six tips to improve your meeting management

Six Strategies To Tame the Meeting Monster

Six Strategies To Tame the Meeting Monster

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

If there’s one pervasive obstacle to effective leadership, it’s meetings. Whether it’s the sheer volume of meetings that consume our days, or the way in which those meetings are structured, we’ve seen this theme emerge time and again, at organizations large and small.

In talking with our clients, we realized that most of them feel they have little to no power over the meeting culture at their company.

But isn’t time just as valuable to a company as money? So you have a detailed expense policy and budgeting process, but you don’t have any processes in place to govern how time gets to spend on meetings? Anyone can call a meeting for anything? Without any rules for how those meetings are to be designed, prepped for, or run in order to ensure a real ROI? Crazy, now you think about it, isn’t it?

Below we have summarized 6 meeting management approaches that we’ve found can transform meetings from a necessary evil to a competitive advantage, enabling your company (or maybe just your group) to make better and faster decisions.

I. Meetings should have a clear goal that moves the company closer to achieving its purpose and justifies the time expenditure

A meeting is a vehicle to ACCOMPLISH something – to make decisions and move things forward. Always be clear what it is that you aim to have debated, decided, or discovered at the end of the meeting. Moreover, meetings take time, and time is money. It’s your responsibility to make sure your people don’t squander your company’s resources on unproductive meetings.

Meeting management fix:

  • Require each meeting organizer to answer each of the following questions(incorporate these in your meeting invitation template):
    • Why do you need to meet?
    • What are the decisions that you’re seeking through this meeting?
    • What is the estimated cost of holding the meeting? (Multiply the number of attendees x average hourly salary cost x meeting time.)
      • Note: We recently used this tool with a mid-stage startup that was riddled by an unproductive, excessive meeting culture. Within four weeks of introducing this practice, we measured a decrease in the total hours per week spent in meetings by more than 60%.

II. Meetings are NOT a medium for information sharing. (You can do that through other channels.)

The reason many of us drown in meetings is the same reason why many of us drown in emails: people call meetings and send emails because it gives them a false sense that they took an action to move something forward.

In fact, meetings are one of the worst ways to share information because of the myriad communication inefficiencies that can occur when a group of people interacts.

Here are the two most common examples:

  • Information cascades: The phenomenon whereby members of a group discount their own views and instead agree with the views of someone who shared their view or idea earlier in the meeting. Why does this happen? It all comes down to people’s confidence in their own views, ideas, or information versus those of the people who went before.
  • The common knowledge effect: When groups tend to overemphasize information held by all group members and ignore or discount unique information held by a few members. This happens especially when the unique information held by just a few of the members is opposed to the position that is initially the most popular. Majority pressures are partly to blame for this effect. Another cause is that individuals with unique information will often weigh the cost and benefit of speaking up. The personal cost of speaking up (being seen as disagreeable) usually outweighs the personal benefit of a better group decision. Therefore, they often decide to self-silence and not speak up. As a result, important information may remain hidden from the rest of the group.

It is for all these reasons that information-sharing should happen 100% before any meeting. That is why meetings need to be carefully planned and scheduled in advance as it allows:

  • All attendees to prepare properly by reviewing any materials and formulating their points of view
  • The meeting organizer to collect each of the attendees’ individual points of views or opinions on key issues ahead of the meeting to avoid an information cascade
  • Any attendee who has additional information to come forward and share that with the meeting organizer, so she can share it with the whole group ahead of the meeting

Meeting management fix:

  • The meeting organizer is responsible for collecting and sharing all background and reference material at least 5 days prior to the meeting. This enables participants to review and formulate their own points of view in advance and buffers them against the traps described above.
  • Meetings cannot be scheduled ad hoc for the same week to ensure there is enough time for meeting organizers to provide the pre-read materials and for the attendees to read it. The only exception is when there are clear unforeseen circumstances that require a decision to be reached within the same week.
  • Abandon status update meetings. This is classic “information-sharing” at its worst. Replace regular status meetings with a simple template for people to provide updates on their projects and highlight issues or opportunities for input. Then design a regular “flag resolution” meeting to clear roadblocks and plan the next steps.

III. Well-designed agendas are essential. Always prepare and distribute in advance of the meeting.

Agendas are crucial, yet often an under-valued tool for developing effective meetings. Here are some tips for writing a strong one:

  • List agenda items as questions that the attendees need to answer. This is much clearer then listing items such as “Qualified leads”, or “Competitor XYZ”, which leaves everyone guessing what is to be discussed. Consider instead, “What is driving the reduction in our qualified leads and what can we do to reverse the trend?” This sets clear expectations for what will be discussed.
  • Identify and measure the value of each item on the agenda. The value here is defined as an impact on the bottom line of the business. Don’t get paralyzed by trying to be too precise. Start by asking the question, “How does resolving this issue impact the bottom line of the business”. Then rank each of the issues from the highest impact to lowest impact. This ranking should inform the amount of time allocated to the issue on the agenda. Note: The ranking should not necessarily inform the sequencing of the agenda topics. How to sequence the topics should be informed both by how you want to pace the meeting, how certain topics might flow together, etc.
  • Allocate a realistic amount of time to each agenda topic (see above), and assign each topic to a specific attendee.
  • Be explicit about the process you’ll follow to reach a decision.One of our clients developed this basic formula: 10 minutes to clarify information provided in the pre-reading material, 10 minutes to discuss the pros and cons of the different choices or options to move forward, and 15 minutes to agree a final decision and plan for execution.

