The Cost of Being Guarded at Work

When I turn away from the truth in my heart I armor up against what is real and then only a facade of myself is evident to others, stripping my executive presence. The really hard part is that it takes twice as much energy to keep up the facade so I’m feeling not only guarded but exhausted. The sad part is that I become so good at the facade that I lose site and concept of who I really am. Others start describing me as someone I don’t know. And I start to wonder what happened to me.  

This big knot of inauthenticity is unwound by leaning into to the very feelings we assume make us weak. The truth is that naming the very feelings we avoid - sad, confused, judged, abandoned, angry, tired, ineffective - disarms their power and opens a window so that clarity may breeze in. It starts with staying present in the moment and not fast forwarding our thoughts to worry about what ‘might’ happen. 

Wishing you vulnerability and openness today.

If you are...

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Stop Grasping and Copying with this Question

What does success look like for you? It’s different from how it appears to anyone else, Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group founder Laura Gassner Otting tells Gretchen Rubin.

“You can’t be insatiably hungry for other people’s goals, for other people’s definitions of success.”

I watch people constantly grasping for shiny objects - thinking they need to copy what others are doing. This leaves them exhausted and always playing catch-up. When people stop copying and start observing themselves their awareness increases as does their executive presence. They risk more. Their confidence grows. Results start to occur and pretty soon they are shining in their own space, not the shadows of others. Wishing you the courage to slow down and listen to your heart today.

Go for the promotion, new job, side hustle, opportunity. Define your signature strengths, your value proposition and your personal mission. Replace doubt with your empowering belief that is...

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The First Question to Ask

Yesterday I asked an executive client who is seeking a new position, "What is the biggest thing you did in your current organization in the last year?" He wasn't sure. The question brought him anxiety. After a coaching session he was fully versed in a high-performance answer but until that question he had not defined his value for himself. He had been questioning his value when he is acutely strategic and effective. This lack of self-esteem had been holding him back from applying for jobs in his transferable skill areas and from pitching himself from a position of worth as opposed to passively.

Don't start your job search by researching online for openings. Start by answering this question. Your response should be quantifiable. That means it should reflect an increase or decrease in something, including an amount and percentage.

Too often people cannot equate their value to a metric. If you can't do this you cannot position your value proposition. Surely whatever you are working...

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Telling People How to Improve is Pointless


I’ve always felt that telling people how to improve was pointless. That’s like telling them from the start that they’re not good enough and this makes them shut right down. Applauding and guiding them for excellence while personalizing only to yourself and not them engages people. 

I use the FBI method. “I FELT you really demonstrated great anticipation skills when you (BEHAVIOR) pulled that comparative research on the results of our last campaign. The IMPACT of this is changing our direction to be more focused on one-on-one relationship building and not costly mass acquisition initiatives.” This is far better than, “Great job” or “We didn’t do a good job on that.”

Legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team not by showing highlight films of mistakes but by combing through game footage to create a highlight reel for each player of them doing something easily, naturally and...

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How to Have Executive Presence in an Anxious Moment

Often clients ask me how to have executive presence - how to remain calm in the face of feeling stressed, threatened and judged.  

Mindfulness is key. Being mindful is being a third party observer to feelings we’ve leaned away from so that we may lean into them without judgment or the feeling of being swallowed by them. We observe the thought in the context of right now instead of forever feeling flawed.  

Think of a bird in the sky sometimes flying erratically especially when other birds are attacking. The bird is your thoughts or emotions. The other birds represent perceived threats. Yet the sky is constant. Undisturbed. When we identify with the sky instead of the bird we identify with our AWARENESS of all the thoughts and emotions instead of being consumed with the affects of thoughts and emotions. Here we can stay calm. We can mindfully stay in the moment without judgment and observe the situation from a detached perspective. In this safe place we can...

