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Personal Development

Woman CEO's Advice: Learnto Be Uncomfortable

I liked challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dared people to be their best selves.

–– Kobe Bryant, Basketball Great

I was speaking to about 100 leaders in California last year and urged the women in the audience to be more willing to step up for opportunities, as the guys do. A woman senior leader asked me whether I really believed that women don’t take enough risk for opportunities. 

From her smile I could read she was throwing me a softball challenge and wanted me to elaborate. I gave an example of a job that may be two levels up. In my experience a woman will give an honest assessment of her strengths and weaknesses and might conclude that she might be 80 percent ready. A dude might say, “I’ve got this.”  

It was a laugh line, but true. It’s a generalization so it’s not 100 percent, but it’s a real issue.

Youngest Female CEO

With this in mind, I was taken by an interview on CNBC last week with Corie Barry, who in June became Best Buy’s first female chief executive. 

At 44 years old, Barry is the youngest woman CEO in the Fortune 100, and one of only 27 female CEOs in the S&P 500, according to Catalyst.

In the interview, Barry gave other women in business the advice to “make yourself uncomfortable, and to take sometimes, the jobs no one else wants.”

In some 20 years at the consumer electronics retailer, Barry had 15 jobs, including president of Geek Squad Services and chief financial officer.

Growing your skill set

“My career path is anything but linear,” she said. “I spent time in finance. I spent time actually living and working in the field in retail. I spent time running services. I started our strategic growth office. I’ve had the chance to run our technology teams. The goal for me…is about breadth and about understanding and growing that skill set as much as possible.”

Barry’s message to other women is to “speak up with the point of view in the room that may not be popular. Have those uncomfortable moments. Because my strong personal belief is it is those moments that cause you to grow the most yourself, but that also differentiate you the most in your career.”

She says history and studies show that on the whole women will wait until they are “perfectly ready” for the next role, but she said it more broadly applies to all genders. 

Make yourself uncomfortable

“People want this level of confidence that frankly just isn’t possible in business, which is why I say, start with making yourself uncomfortable because somewhere in here you’re going to have to be willing to put yourself into a space that you don’t quite feel ready to fill and then leverage all the resources around you to help you be successful.”

I have a close family member who was a Navy SEAL. He introduced me to one of their most useful training phrases, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

It’s what I tell all of my clients. Your most valuable growth happens just outside of your comfort zone. With the magnitude of change in business and the world, learning to be comfortable with discomfort may be your most important skill.

How about you?

Think about it: What opportunities have you let pass by because you didn’t feel “perfectly ready”?

Start considering how you can say “yes” to discomfort in your business and personal lives. 

Your key to success may well be feeling comfortable with discomfort.

To talk with me directly, just visit my contact page.
John

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(Photo Credit: Best Buy)

5 Ways to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparison is the thief of joy.  

–– President Theodore Roosevelt


By John Millen

Here in the United States this weekend we celebrate the Labor Day holiday. 
 
This traditional break between summer and fall is a good opportunity to reflect on where we find ourselves at work, and in life.
 
A sense of frustration in corporate workplaces is a key problem I see in my travels. People complain about not being promoted quickly enough, that their rival has a better title, that someone else is favored by the boss.
 
This is not confined to young, ambitious employees; a sense that someone else is unfairly benefiting runs from the front lines to the boardroom in most companies.
 
It’s not our fault. We humans are hardwired as tribal, territorial animals. We think if someone else is winning, we must be losing. 
 
And, of course, this fear of loss, or fear of less, is not confined to work. We carry it throughout our lives.
 
Back in the day this comparison was called keeping up with the Joneses. That meant envying your neighbors’ possessions and spending to compete with their status and conspicuous consumption.
 
Social media envy
Social media has exponentially compounded this effect. People focus on the “perfect” lives of others: their expensive possessions, their fun-filled travel, their pristine family lives.
 
This is why “influencers” on Instagram and other media make millions from sales of products linked to the status, identity and lifestyle of their followers.
 
This is also why social media consumption is linked to depression, anxiety and other maladies. Tech companies have mastered and exploited our most basic human survival instincts.
 
Perception versus reality
What we fail to realize is that these perceptions we have of others, while real to us, are not reality. You never know the pain and struggles people have behind what we might think of as their perfect lives.
 
During my leadership workshops, I ask people to bring and tell a three-minute story they are comfortable sharing from their work or personal lives. With most groups, a handful of people will share stories of family or personal challenges that bring tears to your eyes. From simply seeing people in the workplace, and maybe envying their success, you have no idea where they really are in their lives.
 