Meeting management fix:

Decline/cancel any meetings which 5 days prior to the meeting date still lack a clear agenda and/or for which no pre-reading material has been distributed.

IV. Only include people who are actively involved in progressing the issue.

The effectiveness of any meeting is directly correlated to the relevance of the attendees to the meeting. When arranging a meeting, ensure that each attendee is directly involved in decision making of one or more of the topics at hand.

Meeting management fix:

  • Ask meeting organizers to always clearly state in the meeting invitation why each attendee is invited and what their role is(see above)
    • Note: Implementing this approach enabled one of our clients to reduce the average number of people in a meeting by 75%, dramatically adding to the number of hours saved from people attending meetings they didn’t need to be at.
  • Meeting organizers should focus on actively engaging each attendee.This both reinforces the idea that each participant will make a valuable contribution, and ensures that EVERYONE gets a chance to be heard.Every meeting needs to lead to action.

V. Meetings must result in clear plans for action, with all agreeing who is accountable for what, and when.

The solution here is to implement a standard process for how you close each agenda item to ensure alignment, agreement and accountability. Here is a list of questions that we coach our leaders to use:

  • “Is there anything else someone needs to say or ask before we move on?” This helps flush out any unspoken concerns or unshared information.
  • “Is everyone in agreement with the decision?” If someone isn’t, then ask what it would take to get him or her on board.
  • “What specifically will we do by our next meeting to ensure progress?”
  • “Who is responsible for taking action? What level of responsibility do they have? What resources do they have?”

Meeting management fix:

  • Recruit a team of “meeting scribes” to document meeting highlights and agreed decisions, actions and responsibilities.Their notes can then be shared with all attendees and act as a reference document when following up on responsibility and accountability.

VI. Meeting attendees need to be PRESENT – not just in body, but also in mind

To be invited to a meeting means YOU are invited, not your computer and your phone.

This probably sounds anachronistic and unthinkable to some millennials. However, for meetings to be effective platforms for decision making, each person needs to be 100% present. Not just in body, but also in mind. No distractions.

Meetings are not a time to do your emails, surf the web, multi-task. In fact, if that is what you are doing in certain meetings then you probably don’t have to be there as you are clearly are not DIRECTLY involved with the decision making about the meeting topic

Meeting management fix:

  • Ban all laptops, tablets and phones from meetings. Only allow notebooks and pens.

In Conclusion:

Running effective meetings takes a lot of work. But unless you want your teams to have meetings for meetings’ sake, we highly recommend developing your personal or organizational meeting philosophy. Your teams will have fewer meetings, allowing you to take action more swiftly. The meetings you do have will be more effective, and ultimately your team or company will end up moving towards its goals faster.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

check-list of leadership competencies for the c-suite

Reach for the C-Suite: A Competencies Checklist

Reach for the C-Suite: A Competencies Checklist

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 343,000 top executive jobs, versus about 2,124,100 jobs in lower and middle management (a ratio of approximately 6:1). This points to one often overlooked barrier to ascending the corporate ladder:

There are far more professionals competing for C-suite roles than there are opportunities available. So, what does it take to successfully make the transition from mid-level manager to corporate leader? It starts with understanding that the skills that helped you reach the top of your functional ladder are very different from the skills you need to be a successful c-level executive.

In general terms, they may sound similar: strategic thinking, industry knowledge, people development, building and leading teams, change management, etc. But the level of competency required in each of these areas is vastly different.

This post is therefore dedicated to demystifying how to enhance these core competencies in order to get yourself c-suite-ready.

I. Technical skills ….. are now “just” a baseline requirement

This is often the hardest thing for aspiring or newly minted c-level leaders to wrap their heads around: Your technical skills are now “just” a baseline requirement

Don’t get us wrong, you absolutely are expected to be a leading light in your functional area of expertise.

But just being successful in leading your functional area isn’t enough to be an effective c-level leader. It’s table stakes

II. The ability to think strategically ……way beyond your functional area

“The ability to think strategically” is one of those opaque phrases so often seen (and over-used) on job descriptions and resumes. As a functional leader, thinking strategically refers to one’s ability to develop goals based on a deep understanding of the trends in your functional area and how this may impact your organization’s long-term growth. This level of strategic foresight is a sophisticated skill, which requires years of experience and dedication to your area of expertise.

However, you have to kick it up several notches to be effective at the c-level, because those leaders must be able to think strategically beyond their own functional area.

As a c-level executive you have to be able to grapple with and develop strategic plans for business issues that impact and involve functions and resources across the business – not just your own.

