Learning Agility and Embracing the Suck

Learning Agility and Embracing the Suck

 

“Embracing the suck” is part of the path to mastering anything new says social scientist, Brene Brown.

These days, my “new” is learning to write the stories of the amazing, courageous women I’ve interviewed for my book…I’m learning to be a storyteller, essentially. And it’s hard!

It’s hard because

  • I feel responsible for someone’s story. I want to write it in such a way that I honor and convey the core essence of their narrative. I want my reader to really see the women and their experience.
  • I’m so accustomed to business writing, which is all about keeping the message short, direct, and to the point. Storytelling requires me to develop a style of expounding, elaborating, and being more colorful and emotive in my writing.
  • I’m working to find the balance of staying focused and on point, yet sharing enough that my reader is drawn in, as if riding a wave beside my “character,” following the rise and fall of the story’s build, the peak, and the close.

The work is stretching and challenging me in new ways. The difficulty persists, but so do I. I show up even when I don’t feel creative. I make myself write – “just get words on the paper,” I tell myself, “and the flow will come.” I feel myself growing, not only in my ability to write the stories, but also in how I tell stories to others. I’m learning about the art and delivery.

This path, and sometimes anguish, of learning something new is what I refer to as The Learning Curve. I have the (ahem) joy of being in it right now!

The Learning Curve

Whenever we come up on a learning opportunity, we have a choice of two ways to go:

  1. We can decide to go for it, or
  2. We can choose to stay right where we are…“the comfort zone”

If we choose to go for it, we’re sure to have some new muscle building with a likely series of trying the new thing and failing. It’s like learning to ride a bike as a kid and taking the training wheels off for the first time. We’re gonna fall – probably over and over and over again. Attempting and failing is hard, it’s embarrassing, it…sucks. It makes us want to quit!

If we decide instead to stay the course of where we are, it’s easy. We’re comfortable. It feels good. In other words, we can “do it in our sleep.” But we also miss out on learning new things, opening up possibility, and even discovering something we might love or be really good at, that we had no idea of before.

Anytime I come up on something new – it could be a job opportunity, realizing I need to develop a skill, or fixing something in my house ­– I think about The Learning Curve and weigh my options: Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it? What’s the worst-case scenario?

Sometimes I decide not to take on the challenge, and I pass on the potential promotion, delegate the task, or call that plumber. That can feel really good – and necessary. But sometimes I decide to step up, stretch myself, and I go for it, I take the leap, I DIY it. And there’s a thrill in that too. Even though it brings pain with it, which it is certain to do!

What new thing are you learning these days? How’s it going?

 



Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

 

 

 

Leading Wholeheartedly

Leading Wholeheartedly

A few weeks ago, I watched Biden and Harris take office and was especially struck by a comment in Biden’s inaugural address, “Take a measure of me and my heart. If you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably within the guardrails of our republic is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”

“Take a measure of me and my heart.”

His words stunned me. First because it feels so good to have leadership again. And second, because it feels so good to have leadership with heart. I believe we do.

Our world needs more leadership with heart. It’s what I’ve come to call “wholehearted leadership,” to borrow one of Brene Brown’s coined phrases. It was in reading her book, “Gifts of Imperfection,” that I first heard that phrase ten years ago. I strive to live it in my work and life. And I look for it in others. It’s so deeply satisfying and fulfilling to see it in action…

  • Cultivate authenticity and let go of what other people think
  • Cultivate self-compassion and let go of perfectionism
  • Cultivate our resilient spirit and let go of numbing and powerlessness
  • Cultivate gratitude and joy and let go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  • Cultivate intuition and faith and let go of the need for certainty
  • Cultivate creativity and let go of comparison
  • Cultivate play and rest and let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  • Cultivate calm and stillness and let go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  • Cultivate meaningful work and let go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
  • Cultivate laughter, song, and dance and let go of “cool” and always in control

– Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living

These affirmations hang in my office as a reminder of how I want to love, live, and lead in the world. It’s about showing up with vulnerability – owning who you are and letting others see you. It only took me a few decades to learn this…and it’s a forever journey. It requires great intentionality, practice, and loads of courage…Every. Single. Day.