Secret of life
The best advice I have is the old saying:the secret of life is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.
 
Follow that advice and you’ll find more contentment in your life. Here are a few other tips that might help:
 
1. Recognize what you have
If you take inventory of your life, you’ll find great riches: your family and friends, your skills, your work.
 
2. Express gratitude 
We are blessed. I’ve lost family members and friends and it’s not cliché that people don’t think about status and possessions at the end of their lives. It’s their relationships and experiences that matter.
 
Giving thanks for what you have can change your life. I have a practice, upon waking in the morning (even before I look at my phone!), of focusing on three things I intend to be grateful for that day. It might be a family member or friend, a client I enjoy working with, or something as simple as the fresh opportunities of a new day.
 
The other gratitude strategy I use is to be grateful when I’m under stress during the day. We believe the myth that we can multitask, but all we do is switch our thoughts back and forth. This means that when we feel envious, or angry, or depressed, purposely thinking of something we’re grateful for will literally change our minds. Try it. You can’t be grateful and jealous at the same time!
 
3. Realize you are perfect as you are
The U.S. economy derives some 70 percent of its power from consumer spending. To promote that consumption, we are constantly bombarded by advertising to create a sense of deprivation, a feeling of unease about what we don’t have. Don’t identify your worth with your status and stuff. You are perfect as you are.
 
4. Stuff impulse buying
This doesn’t mean you have to be a minimalist living with a chair, a toothbrush, and a pair of jeans. But considering purchases carefully can make a huge difference. 
 
Paul, a friend and neighbor of mine, recently handed me a print of this fascinating article about how the father of Rob Gronkowski, the retired NFL Patriots tight end, taught his five boys the value of money. He made them work and pay for sports equipment even as kids, and the family had a rule that if they desire something they should wait for two weeks before buying. Usually they’d pass on the item.
 
Unlike many NFL players who are broke despite multi-million-dollar contracts, Gronkowski banked all the money he was paid to join the league and, his father says, until a few years ago Rob was wearing the same jeans he wore in high school. 
 
5. Practice mindfulness
Our level of distraction is unprecedented. Not only with the pull of our phones and social media, but with the blurring of lines between work and home life. When we’re home with family, we’re still at work, and when we’re on the job, we’re thinking about home.
 
People also spend a lot of time living in the past or contemplating the future. As I said in a recent wedding toast, I believe the secret to life is being present and enjoying the current moment. That’s all we have.
 
Life is too short. Why waste your time comparing yourself to others?

If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for me, just visit my contact page.

With appreciation,


John


Get One Percent Better Every Day

Get One Percent Better
 

Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.  —  Albert Einstein
 

By John Millen 
 
Think about a time you’ve tried to achieve change, perhaps to lose weight, exercise more often, increase sales, or develop new skills at work.
 
Most of us want to improve our business or personal lives. So we often set big goals, and start strong with great effort and enthusiasm. Over time we plateau, we back off the effort, and we may even reduce or abandon the goal.
 
Lasting change
The secret to long-term change, it turns out, is small, sometimes imperceptible, changes of habit.
 
As John Wooden, the late Hall of Fame college basketball coach, said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning.
 
“Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts,” Wooden said.
 
James Clear argues for the power of small changes in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.
 
Clear calls habits “the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.”
 


One-percent solution

Clear cites the effects of simply improving 1 percent every day. If you were to improve at an activity 1 percent, you would improve results by thirty-seven times in a year! 
 
Think about that in the context of what you’re trying to improve: one more sales call per day, one healthy meal per day, one short walk per day. A 1 percent consistent, positive movement can improve your results by thirty-seven times in a year!
 
“This can be a difficult concept to appreciate in daily life. We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment,” Clear writes. “It is only when looking back over two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”
 
Continuous improvement
I have a client, the CEO of a Fortune 1000, who is leading a massive change initiative. He often refers to Kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. He asks his leaders and associates to take personal responsibility for change by improving their own work and skills every day, which will contribute to the whole company’s success.
It’s bringing our attention to the micro, to the incremental, that creates lasting change.
 
I learned the power of consistent improvement when I trained for a marathon some years ago. While I’ve had a life-long devotion to fitness, 26.2 miles at once seemed daunting. But as I followed a training plan that slowly added mileage each week, I soon found myself happily crossing the finish line of my first marathon.
 
In the same vein, my wife was an inconsistent exerciser until I gifted her with a Fitbit for Christmas several years ago. With a specific goal of 10,000 steps per day, she became obsessed with making her daily quota and remains a devoted daily exerciser. 
 