How to develop it:
The ability to think strategically at an organizational level is not something you can develop overnight. A leader who aspires to the c-suite needs to consciously work on it by seeking stretch assignments outside of their functional expertise.

In addition, they should pro-actively build relationships with peers across the organization to increase their awareness and understanding of issues and challenges across the business.

III. From market insight ……to outsight and global outlook

If technical expertise was about your functional area (eg. marketing, finance, engineering, product, operations, etc), then market knowledge is the deep understanding you have built up as a functional leader about your organization’s competition, its suppliers, customer base and the regulatory environment. You know it so well that you can spot trends and adjust your function’s business strategy accordingly.

However, as a c-level executive, you are expected to contribute to the development of a clear and compelling vision for the company as a whole as well as for your function – not just this year, but for the next few years. You need to be able to anticipate changes in the market even before they happen. To do that you need to zoom out of your usual focus on the here and now that is directly related to your function, industry and market.

You need to broaden your interest to become more engaged with developments in the wider world around you, both economically, legally, socially, politically and culturally. Only then will you develop the outsight and broader understanding of the forces at work in the market to anticipate forthcoming changes.

We refer to this as becoming a “learning leader”: a leader who accepts that her business environment is forever changing and willing to put in the effort to constantly develop new skills and outside understanding.

In addition, C-level leaders nowadays absolutely need a well-informed global outlook to enable them to help their businesses navigate the increasingly complex and increasingly boundary-less global business environments in which they operate

How to develop it:
The proactive, aspiring leader should seek out international experiences if at all possible to gain a more global perspective.

Additionally, developing outsight is not just a case of reading the Economist, the WSJ and watching 90 Minutes or Bloomberg West. In order to truly develop your outsight, you need to actually digest and integrate this information to formulate your very own opinions and ideas. Moreover, to actually showcase your outsight, you need to dare to share your observations and learnings with a wider audience, be it through speaking engagements, blog posts, podcasts, etc.

Yes, this is a time-consuming practice, but no-one said that getting to the c-suite was easy!

IV. From day-to-day management …..to team leadership

At lower management levels, we often see emerging leaders still rely on old-fashioned command-and-control leadership styles. Only by the time they reach middle management do most leaders learn how to engage their team member’s hearts’ and minds towards a shared purpose to drive their performance.

However, functional middle management leaders tend to still spend most of their time on day-to-day management issues, rather than long term planning.

In contrast, a c-level executive should no longer be involved in the day-to-day management of their function. They need to hire and build a team to which they can delegate full authority for the day to day execution of their function’s responsibilities.

Instead of being involved in the day-to-day, the c-level executive’s main focus should be on:

  • ensuring the team members understand and are inspired by the vision
  • actively developing and enabling the team to perform through providing the necessary training, coaching, hiring and other resources
  • challenging the team to ensure they operate on the cutting edge
  • recognizing and celebrating their team member’s efforts and contributions
  • practicing what they preach by demonstrating their beliefs and expectations through their own daily actions

How to develop it:
This is a really hard transition for any leader and you’ll only be able to make it successfully if you first focus on hiring and developing the right team so that you can delegate full authority for the day-to-day management.

Newly minted c-level executives often get this wrong: They give in to pressures from the CEO to push for quick implementations of new strategic initiatives rather than first taking the time to get their team in order.

Be aware of that pitfall. Negotiate if you must to buy the time to first focus on hiring and developing your team.

To learn more about the five practices of exemplary leadership as described above, we recommend reading The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

V. From intra-team collaboration …..to cross-functional collaboration

Though everyone is talking about collaboration these days, many functional leaders will admit that cross-functional collaboration is easier said then done. One of the most common hurdles for cross-functional collaboration is that functional leaders are usually measured against their own sets of goals and objectives and collaborating with another team might gets in the way of achieving their own goals and objectives.

In the c-suite there is no room for that kind of competition: The top management team shares responsibility for the company’s success and as such they are expected to work highly collaboratively for the good of the company.

Moreover, in today’s increasingly complex, interconnected world, the customer experience often involves interactions with multiple departments in the organization – from marketing through to customer support. Hence, functions are becoming more interdependent by the minute.

So the time of the individual star-based c-level executives is long gone. Instead, ideal C-level candidates need to be team players and have solid cross-functional internal networks they can leverage for collaboration and influence when stepping into the c-suite.

However, just being good at working the internal politics of an organization isn’t enough.

C-level executive also need to have influence beyond the walls of their organization.

For example, they need to have and maintain relationships with key people in the media, governments, subject matter experts in their industry or functional area of expertise, as well as with shareholders, regulators and of course employees, suppliers and customers.

How to develop it:
Strong internal and external networks take years to cultivate. Nor are these “just” LinkedIn connections. This why any leader with c-suite aspirations really needs to approach their networking as a critical business strategy, including clear goals, plans for execution and metrics to measure performance.

VI. From change management ……..to an agile mindset

By now you’ve climbed the ladder high enough to know that change is a never-ending part of business.

However, at the c-level it is no longer about incremental change, but about aligning and mobilizing the whole organization to change with you – to adopt specific behaviors, processes and practices to improve processes, and systems and develop new products and services that will support the company’s strategic vision.