I remember the first time I learned about vulnerability as a leader. I was 30 years old and in a leadership development program where I had been paired with an executive coach. Part of her guidance encouraged me to become more vulnerable as a leader. I had an instant, visceral reaction to her words. I cringed, remembering my mom and what she taught me as a young girl. I told my coach, “My mama did NOT teach me to be vulnerable!”

I imagined sitting across from my mom and sharing with her what I learned at leadership school. I could see her plain as day…sitting across from me, arms tightly crossed, and giving me a furrowed, disapproving stare. Growing up in my home, any thoughts of vulnerability were considered weak, and I was taught to show anything but that:

Be strong!

Never let ‘em see you sweat (or cry)

Hold your cards close to the vest

I don’t think either of my parents intended this, but what they taught me around vulnerability – to guard against it – caused me to show up as a leader rigid, aloof, and less approachable. It took me nearly two decades to undo.

I see this same resolve in leaders I coach today, especially female leaders. To get ahead, we develop armor…a shell to protect us, we put forth an image of steel, as in “I have this under control” and “I’ve got it all together.” Inside we may be quaking, but the external world will never know it. We take it own, carry the load, and ‘grin and bear it.’  Years and decades pass. We become someone we don’t know anymore….or worse, someone we don’t even like.

“Take a measure of me and my heart,” Biden says.

This is a reminder to us all to put down our armor, come out from behind our shields, open our hearts and let others see our humanity.

 


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Leadership Brand and Executive Presence in the Virtual Realm

Leadership Brand and Executive Presence in the Virtual Realm

Remember the days when we could physically gather for meetings, programs, and events at work? I find myself longing for it as we’re about to “lap ourselves,” approaching month #11 in the COVID era.

Today, most of us are spending half or more of our time in a virtual space with clients, team members, and other colleagues. In this reality, communicating our unique leadership brand and presence requires us to be mindful of a whole new range of factors, to get creative, and tap into new and different resources in order to effectively and compellingly convey who we are… where often our “stage” isn’t much bigger than a postage stamp.

Back when we could gather in-person, we had a more accessible and dynamic environment and range in which to present our unique “essence.” It was just easier. By merely walking into a room, you could command attention and convey presence.

It all starts with knowing your personal leadership brand.

We’re not used to thinking of ourselves as a “brand.” Thoughts of brand more often conjure up images of our favorite coffee or shoes, the car we drive or the makeup we wear (remember makeup? :0 ). But even if you’ve never thought about your own personal brand, you have one. You’re “presenting it” everywhere you go…yes, even if you’re only walking from your kitchen down the hall to your office. So, why not take a more mindful approach and really be in charge of this brand! It’s just as important in the virtual environment as it is in-person and it requires knowing what works in that setting and making it work for you.

Start defining your brand by considering these questions:

  • What do I bring to the table? Think about your skills, talents, expertise, experiences.
  • What is uniquely me? What sets you apart? There’s no one else on the entire planet quite like you! What do people get with you that they don’t get with anyone else?
  • What is my brand promise? Think about what you deliver.
  • What do I stand for? Consider your core values and what matters most to you.
  • How do I want to be described? When you “leave the room,” what would others to say about you? What adjectives would they use to describe you?

Next, give thought to how you deliver your brand.

I think of delivering your brand as your presence, or executive presence – the “how” of presenting yourself. How can you present your brand most effectively to:

show up in the most impactful way,

accomplish your goals,

convey your key messages, and

achieve your aspirations?

In her book Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett offers, “No man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without the combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal.”

In essence, Hewlett is saying you get there because you’re being purposeful and intentional about who you are and how you show up.