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When You Are Overwhelmed and Pointing Fingers

I work with clients a lot on how mindful daily practices impact your effectiveness and happiness. Recently, I bought some water color supplies on Amazon, watched a video on watercolor painting and experimented one evening. I had fun then tucked the supplies away for another day.  

Last week, after the overwhelming and emotional experience of having to clean out my parent’s house to sell, I got out the box of supplies, threw inhibition to the wind and on the first page of my new watercolor journal painted an image from a peaceful photograph I had taken in the low country of South Carolina. It won’t be in any art contests but the experience of doing this with a shuffle of Michael Buble playing in the background calmed me.

In that space I could get curious about my emotions instead of running from them. I felt frustrated that my brother was not there to help me. I was sad going through the papers and memories of my father. I was worried about my mother who we had...

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The Best List You Will Ever Make to Be More Effective

We all have to-do lists, project objectives, metrics and planners to help keep us on track in our daily lives. Each year we set high expectations and even with these tools we find ourselves frustrated because we don’t have the structure, systems, or accountability in place to achieve our goals. Couple that with doubt and indecision and you have a perfect recipe for anxiety. In the worst case this leads to action paralysis.

Let’s talk about the best case. Most people know what they need to do to be happy, effective and thrive just not how to do it or what to do with doubt and fear. We spend enough time telling ourselves how we are not equipped to succeed and armoring up against failure by being risk averse. We wallow proficiently on what it is we need to do but spend less time feeling what it would be like to actually live the dream and executing a plan to get there. Guarding against danger is how we have evolved as a species and not become extinct.

We are Jedis at...

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When Someone Makes You Look Bad at Work

If you work anywhere you likely have had a colleague try to make you look bad. Most of my clients have had to struggle with this. It is disempowering and injects a fear of losing your job which ultimately leads to a fear of losing people who you love. This is where executive presence is crucial. This is where you don’t react at all. This is where you just pause, stare at them for a count of five and then ask, “Are you trying to make me look bad?” That will stop them dead.

Call them out with curiosity for exactly what they are doing. Don’t characterize them, get angry or defensive. Simply ask them if what it looks like they are doing is in fact what they are doing. If they deflect back to you say, “Ok, I wanted to get clarity on that because for a minute it felt like you were trying to make me look bad.” No one can argue with how you feel.

This scenario gives you a few moments to recenter yourself, for people on the periphery to validate in their...

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A Client Letter - You're Bad Leader

Below is a note I recently received from a client that although makes me sad, it carries great wisdom. This high performing executive leader was leaving an organization she loved and had relocated for with mixed feelings. As is often the case, she was leaving because of her boss.

 

Good morning Mary Lee,

I have one more week reporting to this woman that has made the last 14 months of my life incredibly difficult. The exit process has been even more difficult.

In 20 years in the workplace I have never experienced anything like this from someone at this woman's level. 

Every leader has opportunity, but I do not believe there are many who behave as badly as what I have witnessed over the past year.

I am also amazed how her leaders look away, an ostrich to this woman's behavior. I am not personalizing this (thank you Mary Lee), I understand it is simply inconvenient to disrupt the status quo or face the difficult conversations or the admit that perhaps it was a mistake to...

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One Thing for Your Well-being, Career Efficacy & Executive Presence

Two years ago on a cold December day I felt stressed and overwhelmed so I made a commitment to do something about it, not unlike what many people do as the New Year approaches. I ordered a very expensive and really pretty planner. (Since when did planners start costing $85?) About a week into it I found myself writing mindful daily practices in the margins to hold myself accountable. Three weeks later I was writing my daily goals in the margins too. Four weeks later I was recreating the entire page, ignoring what was on it.

Five weeks into it I tried another planner. Two weeks into using that one I was now writing in the margins again – my gratitude thoughts, how I was feeling – daily practices that help release the negativity we often don’t spend time processing and then can’t let go of. (Dreadful feeling.) I already had a calendar for my to-do list and appointments. I needed a planner for my well-being and big goals. 

Over two months I ordered six...

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