In the past such firm-wide change initiatives were usually periodic, followed by a period of stability.

However, in today’s ever-changing business environment, c-level executives need to accept that their environment, and hence their business, is in a state of constant flux. The best leaders therefore operate with a continuous change- agent mindset.

Given the speed of change in today’s business environment, leaders no longer know exactly what the outcome should be. They only know the direction. To operate like this they need to use agile processes to guide their teams through rapid iterative cycles of build-, measure-, learn to quickly prototype possible new solutions. This agile approach allows them to learn what the market wants as they move along, rather then using the old way of change management which required a fully specced pre-defined outcome which, at times, ended up being the wrong solution by the time it was delivered

How to develop it:
Agility is a mindset. It starts with embracing the ambiguity found in today’s fast-changing business world. Accept that what you know today may no longer be true tomorrow.

Furthermore, to succeed as an agile leader you need to combine adaptability with strict accountability.

  • Adaptability means using consecutive Build, Measure, Learn cycles to find new solutions and redefining failure as an opportunity to learn what the best new solutions are.
  • Accountability means pre-setting clear goals and metrics on how you are going to measure the outcomes of each cycle.

To learn more about innovative leadership I would recommend reading this great 2014 paper by the Center for Creative Leadership, “Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation” . For more about the lean startup principles, read Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

VII. From budgeting ……..to full-blown financial literacy

Except for those in sales or business development, few functional leaders have real p&l responsibility and with that often lack in-depth financial awareness, which is a must-have for anyone who aspires to the c-suite.

C-level executives are tasked with driving the financial growth of the company. It’s therefore imperative that they understand in detail how the business operates to make money – i.e. cost of goods (COGS), key supplier rebates, seasonal drivers, customer acquisition cost, volume discounts, key supplier/material cost dependencies, overheads, taxes, etc.

In the end, what each function does in an organization should contribute towards “moving the profit needle”. It is therefore critical that each c-level executive understands and can explain how their function impacts the company’s profit. For example, a CTO needs to be able to explain how tackling the tech debt will eventually enable them to make more money, even though it may initially look like it is just costing money.

How to develop it:
This used to be one of the main reasons why people went off to do an MBA. However, with a little application, you can learn a lot if you simply make friends with your company’s Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) team, controller, VP of Finance and CFO. Meet with them regularly and ask them to talk you through the numbers. Have them also challenge your department’s spending so you can get used to their “how does this help us make money” mindset.

And once again, this is also one of those skills, which you can seek to develop through applying for special stretch assignments.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

How to sustain leadership peak performance

How to Sustain Leadership Peak Performance

How to Sustain Leadership Peak Performance

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

NBA basket ball player Steph Curry, tennis star Rodger Federer, and championship golfer Jordan Spieth. Each of these sports stars has an incredible talent and ability in their chosen sport. However, for them to be able to access that talent and skill at the very moment of a match, game or tournament, several key things need to be in place. They need to feel good physically as a result of enough sleep, rest (which is not the same as sleep), practice and proper nutrition. They need to feel in a good place emotionally and be clear minded, focused and mentally alert. Lastly, they need to feel deeply connected to what the sport means to them and why they want to dominate and win.

Leadership, too, is an intense contact sport. Every day, leaders need to access their talents and abilities to effectively lead. But unlike elite athletes, many leaders still believe that success is the result of brainpower combined with time spend and super-human effort.

As a result, they tend to glorify spending long hours at the office, getting by on little sleep and being always “on,” even outside of work hours.

In doing so, leaders are ignoring the empirical reality of the “performance pyramid,” a model for achieving peak performance developed by psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr based on extensive applied research. In this model, peak performance is achieved by optimizing a person’s energy across all four levels of the performance pyramid.: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The result is a peak performance in which one has complete, on-demand access to one’s talent and abilities.

Once a leader is able to proactively manage & optimize his or her energy across all four levels, then he or she is able to achieve and sustain high performance by fully accessing their talents and abilities, irrespective of the circumstances.

In this article, we provide an overview of each level. You’ll see how each aspect of personal performance contributes to a leader’s effectiveness. By harnessing 100% of their talents and abilities under all circumstances, leaders can reach their fullest potential and maximize the degree of impact they make in the workplace.

Next week we will then further continue this conversation with a series of articles that explore specific practices and techniques to optimize each of the four levels of the performance pyramid.

Physical Energy

It’s widely understood that physical energy is the foundation of all performance. However, too many of us equate physical fitness solely with “working out” and “sleeping enough.” In doing so, we overlook the fact that the quality of our physical energy is affected by the type, timing and frequency of our exercise, the integration of rest (which is not the same as sleeping) and the make-up of our diet.

If you think this isn’t relevant to leaders, think again.

The organ that requires the most energy is our brain – an organ that is critical to any leader’s functioning. In addition, being an effective leader requires emotional self-control under pressure, which also draws heavily on our physical energy.