She lays out the key components of what comprise executive presence: gravitas, communication, and appearance. These elements help you take what’s uniquely YOU and unleash it in the world.

Gravitas

In short, gravitas is the ability to exude integrity, and confidence under the most pressing circumstances. It’s a combination of qualities that conveys you’re in charge or deserve to be.

Communication

As it relates to presence, effective communication is as much, if not more, about the “how” you communicate than the “what” you communicate.

Research shows that people pay the most attention to our nonverbal messages. In fact, up to 93% of your message is derived from how you say it.* 93%! This statistic drives home the need to pay attention to these elements of our messaging and utilize our nonverbal communication strategically for the greatest impact and connection.

“Strong communication skills are an accurate representation of whether you qualify as a leader or not,” says Hewlett. “You have a five-second shot to first engage with your audience after you meet them.” Make it count!

  • Pay attention to your body language and posture
  • Be human; let them see you
  • Read the people in the room and adjust your way/style as needed
  • Share insights through stories rather than abstract ideas.
  • Focus on the technical aspects of your speech, things like reducing filler words and controlling the pitch and volume

Appearance

Lastly, Hewlett offers that your outward presence (clothing, accessories, hair, expression, etc.) shouldn’t distract people from your professional competence, but instead should emphasize it. “If it’s not adequate, you won’t hold their attention. It says, ‘I’m capable of and in control of presenting myself and, therefore, responsible to handle whatever else I am entrusted to do.’”

Hewlett highlights elements of appearance that include:

  • Being polished and groomed
  • Physical demeanor
  • Attire that positions you for your day…or your next job

Putting it together – Your brand and presence in the virtual realm

Specifically for the virtual realm, consider these tips to help you engage and successfully present yourself:

  • Position your camera where it’s at eye level and look directly at the video camera – not the people – to hold eye contact with your audience. It’s okay to look at the other faces in your video conference but do so only occasionally if you’re the one talking or presenting. Avoid camera angles that have you looking up or down in order to engage with your audience.
  • Pay attention to what your camera captures beyond you. Consider a virtual meeting practice with a friend to get feedback on what your audio and visual is communicating. Rid your physical environment of clutter, ensuring that it’s neat, tidy, and free of distractions as much as possible. Avoid camera angles that show half your ceiling and that distracting light or ceiling fan! You want your audience focused on you, be sure that your face – and other elements you want to communicate – is what fills your virtual tile.
  • Make your nonverbal communication work in your favor – practice good posture, avoid crossing your arms, and keep gestures to a minimum, utilizing for effect and impact to amplify your message, otherwise they can convey nervousness and anxiety.
  • Maintain a steady and assured voice. Have you heard of “up talk?” This is when the voice rises at the end of a sentence…as if asking a question. A string of up talk sentences kills credibility. As your talking, speak with confidence, with the arc of your voice starting at one note, rising in pitch through the sentence, and dropping back down at the end.
  • Convey a balance of confidence, competence, and authority with ease, warmth, and empathy. By nature, the virtual environment prevents us from connecting as much as we could if we were in person. It requires us to be mindful and get creative to build connection – it’s possible, it just requires more work. A few simple practices that make a big difference include: smiling, leaning in as someone speaks, nodding in agreement, using humor, staying relaxed, and asking questions of your audience that engenders ease and helps you build rapport and find common ground.

 


* Mehrabian, A. (1972) Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Illinois: Chicago

 

 


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

 

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

Welcome to the Neutral Zone

We’ve been waiting. Waiting for 2020 to end and 2021 to finally arrive. But the turn of the calendar didn’t solve our problems – in fact, not much feels different at all. If anything, it feels like a continued or even an increased sense of unknown, uncertainty, and chaos.

Since March 2020, I’ve often felt like I’m in the middle of a dense forest with no obvious way out. My “way” has become one of putting one foot in front of the other, literally taking the next step, and then the next. Most days, this helps me feel like I’m making progress, albeit slow.