Develop a simple habit or process that you can repeat every day. This is the secret to long-term, sustainable change.
 
What can you improve 1 percent every day that will improve results in your life or business by thirty-seven percent after a year?
 
If you have thoughts, feedback or questions for me, visit my contact page to connect with me directly.

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Three Ways to Differentiate Your Personal Brand

At a local women's leadership conference, I had the opportunity to hear Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, give some really great advice for women, and men, on achieving success by differentiating yourself in the workplace.
 
As an African-American woman on white-male-dominated Wall Street, Harris has learned to position herself in a way that allowed her to thrive while being true to herself.

She offered a wide range of wisdom, focusing on three core messages. (If you’re tempted to read ahead, go for it – people loved her third idea as much as I did and I would recommend you seriously considering trying it in your workplace.)
 
1) Be authentic
Too many people try to act in a way at work that is not really who they are. This causes anxiety, disconnection and feelings of being an impostor. Being your authentic self, Harris says, positions you for success, because:

  • You are your own competitive advantage. No one can be you the way you can be you! The last thing you should ever do is to submerge that which is uniquely you.

  • Anytime that you are trying to behave or speak in a way that is inconsistent with who you really are, you will create a competitive disadvantage for yourself.

  • If you bring your authentic self to a relationship, people will trust you, and trust is at the heart of any successful relationship.

  • Most people are not comfortable or confident in their own skin, so when they see that trait in you, they will gravitate toward you.

Harris, who also is a highly successful gospel singer, said early in her career she would bristle when her colleagues would tell clients about her singing. She would roll her eyes when they said, “Carla is an amazing gospel singer, with three CDs and four sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall.” 
 
She changed her mind when she saw enthusiastic client reactions. Potential clients would ask about her career and whether she would talk to their daughters about integrating business and the arts in their lives. 

“We ended up having a fifteen-minute meeting before the meeting,” Harris said. “When I sat down to pitch, they heard me with a different ear, they saw me through a different lens.” These conversations helped her to win business as it differentiated her “from five other investment bankers pitching that IPO.”

From that moment on, Harris said she brought to business “all my Carla Harris’s” – singer, prayer warrior, golfer, football fan – because you never know who will connect with something you love.
 

Another great example of a totally authentic leader is Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx.

2) Take risks
A second way to differentiate yourself is by showing you can take risks, Harris said. During challenging times in a workplace, everyone tells you to keep your head down so you can fly under the radar.

Harris recommends the opposite. “When everybody else is besieged with fear and everybody else is ducking, you have clear vision to see the opportunity,” she said. 
“In a difficult environment, it’s time to speak up. 
 
The issue with keeping your head down is you submerge your voice and your voice is at the heart of your power. Fear has no place in your success equation.”

Harris said to ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that can happen? She said you might fail, but failure always brings a gift: experience, and leaders will see you as a person of action who should be kept around.
 
3) Manage your perception
Harris said the important thing she has learned after two-and-a-half decades on Wall Street is, “perception is the co-pilot to reality. How people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you.
 
She said that after five years in her career, a senior director told her she was smart and hard-working, but he didn’t think she was tough enough for the business of Wall Street. Harris was outraged.
 
magna cum laude graduate of Harvard and a graduate of Harvard Business School, she had overcome significant challenges to land at Morgan Stanley. In her colloquial speech, Harris shouted to the crowd, “You can call Carla Harris a lot of things, but ‘ain’t tough’ ain’t one of them.”
 
She thought to herself, “Suppose he really doesn’t think I’m tough enough?” One can’t be seen as weak on Wall Street. “I decided for ninety days I would walk tough, talk tough, eat tough, and drink tough, use tough in my language.”
 
It’s important to have consistent behavior and language, Harris said, and to “use this language in your environment, particularly when you are talking about yourself. You can train people to think about you in the way that you want them to think about you.”
 
Harris had a reputation for being very good at critiquing management presentations, so much so that before company roads shows for a multi-million dollar IPO or stock transaction, her colleagues would ask her to listen to a presentation and give the CEO feedback.
 
“Next time, after I’d gotten that feedback about not being tough, I said wait a minute, tell me about this guy, is he sensitive, does he have a thin skin? I don’t want to hurt nobody’s feeling, ’cause you know I’m tough,” Harris said, drawing laughter and applause.
 
“I kept using this language over and over to describe myself. Sure enough, after ninety days of work, I was behind a group of people, they didn’t know I was behind them.”
 
She said she heard a VP beating up an associate to make sure they were fully prepared for their meeting: “We’re going to see Carla Harris, and you know, she’s so tough.”
 
