Late?

In contrast to the overly active and harsh Inner Critic that I discussed in my previous post, I’d like to emphasize the other extreme in this post: The person with too little inner critic.

I’m sure you’ve met these people who don’t seem to worry about mistakes, or worse, they don’t even perceive them to be mistakes. Or, if they do, it has nothing to do with them, of course. Others and circumstances are to blame. There are ample examples cluttering our news these days. Or the colleague who does not seem to feel bad about failing, who does not see the need for corrections, and who continues with an inflated self-esteem still ten times bigger than yours at your best. Or how about the leader who exercises hardly any (detectable) self-evaluation and self-criticism.  And this one: The manager who tolerates only positive experiences and facts and does not accept anyone pointing out difficulties, problems or negative aspects of a situation or proposal let alone pointing out any flaws in the manager’s way of thinking, acting, and choosing. The above people can often be hard to work with, especially when things change course and don’t go as expected.

Many more examples abound, but the bottom line is an under-active, underused inner critic that could otherwise assist the person with reality checks and help him advance insights, skills, and results if it were activated better and more frequently.

For the purpose of this article I will place people with an under-active inner critic into one of three groups:

1.   People who have so far gotten away with not exercising too much reflection and self-evaluation and who have somehow not received adequate feedback (sometimes hardly any at all), or who have been able to effectively fend off the feedback that was given, resulting in very little insights into their blind spots and weaknesses. Here we stumble on people who generally don’t have bad intentions nor are they necessarily unwilling. It just hasn’t occurred to them much, they have not been very active in the field of personal development (or just from one perspective) and people around them have remained silent or ineffective in their communication of feedback.

2.   People who do (or once did) hear the inner critic but are too afraid (even though they don’t seem to be) to pay attention to it in an impossible quest to appear infallible, in control, and superior, generally born out of deep-rooted insecurity that they have learned to mask with an attitude and appearance of seemingly high self-confidence, invincibleness, and arrogance. Eventually these people will not hear their inner critic anymore. Denial, suppression, and projection abound, even though they might show themselves larger than life and with an inflated ego.

3.   Increasingly worrying, the third category is the domain of psychopathology where we find psychopaths, sociopaths, and the like, who, strange as it may sound, do have an operating inner critic but it has gone all awry in the worst possible way.

I will leave this third category for other blogs to discuss, and just want to remind readers that we all have a responsibility in at least attempting to provide people with an under-active inner critic of the first two categories with the necessary feedback in a way that chances are highest for them to listen and contemplate. This is not an easy task and it requires insight into personalities, into the effect of certain styles of communication, and it requires, not least of all, courage and persistence – but it is doable. And not just doable but very needed especially at higher levels in organizations, where I too often encounter managers and leaders who go unchallenged, who receive reviews that leave out the critics that were never voiced, either out of politeness, cultural norms, fear for reprisal, or any other reason. This is damaging to the person, eventually, and more importantly, it’s damaging to the organization as a whole. Make sure you know you’ve done all you know to do to provide others with clear, respectful, useful feedback to help them better develop (or listen to) their inner critic in order to grow and learn.

So to answer the questions in the title: Too little inner critic? Yes! Too late for developing the inner critic?  Hardly ever! And if you happen to be one of the people with an underused inner critic, don’t wait for a scandal or a disaster to happen and trigger you.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taming Your Internal Critic

Something you do not want to take with you into this brand new year is an overly active “internal critic” who is constantly judging, criticizing, and condemning you.

“Good isn’t good enough, look at others, they’re so much better.”

“Don’t you dare mess this up, you’ll be a failure.”

“How come you still haven’t mastered this yet. That’s pretty darn dumb!”

I’m sure you at least recognize one of these internal messages, and they are totally fine as long as it’s a first response rather than a strong and persistent belief that greatly affects how you think, feel, and respond.

Just to be clear, absolutely everyone has an inner critic, a disapproving inner voice, and in fact, this is originally a good thing. Part of the inner critic is the rational analysis of self, a mechanism that can be helpful to understand and anticipate criticism as long as it doesn’t harm your self-concept in the long term. In addition, your critical inner voice originally had good intentions: It wants to help you succeed in life and it strives for a great job and wonderful relationships. It wants for people to love you and it likes to see you happy and successful.

So where does this inner critic come from and how does it develop into a liability rather than an asset? Your internal critic was formed when you were a young child. It is based on messages you received from parents, caretakers, and other significant people in your life. These messages were internalized into your own ‘little parent’, into your ever present critical voice. Its goal was to protect you by teaching you to adjust to the world and to the people around you in order for you to meet people’s expectations. For the internal critic to be functioning well it had to keep your desires and demands under control. This was done through stern and strict criticizing and correcting of your behavior so that negative comments and disapproval from the outside world could be prevented. This is, to a certain extent, a helpful mechanism, however, for many people their critical inner voice grew wild and out of control, acting too eagerly and fanatically, thereby defeating its own purpose and threatening you and bringing you down more than helping you and lifting you up.

