5 Ways of Being to achieve Success

I’ve put together my ‘frequent five’ ways of being to push the envelope - not only for greater success, but ultimately f...

As someone who advocates strongly for women, mothers, business leaders, community builders, activists, future leaders in incubation, and any combination thereof, I salute powerful women and what they do for our whole society. I am an advocate for recognizing the contributions made by women and as a mother of three daughters and perhaps more importantly, a son, I understand the importance of keeping this dialogue open and encourage others to do the same. 

Why is this dialogue important? In some ways, our times are a remarkable testament to how far women have come in terms of progressing and standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in almost all spheres of life. However, there is still work to be done, and part of that work includes shining a spotlight on the importance of accomplishments, to inspire women to strive for their full potential. 

Recently, I was asked by a group of young women that I work with to offer some words of wisdom on how to push the envelope to success. I’m not an expert, but I do have some years of experience under my belt and have a few thoughts on the subject. I’ve always been someone who tends to be overly analytical, more concerned with facts and figures at times, and empirical evidence. Over time however, the unpredictable business of life has certainly tempered the overly analytical aspect and I’ve become a bit softer, a bit more ‘human’ if you will, on what constitutes success. From my experiences, I’ve put together my ‘frequent five’ ways of being to push the envelope - not only for greater success, but ultimately for greater meaning and purpose in what we do as women.

  1. Speak up and speak often…but initial silence is golden. What does this mean? Lately, “Woman Power” has taken us by storm and women are generally being encouraged to speak up and speak often. I’m a believer in this, absolutely and without a doubt. But I would preface this with a caveat – and that is to know your stuff before you say a word! This is particularly critical when you are in a new situation, it’s wise to be prepared, to have done your research and come armed with objective facts and figures. And sometimes, this whole process begins by being silent, being observant and understanding the dynamics; this is the ‘softness’ I’ve learned over time. It’s partially a data gathering exercise; it requires leaving all your assumptions and preconceived notions at the door, and just ‘seeing’ the people you are working with. This requires attention to tone and body language along with deep listening skills. If you are thinking about what you are going to say next, then you are not really listening deeply to what the other person is saying. Related to this, and I can’t emphasize this enough, do not be tempted to make any rapid changes to any organization or system before understanding the process and ‘seeing’ the key players and their motivations.

To illustrate this further, let me share an experience with you from a few years ago. I was involved in a situation where the transfer of a key position to a new leader resulted in mayhem. The primary issue was that the new leader wanted to institute wide-sweeping changes right away and made some key errors in judgement about the players at the table. The leader didn’t observe the dynamics, was not prepared with historic information and missed out on opportunities to engage with central people in the project. As a result, the transition was a failure, multiple stakeholders were antagonized, and key programs and initiatives took a step backward.

While this is a somewhat extreme situation, the key message remains the same, and that is to gather your intelligence, have some soak time, and then speak up and speak often.

  1. Learn to disarm scare tactics.This is a tricky one to navigate, but an important one to take your contributions to the next level. Quite often, when presented with competing proposals, there are elements of the “scare tactic” that are built in, consciously, or unconsciously. Scare tactics are not the same as risk assessments, which outline different impacts in a generally objective manner. No, the scare tactic appeals to the emotions, and from what I have observed, women are sometimes more vulnerable and easily affected by these tactics than men. Some examples might be, “Your customers will be enraged” or “Your actions will derail the project” or even the often heard “This definitely raises a red flag.” At times like this, it’s important to step away from the impact of the scare tactic by using coping tactics. 

I love to use examples of the military in situations like these, as soldiers are the ultimate authority in learning how to face their fears. One of the strategies that soldiers use is to be ultra-prepared for all situations of attack, to anticipate how the enemy will strike and to understand the nature of the potential attack – this develops confidence in one’s ability to face the attacks head on. Another strategy that soldiers use is to laugh in the face of fear, to inject the notion of “all will be well” in the situation, to infuse a sense of optimism and well-being. The most effective strategy, however, in my opinion, is that soldiers explore the worst-case scenario, and try to reconcile that scenario with the reality at hand. This helps develop some points of references and can help evaluate options more clearly.

Ultimately, reacting emotionally to scare tactics results in sub-optimal decision-making and diminishes the group dynamics. Channel your inner soldier and meet scare tactics head on.

  1. When life gives you lemons – forget the lemonade – reclaim the lemon!  Lemons can be sour and bitter when you bite into them, and by adding sugar and water to make lemonade, they are suddenly rendered more palatable. But lemons by themselves are also beautiful, fragrant and antiseptic, and if we hold them to the light and look at them from a different perspective, they have many other uses besides lemonade. Adversity is the same way, we can wallow in the bitter, sourness of adversity, and then just do the best we can by adding sugar and water to ease the flavour. Or we can take adversity in a different direction. We can hold adversity to the light and see it with new eyes, from a new angle, and let it define a new meaning and purpose for us. 

We all have examples in our lives of people dealing with unimaginable pain. The parents who lost their child to cancer, the families who lost everything to natural disasters. We all have stories like this and we might even be one of the stories ourselves. We also have stories of people who took those life lemons and reclaimed them. Those same parents who lost their child to cancer created a foundation that helps thousands of at risk children access important medical services. Our Canadian hero Terry Fox is also a well-known example. He didn’t just make lemonade, he embraced adversity in a profound way that has impacted hundreds of thousands of people, and he continues to inspire generations, even though his physical presence is no longer with us. This is what we all need to do with adversity, whether it is in the workplace or within our personal sphere, it can make the difference between crushing you and giving you newfound purpose.

  1. Be the one to give the standing ovation.If you see good work being done, stand up and clap. If someone deserves to be admired and recognized, stand up and clap. Remember that video about creating a movement? Where the dancing “Lone nut” inspired gaggles of other people to join the dance? This point is not about creating a similar dance movement, its more about not letting the fear of being the lone nut hold you back from standing up in acknowledgement.

A few weeks back, I was at an event where one of the guest speakers, a recent refugee from Syria, in a very moving and touching speech, shared her story of her unexpected and difficult journey to Canada. It was a busy room, with all kinds of distractions, and she didn’t have as rapt of an audience as she deserved. When she was done, I was so touched by her story that I stood up, as she stood on the stage, and applauded her brave words, spoken in faltering English, with clear trepidation. I was authentically acknowledging her experience, and what it meant to her and the impact it had on her life. Slowly, others stood as well. This was not about me, I’ve been a lone nut many times over the years, with a haphazard movement here or there. This ovation was about this woman, it was in acknowledgement of her resilience, and her optimism and our hope that her resolve to make great, positive contributions to her new homeland would be further entrenched. 

This is the point of this exercise. To be the one to give the standing ovation is to acknowledge that your success, and our success as a society, is irretrievably and undeniably tied to the wellbeing of all members of our community – so do your part to empower others and be confident that you have effected change.

  1. Be forgiving… especially of yourself. It is shocking how much we hold ourselves back from achieving our potential due to the self-recrimination we experience from the voice in our head. Our inner dialogue can focus too harshly and disproportionately on past failures. But you know what? It’s time to forgive yourself now. We all make mistakes. Some mistakes are more destructive than others but that is part of life and part of our human condition. But mistakes also have an inherent value. Mistakes crystallize our values where they may have been shaky, mistakes instill humility, and mistakes make us re-trace our steps and ponder a more constructive path for the future, by understanding what worked and what didn’t. 

What mistakes do not do is define our future with shame and regret. We are not forever held to answer to those mistakes if they have been acknowledged. So, forgive others, forgive yourself, hit the reset button and move on with the business of life.

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