My consulting and executive coaching work focuses on helping leaders and their organizations navigate change and transition. These days, I lean on my own practices…a lot. One of my favorite sources is the work of William Bridges and the Bridges Transition Model. In his book, “Managing Transitions,” he presents the stages of transition: Letting Go, the Neutral Zone, and the New Beginning. Let’s take a look at the Neutral Zone he describes.

The Neutral Zone

“It’s a time when all the old clarities break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore, and anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different.”

Sound familiar?

This Neutral Zone is a huge chasm of discomfort between an ending and a new beginning. We’re waiting – for a new president to take office, for spring to come, for a vaccine to be widely available, to return to school and work, to hug our friends and family, and to travel. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Telling yourself it’ll be worth the wait, but also feeling exhausted, isolated, and worried because time can feel like a finite resource.

Bridges continues, “One of the most difficult aspects of the Neutral Zone is that most people don’t understand it. They expect to be able to move straight from the old to the new. But this isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to another, and that kind of journey takes some time. The attitudes, outlook, values, self-images, and ways of thinking that were functional in the past have to ‘die’ before people can be ready for life in the present.”

So, what do we do in this neutral zone? What do we do while we wait? How are you in this zone? Probably like you, one day I’m up, the next I’m down. Some days I’m optimistic, others, I can’t find that optimism no matter what I do or how hard I try.

But hang on…there’s hope!

As we’ve sustained in this abyss now for nearly 12 months, I’m learning to be with it and also recognize it for its gifts and opportunity. Somehow, it helps to know we’re all in it together…it literally feels like there’s not one person on the planet with a “ticket” to escape this time of pandemic, social and racial injustice and unrest, and political turmoil. We’re faced with doing our work and living our life the best we can. What feels most right to me is openness, kindness, compassion, flexibility.

“This is not the wasted time of meaningless waiting and confusion that it sometimes seems to be,” offers Bridges. “It’s a time when reorientation and redefinition must take place, and people need to understand that.”

Yes, it’s a time of anxiety and even chaos, but also it is a time when we’re more open to new ideas and opportunity. I remind myself daily that there’s power in this place. For me:

  • Priorities have become clearer, and I realize what’s most important in my life.
  • I can do with less. A lot less, in fact: money, material things, activities, work hustle…all the busyness
  • Losing what “was” is teaching me to exercise my creativity and look for new opportunities to cultivate and apply myself – my interests, skills, talent, and experience. Coupling this with new insight around my priorities is giving way to a new and more aligned path.
  • I’m reminded to celebrate the highs and the wins, even the smallest wins (especially those!)
  • I look for the lessons in the lows and greatest challenges.
  • I realize that my happiness and power come from within. I’m developing my spirituality practice to help me tap into that.

Since March, I’ve discovered that not only does my old way not work now, but I no longer even wish for that way. There are many things I quite like about this middle place and how the present is informing what I’m building. I’m learning to trust myself and my intuition and inner voice much more every day.

How are you finding ways to maximize and leverage your neutral zone?


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Authenticity: No crock

Authenticity: No crock


I listened to a podcast recently featuring Seth Godin and his latest book, The Practice, where he proclaimed, “authenticity is a crock. Authenticity is overrated. Authenticity is a trap. No one wants you to be authentic.”

I’m a huge Seth Godin fan – I love his work and principles, but I completely disagree with him on this position. He professes that his position on authenticity is controversial, and I couldn’t agree more!

According to Godin, the only time in our lives when we’re truly authentic is when we’re an infant. When something doesn’t go our way, we spiral into a tantrum. Post toddler, we lose that raw, unabashed authenticity because our decisions and actions become calculated, carried out with intent and purpose (even if subconscious).

For example, you may not like something your boss does, but you’re not likely to go run screaming into their office, as that’s not likely to get you your desired result. What you do instead is weigh actions and consequences, navigate the political landscape, and moderate your behaviors. Godin considers this inauthentic – what you deep down most want to do is not what you end up doing in your actions.