To make matters even worse, an overactive internal critic is hard to recognize as an originally protective mechanism. Its messages wrongly turn into set facts that are not debatable. The inner critic conveys messages that turn what was supposed to be a helpful guideline, into harsh and judgmental commands. Your inner critic does not know (anymore) how to moderate and control itself and is like a wild, dangerous animal on the loose. Many experts believe that the self-criticism of your inner critic is almost always destructive, rarely constructive. They state that a habit of internal criticism will penetrate to your very essence, and you will think and feel like a failure in important life areas. Sometimes the critical self judgments will be so pervasive that you can feel like a total failure. Of course we are talking of a very active and wild inner critic which you might or might not recognize. The important thing is that you do not need to continue these anxious, depressed, hopeless ways of thinking. Cognitive behavioral techniques can provide the necessary correction and relief, and for some just common sense.

Before we move on to helpful techniques to counteract the harsh critic and the negative self judgments that damage your self-esteem and impact your functioning, I want to stress again that the above is not the complete story of the inner critic. That would not be a very hopeful picture, of course, but more importantly, it would not be a realistic one either. I am sure it is obvious that there are vast differences between people in the effectiveness of their inner critic. For some people it still functions as a helpful companion to get closer to whatever goals they have set out to pursue. Not everyone’s inner critic is out of control or devastating.  But for those whose inner critic took over, there are successful ways to detect and correct your inner critic before it runs wild or turns for the worse, so that it can be working in your best interest again. There are ways to regain control over your beliefs about yourself and the world around you.

In order to detect a dysfunctional inner critic you have to borrow from cognitive psychology and its tools like the RET, the Rational Emotive Training, also known as the Rational Effectiveness Training. According to cognitive psychology and the RET our emotions are caused not by situations or people but by the way we perceive them, by the beliefs we hold of them. Some beliefs and some lines of thinking are healthier and more rational than others.

Recognizing and minimizing mistakes in perception and thinking

In order to use cognitive techniques to keep your inner critic under control, you first have to be aware of and understand which particular perception and thinking mistakes you make. The most common ones are:

1.   Black-and-white thinking, e.g. dividing your characteristics and qualities into absolute all or nothing categories.

2.   Identifying yourself with your characteristics and your mistakes, thinking that this is who you are. 

3.   Exaggerating, such as looking at a one-time negative experience as a recurring situation rather than realizing it is an incident - nothing more, nothing less.

4.   Mental filtering: the tendency to convert neutral or positive experiences into negative ones and constantly preoccupying yourself with these ‘negative’ experiences.

5.   Mind reading: this refers to the tendency to instantly and persistently think you know what others are thinking, including what they think about you, like that people look down on you and think negatively of you, without any verification whether this assumption is correct.

6.   The crystal ball: predicting the future with an ever bad ending without any sensible data supporting this prediction.

7.   Responding emotionally: using your emotions as the basis for your thoughts and actions rather than the other way around. One example is: “I feel inferior so I must be inferior.”  

8.   Should/must be – should/must have thinking: criticizing yourself with should-haves and overly strict rules and impossible demands.

9.   Self-blame or accountability gone wild: holding just you responsible for things that have happened (or not happened) in situations where you are only partly or totally not responsible. Be assured, this is not a plea against personal accountability which I regard as a crucial element of a healthy person and a healthy society.

In many cases, knowing these ‘faulty beliefs and thoughts’ and being aware of when they pop up, can help you tame your internal critic. Extra measures to take include:
1.   Repeating short, concrete sentences  like: “Stop, this is bad for my self-
confidence and it’s not getting me anywhere.”

2.   Confirming your self-esteem by realizing that your worth as a person doesn’t change with a mistake, and it is not just comprised of your failures. Your self-esteem starts with accepting who you are, with your strengths and you’re your shadows. (This is again, not a license to not hold yourself accountable. It is just a license not to condemn and criticize yourself overly.)

3.   Make the internal critic redundant by a healthier handling of:
a.    The absolute need to do everything right, the first time.
b.    An over-concern with praise and a total melt-down in the absence of praise.
c.    The need to control all negative feelings like the feelings associated with failing. The good news and the bad news is one and the same: Everyone who lives and takes risks, will fail at some point in time. Fail forward and upward by learning from it and by realizing that failing is part of living.
d.   Fear of rejection, anger, and frustration. Three feelings commonly known as ‘negative’ feelings but they are part of life. Know them, see them developing, curb them where you can and accept that they are part of life just as joy, pride, and happiness are.

4.   Be kind to yourself. People with a strong internal critic usually haven’t properly learned to be kind and to take care of themselves. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Are you highly critical of yourself? Do you just see that slight dent in your nose and that pimple on your cheek that seems to be growing more and more important as you look into that mirror longer? These perceptions and thoughts leave you feeling inadequate and unattractive. Or do you notice that your hair has a beautiful shine to it and that your eye lashes are long and beautiful, despite the dent and the pimple that are also there?  The picture in the mirror, of course, remains the same, but what you focus on, whether it’s when looking in the mirror or when evaluating your day or your skills and accomplishments, your positive and caring thoughts about yourself make a difference in terms of your mood and your self-esteem, and therefore in your next steps and the results you create.