Just picture a toddler when they are tired – the smallest upset triggers them to “lose it.” Now consider all the emotions you experience as a leader on a daily basis. You need to remain sanguine despite those feelings. That requires ample physical energy resources.

So, by skipping exercise, not taking time to eat well, and short-changing yourself on sleep and rest, you are not just being less healthy than you would ideally like to be – you are actually inhibiting your potential for success as a leader.

There are of course plenty of leaders who do succeed despite too little sleep, eating unhealthily and little exercise. However, their success is unsustainable and ultimately they will pay the price for not looking after their physical foundation – for example, by damaging key relationships because their exhaustion makes them emotionally volatile or by developing bad health problems that hinder their further career progress.

Next week we will explore several key practices to incorporate into your life to optimize your physical energy, and thus the foundation for your sustained leadership peak performance.

Emotional Energy

Many leadership development models focus on emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

In the context of Loehr’s pyramid, however, emotional energy refers to our state of mind, because how we feel greatly impacts our ability to access our talents and skills, and thus our effectiveness as a leader.

Picture it: Remember how great you felt on Monday morning after having enjoyed a truly relaxing and fun weekend with your family? You felt calm, energized, optimistic and confident and had a super productive series of meetings. Then everything changed on a dime when your CFO shot you an email to let you know that you likely have to cut 10% of your next quarter budget while maintaining the planned topline. You couldn’t help but feel frustrated with him. That’s easy for him to say. He just runs the numbers, while you and your team are out there on the front line sweating it to bring in the $. Then your VP of Business Development dropped by unannounced with news that there seemed to be a wrinkle in the negotiations with a new partner. Somehow you lost your cool and made a comment that suggested it was his fault, which led to a heated and unhelpful discussion about responsibilities, yet did nothing to resolve the issue. To add insult to injury, you then had to lead your group’s weekly directors meeting and your heart just wasn’t in it. You were there in person, but throughout the meeting your mind was wandering. One of the directors had requested time on the agenda to present a new idea. You listened but it just sounded like one more pipedream. Great idea, but with budget cuts coming down the pipe you just didn’t feel like you had it in you to try and make this fly.

Some of you may think this is just the reality of being a leader. But what if you could gain more control over how you react to the many different challenges that cross your path as a leader on a daily basis? What if you could access empowering emotions under any circumstances, so you could approach all those daily challenges with flexibility and responsiveness?

The first step is to become more aware of what or who triggers our negative emotions. Once we can learn to identify those moments, we are one step closer to being able to change our reaction.

As the famous psychologist Viktor E. Frankl said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Once we learn to identify those negative stimuli, we create an opportunity to explore whether the story we are telling ourselves actually matches with the facts. Is that CFO really not aware that this is a tough ask? What if he just shot you that email to give you a heads up so you have as much time as possible to figure out how to find a solution?

Next week, we’ll explore in more depth how to avoid slipping into a negative state of mind that makes you irritable, impatient and at risk of damaging valuable relationships.
You learn how to maintain a positive state of mind that allows you to fully access your talents and skills under any circumstances.

Mental Energy

“I just don’t have the mental energy right now to deal with that.”

We’ve all said this phrase – but what does it mean? Clearly, there’s some unspoken force that’s preventing us from appropriately addressing, analyzing and responding to a situation. As a leader there is a lot riding on your mental acuity so it’s time well spend to proactively improve it.

Neuroscience identifies 8 core cognitive functions that enable our learning and thinking. To optimize our mental energy, we need to focus on further developing 3 of those 8 functions. Importantly, when we optimize these 3 core cognitive functions, they can naturally lead to improved performance of the 5 other core cognitive functions.

Three cognitive functions, which can increase mental energy

  1. Sustained Attention is the basic ability to look, listen and think deeply over a period of time. Interestingly, this is not all about training your mind. As mentioned before, the brain devours 20% of our energy and without proper nutrition we cannot hope to be able to focus our attention. In addition, to function properly our brain needs water. Even mild dehydration—so slight that you don’t notice or feel thirsty—can lead to inattention. So drink up! The next step to increase your ability to sustain attention for longer is to introduce daily practices that train your brain to repeatedly cycle through focus, distraction and re-focus. Meditation is obviously one of those practices but in next week’s article we will discuss several other approaches that can help train your brain.
  2. Response Inhibition is the ability to inhibit one’s own automatic responses to distractions or emotive triggers. For leaders this is a key cognitive function as it can save you from jumping to conclusions, overreacting, etc. It is precisely for this reason that more and more leaders have started to try and integrate mindfulness practices. Mindfulness and several other awareness-enhancing techniques that we will discuss in our next article, can improve your response inhibition and thus enable you to be a more thoughtful, considered leader.
  3. Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to change what you are thinking about, how you are thinking about it and even what you think about it – in other words, the ability to change your mind. This is a core cognitive function for leaders as they frequently have to switch mental gears when moving from one meeting to another, abandon one way of thinking about a problem when it does not lead to a solution and adopt another way of thinking, and give up erroneous information to accept new and correct information. Cognitive control implies the ability to resist the impulse to perseverate and keep thinking in a previously active but no longer appropriate manner. So how does one develop one’s cognitive flexibility? We are looking for mental activities that cross-train the brain. For example, playing strategic mind games such as chess challenges your brain to quickly analyze and respond to constantly changing and new situations. Similarly, reading good quality long-form essays, literary fiction, or non-fiction books can help keep your cognitive flexibility in shape as it challenges your brain to grasp new perspectives, topics, story lines, and facts.