Carla Harris succeeded in one of the world’s most challenging business environments, Wall Street, by making her authentic self a positive differentiator.
 
She didn’t need to hide herself – she let the real Carla Harris shine through.
 
It may have been tough, but that’s Carla Harris. She’s tough.
 
Questions for you: 
How are you perceived in your workplace?
 
Is that perception consistent with who you really are?
 
Carla Harris recommends an exercise of choosing three adjectives you want people to use to describe you when you are not in the room, because that’s when all of the important decisions are made about compensation, promotion, and new assignments. The adjectives should be consistent with the position you seek.

I previously wrote about a similar exercise: 

Personal Branding: How Do People Perceive You
 
Carla has also written several relevant books.

I'd love to hear your feedback! To share your thoughts with me you can use my contact page.

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John

Image Credit: Morgan Stanley

How to Apply the Principles of Marie Kondo in Your Work and Life

Think of clutter.
 
Have you ever felt bogged down by your possessions? Your endless to-do lists? Your job or relationships?
 
We all have. That’s because clutter is everywhere in our lives: in our minds, in our digital distractions, in our businesses, and, of course, in our homes.
 
The clutter in our homes is where Marie Kondo makes her impact. If you’re not familiar with Kondo, she’s a Japanese organizer and author of the worldwide bestseller,The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizingwhich has nearly 14,000 mostly positive reviews on Amazon.
 
Kondo also has a new Netflix series which together with her book has prompted a decluttering of homes in the United States. Perhaps even your home. 
 
She has been credited with a huge increase in donations of discarded goods to Goodwill, Volunteers of America, and other sites, dubbed "The Marie Kondo Effect." The deluge has also caused some organizations in U.S. cities, including San Francisco, to limit when and how many goods they will accept. 
 
The popularity of Kondo stems from her unique approach, which I believe can be applied to any aspect of our lives and businesses. These are a few of her key concepts:
 
Clearing clutter changes everything in your life. As Kondo writes, “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order… It allows you to confront the issues that are really important.”
 
This is true in business as well. When we clear away the clutter, we have the opportunity to focus on the few priorities that matter. 
 
Focus on a specific area all at once. Don’t go room-by-room. In other words, take all of your clothing from anywhere in the house into one location. 
 
Make it a sprint. Don’t make “tidying” a life-long project. Get it done quickly and then maintain.
 
And here is Kondo’s differentiating concept:
 
Shift your mindset. Don’t focus on what to get rid of. Instead, think about what gives you positive feelings.
 
Specifically, Kondo says to hold an object and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is “no,” let it go.
 
If you’re a natural skeptic, as I can be, “sparking joy” might put you off. So, let me share that I asked for and received Kondo’s book as a Christmas gift a few years ago. I used her method to clean out the clothes in my closet. It worked very well!
 
All of the clothes went onto the bed and, instead of thinking, “I might wear this someday,” I asked, “Do I love this?” That Hawaiian shirt? Gone. Old suits? Gone. Ill-fitting pants? Gone. And on down the line. I was left with clothes that I love and wear all the time. 
 
It’s a great mind shift, and a concept that can apply to anything. I view it as an easy, practical way to apply the Prieto Principle, commonly called the 80/20 rule. Focus on the 20 percent that has the most impact.
 
I’ve gone on to apply Kondo’s principles in my business. This is my sixteenth year as a consultant, and I had accumulated a lot of paper files, electronic files, equipment, and other items that were bogging me down. The question is not, “will I use this someday?” but, “do I really value this? Will I use it regularly?”
 
I’ve also done this with my business relationships. I’ve stopped a couple of partnerships that I didn’t love and “fired” two toxic clients.

Do they bring you joy? 
Regardless of whether you buy Marie Kondo’s book or watch her Netflix series, I urge you to consider her principles in your life and business.
 
Ask yourself about your possessions and relationships, “Do these bring me joy?”
 
Hopefully they do, but the larger question is what can we do when relationships don’t bring us joy? 
 
The reality is that difficult relationships in business and in life can’t all be avoided.  Whether pleasant and straightforward, or complex and uncomfortable, we typically can’t or won’t easily discard them.  
 
This is where the Kondo “shift your mindset” principle can be applied.  Can you minimize your interactions with difficult people, keeping them cordial and focused?
 
In the same way, why not spend more time with those who are positive and energize you? This will improve your outlook and offset those who drain you. Or maybe clearing the air between you and someone else will move your relationship to the positive end of the spectrum.
 
I hope you’ll consider the applying Kondo’s principles to clarifying your possessions and your relationships.

After all, life’s too short to be lost in clutter.
 