5.   Last, the way you handle guilt and mistakes is often related to the internal critic. Guilt is only a helpful emotion up to the point where it leads to insights and correction and where ever it leads to more responsible future behavior. For many people, however, guilt simply leads them into feeling bad, worried and depressed, possibly avoiding the issue or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Remember, guilt can go on forever, while a mistake, so common for humans, can often be corrected.

To sum it all up: Don’t allow your inner critic to become a source of self-criticism, shame, worries, depression, and a lack of self-esteem. Know that your inner critic is always present and will never be satisfied, so better learn to tame and control it rather than trying to satisfy it. Don’t let your inner critic convince you that others are necessarily better, smarter, more beautiful. Tame your inner critic into a voice that, in a mild and friendly manner, reminds you that something might not be such a good idea rather than yelling “What a stupid idea, once again” at you.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The many faces of integrity – with thanks to Al Watts

Integrity. Seems like a perfect topic to me to start with in 2012.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining a diverse group of business people and entrepreneurs in a discussion on integrity, led by consultant, coach, and author Al Watts of inTEgro. Al’s extensive business experience, his personality, and the wisdom derived from his other endeavors combined with the multiple perspectives and experience from the audience made this an energizing and inspiring morning. Top this off with an engaging speaker who turns the often as ‘fuzzy’ described concept of integrity into a practical one, and you can imagine how I left this early morning meeting.

Al Watts convinces many leaders to make integrity their #1 business strategy, and for a good reason. Integrity has as many faces as it has benefits. Borrowed from Gardner and colleagues, Al talks about the Triple E of “Good Work”. It has to be effective (which organization doesn’t strive for that?), it has to be engaging (we all know that engagement significantly increases accountability, focus, motivation, and therefore effectiveness), and ethical (something we all think we strive for and deem important but it doesn’t, in my opinion of course, show in many of the “operating procedures”). At the heart of these three E’s and overlapping all three of them is Integrity. So what’s this thing called ‘integrity’, a term that has been popular for some time and that turns many conversations on financial organizations or on the obscure practices of too many businesses into heated discussions?

Dictionary.com defines integrity as:

1.    adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

2.    the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished

3.    a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition

And Merriam Webster defines integrity as

1.    firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility

2.    an unimpaired condition : soundness

3.    the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

Al Watts argues that the basic ingredients for integrity (resulting in effective, ethical, and engaging work and results) are identity, authenticity, alignment, and accountability, topics I have blogged about repeatedly and from different perspectives. Let me be clear about this, I have added some thoughts and questions, but most of what follows in this post is based on the beliefs and insights of Al Watts.  

A closer look at these four main ingredients

Identity: Can you answer the following questions regarding your identity, whether you’re a leader, a freshly hired youngster or anything in between:

1.    Who are you?

2.    Which are your strengths and your shadows?

3.    Which are the defining moments in your life?

4.    What do you value?

5.    Which are your principles?

6.    Where are you going?

7.    Which are your purpose and goals?

Can you really answer these questions? And how have they changed over time? What caused them to change? What can possibly endanger your values, principles etc.?

Authenticity: Can you answer the following questions regarding authenticity:

1.    Are you true – really true – to your mission, your vision, and your values?

2.    What would other people say about your trueness?

3.    To what extent do you turn your promises into promises ‘made good’?

4.    Are you truth-seeking in all situations and circumstances?

5.    Are you courageous and eager enough to be truth-telling, no matter what?

6.    When are you and when are you not?

7.    Do you know what drives you when you’re not truth-telling?

8.    To what extent are you transparent in your words, your decisions, and your actions?

Alignment: Al illustrates alignment with a quote by Upton Sinclair: “It is hard to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.” This quote goes to the heart of alignment, missing or defective in too many organizations, families, and other groups. Can you answer these two questions regarding alignment:

1.    Is there a fit, is there congruence between all you say and do?

2.    When and how do you adapt and integrate, since alignment should not lead to rigidity?

Accountability: How about the questions concerning accountability, how do you answer them?

1.    How do you score on keeping promises?

2.    How responsible do you perceive yourself to be?

3.    How do others score you on keeping promises and on acting responsible?

4.    What does stewardship look like for you?

5.    Do you really measure (and reinforce) what matters and what you say that matters?

Based on my own life and on 20 years of experience with many different people and organizations, I believe it takes a great deal of humility, courage, interest in multiple perspectives, curiosity, a desire to continually learn and grow, self-knowledge, resilience, persistence, and discipline to not just score high on all of the above, but to even just work hard to score your personal best on integrity. It’s likely a work in progress. Work hard and smart at it!
Again, credits and thanks to Al Watts of inTEgro.