Overview of the five remaining core cognitive functions, which improve as a result of improved mental energy

  1. Speed of Information Processing refers to how quickly we can process incoming information.
  2. Working Memory refers to the ability to remember instructions or keep information in the mind. Working memory is the sketchpad of the mind where we put things to think about and manipulate.
  3. Category Formation is the ability to organize information, concepts and skills into categories, and forms the cognitive basis for higher-level abilities like applying, analyzing, and evaluating those concepts and skills.
  4. Pattern Recognition and Inductive Thinking is a special ability of the human brain to not only identify patterns, but figure out in a logical way what those patterns suggest about what will happen next.
  5. Multiple Simultaneous Attention is the ability to move attention and effort back and forth between two or more activities when engaged in them at the same time. It makes demands on sustained attention, response inhibition and speed of information processing. (I should mention though that while human being can do two things, or even multi-task, our brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Though we think multi-tasking helps us achieve more and faster, it actually slows us down. But that’s a topic for another article!)

Spiritual Energy

Spiritual energy refers to the energy you derive from being connected to your own purpose, beliefs and values – all that which gives us direction in life.

This is the level of energy that reveals itself when the going gets tough.

Those leaders who are deeply aware of and connected to their purpose, beliefs and values will draw heavily on their spiritual energy when they face difficult times and decisions. It is the energy that sustains them through those moments of crisis.

Nurturing your spiritual energy may sound frivolous, but it must not be perceived as such.

Being at the top frequently means making unpopular decisions for the greater good of the business. This can be very draining and requires ample spiritual energy resources to sustain you as a leader through that again and again.

Optimizing your spiritual energy is a deeply personal thing. This is not really about adopting a few practices or techniques into your daily routine. Instead, we will use next week’s article to discuss some key questions that might help you discover and more deeply connect with what drives, directs and sustains you – as an individual, and as a leader.

It works both ways

As per the logic of the performance pyramid model, each level impacts the next. When our physical energy level is low, our emotional energy is limited and we are likely to be more emotionally volatile, in turn effecting our mental energy level and thus our ability to think clearly and logically.

The important thing is to realize it also works in reverse.

If we optimize our foundational physical energy, then this spills over into more emotional energy, which in turn, if optimized, supports higher mental energy and enables us to more easily connect to our spiritual energy resources.

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

How to lead a diverse team

Diversity of Thought – Dare to Be Different

Diversity of Thought – Dare to Be Different

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

We are drawn to people who are similar because we understand them. We can predict their behavior. We enjoy the fact that they understand us. They make us feel stronger – affirmed.

People who are different from us make us uncomfortable. They make us wonder whether we are wrong. They act in ways we don’t understand. They make us feel weaker.

But it is exactly in those differences that our combined strength lies, not in the comfort of our overlapping beliefs, values and ideas. This may sound like a platitude, but many of us regularly choose comfort over challenge

As leaders in business, we need to remind ourselves of this whenever we create and work with teams. We prefer to work with people who are similar because you can go faster, but are you sure your outcome is as good as it could be? We want things to go easy and smooth, but is that really the path to the best outcome?

Different is difficult and unsettling …because it challenges us to let go of the certainty and safety of our beliefs and to consider that our perspective may not be the only answer. It challenges us to embrace the ambiguity of dealing with multiple possible ways, perspectives, or answers.

Different is slower ….because it requires us to suspend judgment and decisions until we have considered the different approaches and possibilities.

Different is fractious ……. Because it requires us to highlight our differences, rather than smooth them over – it requires us to proactively disagree.

Yet different is better ….because through this difficult, unsettling, slow and fractious process we gather new perspectives, ideas, possible answers and ways of doing things – a treasure trove from which a better answer, idea or approach will likely arise.

As leaders we need to embrace the fact that collaboration should not be smooth sailing. We need to accept that harmony is not the ideal. So instead of seeking to create teams in which all differences have been blunted into a smooth harmonious whole, we need to build diverse teams which truly foster and leverage the diversity of thinking generated by people from different generations, genders, orientations, cultures and personalities.

Building a diverse team requires a lot of its leader as she or he needs to foster a deep sense of cohesion amongst its dissimilar team members. People feel a sense of belonging with people who are similar because they feel understood. A diverse team, which is all about being dissimilar, can therefore also come together and feel a deep sense of cohesion if they truly learn to understand each other. This requires a long-term focus on helping people understand intergenerational, gender, multicultural and personality differences as well as coming together as a team to develop strategies to both effectively work across as well as leverage those differences.