“If you go see a concert,” he says “you don’t want the authentic musician. You want that musician (despite exhaustion from a 20-city road tour) to give you the best performance of their day, their week, their month. If you need surgery, you want the surgeon to ignore that they had an argument with their spouse and instead bring the best version of themselves. That’s what we want in every interaction.”

Godin continues, offering that people don’t want authenticity. What people want from you is consistency, humanity, and empathy…for you to deliver the best, most talented, skilled version of yourself. And the best way to deliver this is to do what comes naturally to you.

I read this. I hear this. And my response is, this IS authenticity – at least my definition of it.

For two weeks now, I’ve churned on Godin’s viewpoint that “authenticity is a crock.” I’ve wrangled with it internally and debated it with colleagues. Where I’ve landed is this:

  • I have a deeply held belief about what authenticity is.
  • To me, consistently delivering who you are IS being authentic. If humanity and empathy is core to who you are and you show up and deliver that, then you’re being authentic.
  • Authenticity is being true to who you are, aligning with and living your values, and delivering on your personal brand promise day in and day out, regardless of whether or not people are watching.
  • Being authentic is being the truest, realest me…the me-ist me I can be.

No, I’m not going to run into my boss’ office and throw a tantrum because something didn’t go as I had hoped. I refrain from doing this, not because I’m being inauthentic, but because my authentic self functions in a world where I’m keenly aware of rules, protocols, and the political landscape.

With this example and many more, I’ve learned about cause and effect, actions and consequences, and the culture of “this is the way we do things around here.” These lessons have saved my life, my career, and relationships. No, I won’t necessarily live out my unadulterated, unfiltered, raw self out on the street, in the boardroom, or even at my kitchen table necessarily, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not being congruent and authentic.

My clients know my skill, talent, values, and qualities. They know that when they work with me, they’re going to get these things fully and consistently. And I’m human, I can have a bad day, I can get overwhelmed and exhausted, and when these things happen, the impact can show up in my work. When it’s likely to, I name it, we adjust and adapt, change or reschedule…whatever the situation calls for. This is authenticity.

 


Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 

Navigate Workplace Conflict eBook

Navigate Workplace Conflict eBook

How to Navigate Workplace Conflict- ebook downloadI’ve noticed that so many conversations in the organizations I consult with revolve around conflict in one way or another. Whether it stems from unhealthy “competition” among peers, an ineffective management approach, or frustration from the bottom up, navigating conflict is challenging. It is just human nature to avoid conflict, particularly in the conflict-averse United States, where it’s usually our last resort to attend directly to the issues, tensions, and challenges at the heart of conflict.

 

My clients are often relieved to learn that conflict management – and conflict resolution – are not doomed. In fact, building collaborative teams that can work through potentially challenging situations together is remarkably simple. It just takes a lot of practice, commitment, and perseverance.

 

In my new ebook, How to Navigate Workplace Conflict: Sail Confidently into the Storm, I’ve collected some of the best advice, techniques, and tips for managing conflict instead of avoiding it. Conflict in the workplace is normal and sometimes even necessary. The ability to have healthy, productive conflict is the sign of a mature, sustainable relationship. To develop your team’s conflict management abilities, you first must establish strong, vulnerability-based trust among the various members of your team. You must establish clear alignment among goals and expectations for the team and everyone on it, learn how to integrate and consider varying perspectives and personality types in envisioning solutions, and bridge the divides among individuals and functional groups.

 

If you would like to focus on improving your conflict management behaviors and you’re open to learning some practical tools for doing just that, please click here to receive your free copy (for a limited time) of my new ebook, How to Navigate Workplace Conflict: Sail Confidently into the Storm.

 

The first 10 respondents will also get a free half-hour strategy session with Raven Consulting Group.

 

brick closeAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.