John


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Photo Credit: Netflix

How to Change Your Habits for Success in 2019

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.  

–– Aristotle


As we begin the New Year, most of us get the urge to change our lives and make a fresh start.

This year’s NPR/Marist Poll finds the usual suspects as our top 2019 resolutions: losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, and being a better person.

Many of us make bold resolutions and ambitious plans to achieve these and other aspirations.

And we fail. We fail miserably: Research reveals that as few as 8 percent of us are successful with our New Year’s resolutions.

Of course, this is why fitness centers may sign up 5,000 new members in January for a facility that will hold only 500 people at a time.
 
As we enter 2019, how about considering a different approach?
 
Try making just two small changes this year. One now, and one in six months. I’ve put this into practice over the past few years with great success. This approach means that every year you will have changed two of your habits by the end of the year.
 
Small Changes are Powerful
Changing two habits a year might seem too small, too easy. But science proves that the lasting changes in our lives come from making small changes that are easier to implement.
 
Consider this small, but powerful example: “Replace a soft drink with water at just one meal — say, lunch. With this small change, you will drink approximately forty more gallons of water per year, while not drinking forty gallons of carbonated sugar. You also save up to fifty thousand calories and as much as five hundred dollars.” From Small Change, Little Things Make a Big Difference by Susan and Larry Terkel.
 
In his new book, Atomic Habits: An easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, * author James Clear notes the compounding effect of small changes in habits: getting one percent better every day will produce results that are 37 times better at the end of the year.

"Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement," Clear writes. "The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous."

The Power of Habits
I’ve always worked on continuous self-improvement, but never understood how to change habits until a few years ago when I read this great book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg explores the neuroscience of habits, using vivid examples from sports, business and life, including the NFL, Michael Phelps, Target, P&G and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, among many others.
 
Conserving Brain Energy
Habits are critical to our brain function. To conserve energy, our brains run routines by habit that we don’t have to think about. Duhigg says up to 40 percent of our daily activities are done by unconscious habit. This becomes clear when we drive to the same location so often that we sometimes arrive and don’t remember how we got there.
 
But the key to this book for me was understanding the simple process of how habits function and how they can be hacked to make a positive change.
 
The 'Habit Loop'
Duhigg calls this the "Habit Loop.” He explains: "This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward.”
 
Here’s how it worked for me: I like to work out a lot, so I’ve never had a weight problem, but a few years ago I found myself with a severe nighttime sweet tooth. I didn’t need the extra sugar and calories and started getting some extra winter “insulation” on the tummy.
 
CUE: At a certain point in the evening, whether I was watching TV, reading a book or doing work, I’d get the feeling it was time for a snack. You know, The Craving.  ;-)
 
ROUTINE: I would wander into the kitchen for a snack. It would usually be a nice helping of ice cream or a few cookies.
 
REWARD: I got the sweet taste of the dessert and the rush of blood sugar.
 
I wasn’t consciously being a Cookie Monster; I realize now that I was just caught in the loop.
 
I'm simplifying Duhigg's advice here, but his research found that the secret to changing your habit is to identify and tweak your routine.  I successfully used these steps to change my nightly dessert habit.
 
CUE: For me, the tweak was this: when the cue occurred, my evening dessert craving, I would still wander into the kitchen.
 
ROUTINE: In initially changing the routine, I told myself I could still have ice cream or cookies, but first I would have a piece of fruit and a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes. I did that and went back to whatever I was doing.

REWARD: This is the interesting part. I was shocked that from the very first time I ate an apple, drank the water and refocused on what I was doing, I was satisfied and not craving more sweets. My substitute reward gave me a sweet taste, the act of chewing and the water quenched my thirst. (Nutritionists say that often what feels like hunger is dehydration.)

Mistaken Rewards
Sometimes we are seeking a reward that is not necessarily what we might assume. Duhigg details getting up from his desk every day at 3 p.m. to get a cookie from the cafeteria at the New York Times building, where he is a reporter.

Then he would walk around and socialize with his colleagues. The reporter tweaked his routine to skip the cookie and go to the social break, which was really his reward.

The other interesting thing that happens is that when you change one habit, positive changes seem to build on one another. If you exercise regularly, you might find yourself wanting to eat healthier foods.

How about You?
What habit do you most want to change?

Think about this habit: What are cue, routine and reward of this habit and how can you tweak them to rewire your habit?

Would you consider skipping the New Year’s resolutions and instead change just two small habits this year?

Give it a try. I believe that if you change your habits, you change your life.

Thank you for sharing this year with me.

Wishing you great success and happiness in 2019,

John

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