Sounds like a huge challenge? It is, but if we as leaders truly want the best for our organizations then we need to rise to the challenge. Moreover, the reality of our work place is becoming more diverse by the minute. It all starts with us leaders and our willingness to get uncomfortable and start learning how to do this.

A team discovery of differences

Many of you may have at one point or another conducted a personality assessment in your team. But how many of you have proactively explored how cultural, intergenerational and gender differences between your people impact how they work together? And how many of you are still actively using the insights from that team personality assessment?

You get the gist. It is time to start proactively exploring those differences. But exploring them once as a team building gimmick is not going to make a difference. This is more about starting a conversation. Fostering a team culture that appreciates and leverages differences requires tact and persistence, because at first it will create discomfort and resistance.

Start by doing your homework on intergenerational, gender, multicultural and personality differences. Below we have provided a list of resources. Once you’ve found your footing start the conversation in a structured and explicit way. Explain to your people why you want them to gain a true appreciation of each other’s differences. Guide them on that journey of discovery and be sure to make it psychologically safe for all involved. And remember that this is not just about building an understanding of their differences, but also about together developing strategies to work more effectively across those differences as well as to discover how they might leverage those differences to work better together.

Develop a framework for team emotional intelligence

As we mentioned earlier, embracing differences is difficult and unsettling and can be frustratingly slow and requires disagreement. Navigating such an emotionally charged process as a team requires true team emotional intelligence.

As per Daniel Goleman, an emotionally intelligent person is someone who is able to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, understand them, and use this information to constructively guide one’s thinking and actions.

But a team’s emotional intelligence isn’t simply the sum of its members’ emotional intelligence. Instead, a group’s emotional intelligence is its ability to create a shared set of norms that foster awareness of and manage the emotions of the individuals within a team, the team itself, and towards people outside the team.

For example, a discussion between people who have been explicitly asked to think independently can be emotionally challenging for all involved, so a diverse team needs a process (which eventually becomes a habit) to pick up on, seek to understand and manage the emotions of its individual members. This can for example involve rules for how to engage in proper constructive dialogue as well as ground rules for how to deal emotions, for example by asking people to “name it” when strong feelings bubble up and start interfering with their interaction.

The team also needs a way to manage the team spirit. For example, a diverse team has a tendency to get a little intense at times, so the team needs to have a way to hit the decompression button. This can involve establishing a habit to check the “team mood” as well as regular team review meetings which solely focus on reviewing how well the team collaborates.

You as the leader cannot unilaterally legislate these norms. You have to discuss and design such a framework of norms together with the team. A great resource to deepen your understanding of how to foster team emotional intelligence is the book written by Marcia Hughes and James Bradford Terrell titled “The Emotionally Intelligent Team: Understanding and Developing the Behaviors of Success”

 

For further resource please see the list below

1) The Culture Map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, written by Erin Meyer

2) Global Dexterity: How to adapt your behavior across cultures without losing yourself in the process, written by Andy Molinsky

3) Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2017, by  Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christfort

4) The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization by John R Katzenbach and Douglas K Smith

5) The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work, by Laura Liswood

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

Questions Are The New Answers

Questions are the new answers

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” – Voltaire

How do you discover the next big market opportunity? How do you understand the consequences of new trends, challenges or threats? How do you validate new ideas? How do you evaluate an unfamiliar situation? How do you assess whether someone has the personality to succeed in a certain role? How do you diagnose what is causing a problem? How do you review a proposed solution? How do you unearth new information? How do you discern the real needs that are driving a negotiation?

All of these issues require leaders to use questioning to get to the right answer and decision.

Questioning is thus a key skill for any leader. Especially in today’s fast-changing complex world in which the right answer only holds for a little while, before a new answer is required. In this new reality the ability to ask the right questions is even more key.

Yet there are quite a few hidden obstacles that stop many leaders from using questioning to the extend they should:

They are in a rush, while questioning requires time;

They are driven by a (too) strong bias for action, which causes them to make quick decisions, rather than using questioning to explore the issue more extensively, which requires a willingness and ability to embrace ambiguity for a little while longer.

They believe they are expected to be the one with the answers. This is a common phenomenon among leaders as they usually rose to their positions in leadership by being a person who had the right answers. Alas, if you try and uphold this as a leader, you will soon find yourself overwhelmed and you will render your team dependent, because answering their every question stops them from having to learn for themselves. In contrast, the wise leader answers a question with another question to help their people find the answers by themselves and in doing so these leaders develop their people’s skills, knowledge and confidence along the way.

Their organizational or group culture doesn’t value it. For example, in a culture where loyalty is highly valued, asking questions can be perceived as disagreeing with someone. In such a culture people who ask questions can be perceived as difficult, even obstructive.

They are unskilled at it. Good questioning starts with knowing what you want to achieve and then choosing the right path. But that is easier said then done. Few of us are really fluent in the art of questioning – knowing how and when to use Socratic questioning, analytical questioning, scientific questioning, empathic questioning, etc. Moreover, get it wrong and you risk seriously upsetting a relationship because questioning can put people on the defensive as they may mis-interpret the question as an accusation or your questions may make them think you are second-guessing them.

Like learning a new language

Developing your questioning skills is like learning a new language. You need to figure out the basic grammar and learn a basic vocabulary to get you going, but the real learning comes with actually putting it into practice.

With questioning, learning about the various questioning techniques is like learning the grammar and learning some of the typical questions for each of those questioning approaches provides you with your basic questioning vocabulary.

Below we have summarized 3 questioning techniques to help you elevate your questioning. The aim is to give you the basic concept of each approach and a few “starting questions” as examples.

With these 3 approaches you can begin to introduce questioning in a more purposeful and structured way into your meetings and conversations. As it will take a while to really get fluent at this, we highly recommend preparing your questioning approach for key meetings and conversations.  Decide what the best approach is and then write down your key questions in advance.

Evaluating someone’s reasoning

When you seek to evaluate someone’s reasoning, you basically want to check whether it holds up against all the intellectual standards of a well-reasoned argument: Clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness, and fairness. Hence, a great approach to evaluate a certain line of reasoning is to use those very intellectual standards as the entry points for your questioning:

  • Clarity: Could you give me an example of your point?
  • Precision: Could you be more specific? Could you give me more details about that?
  • Accuracy: How can we validate the veracity of these facts?
  • Relevance: How does this pertain to the issue at hand?
  • Depth: What are the complexities that are inherent in this issue?
  • Breadth: What various points of view do we need to consider to fully evaluate this issue?
  • Logicalness: How does what you say follow logically from the facts?
  • Fairness: Do you have a vested interest in this issue? Are you also fairly considering the viewpoints of others on this issue?

Another approach to evaluate a certain line of reasoning is to use the component parts of the structured (analytical) problem solving process as our entry points for our questions. Structured problem solving starts by stating a purpose (the problem, the question to answer, the goal), then determines from which angle you are looking to solve it, makes key assumptions, considers implications, seeks data as evidence, draws on key concepts and then draws a conclusion. Using this process as a starting point for your analytical questioning could help you ask questions like these:

  • Goal/Purpose: What are we trying to accomplish?
  • POV: From what point of view are you looking at this?
  • Assumptions: What assumptions underlie your point of view?
  • Implications: If we do this, what is likely to happen as a result?
  • Data: On what information are you basing that comment?
  • Concepts & Theories: What is the main idea or theory you are basing your reasoning on?
  • Inferences & judgments: How did you reach that conclusion?

Using questions to help crystallize an idea or using questions to test the validity of a new idea or theory

Socratic questioning is the perfect approach when you want to help someone develop a latent but not yet fully-developed idea. It also works well to test whether a new theory holds up under systemic scrutiny.

Though none of us will become as skilled at this as Socrates overnight, you can make a start by systematically questioning an opinion, idea or belief in each of the following 4 directions:

  • The origin or source of the idea/belief/opinion: How did you come to believe that? What inspired that idea?
  • The reasons, evidence and assumptions that underpin the idea/belief/opinion: How do you know? What evidence do you have? Why is that relevant?
  • The implications and consequences of the idea/belief/opinion: If that is true, then what else is true? What happens when we act on that belief/idea?
  • Opposing thoughts and objections to the idea/belief/opinion: How could someone else look at this differently? Why do you think your way of thinking is better?

There obviously is a lot more to the art of questioning than the above, so if you are intrigued to learn more then have a look at the list of resources below.

Leading With Questions by Michael Marquardt

Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions and Spark Change, by Frank Sesno

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, by Warren Berger

The Art of Socratic Questioning by Richard Paul and Linda Elder

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling by Edgar Schein

Asking Essential Questions by Richard Paul and Linda Elder

Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time

Self-discipline is the key leadership quality of great leaders

All Great Leaders Share One Success Quality: Self-discipline

All Great Leaders Share One Success Quality: Self-discipline

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp,
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…. self-discipline, with all of them came first” Harry S. Truman

People often look for common qualities across successful leaders. However, different circumstances require different leadership qualities to be effective. Yet, there is one quality these great leaders do share: they achieved their success by using self-discipline.

Self-discipline is the ingredient that makes success possible.

Without self-discipline there would be no Olympic gold medal winners, no great business leaders and entrepreneurs, no great artists, writers or inventors.

Unfortunately, our modern society isn’t a particularly good breeding ground for self-discipline. Permissive parenting styles and the increasing ease of modern society in which you can get most things at the click of a button, have turned self-discipline into an old-fashioned value. In fact, many people nowadays associate self-discipline with strictness, self-denial, and “being boring”. They wrongly view self-discipline as a restriction of their freedom. However, in doing so, they fail to see that practicing self-discipline leads to the joy of self-fulfillment and the freedom of having personal power.

What is self-discipline then?

Self-discipline is the ability to commit and mobilize yourself fully to a certain course of action, even in the face of conflicting goals, challenges and great effort. Self-disciplined people can concentrate on their goals and stay focused on them despite distractions. They practice control over their emotions, actions, and thoughts to do so.

Self-discipline tends to be rooted in a deep personal desire for a certain goal and a deep personal belief that this goal is attainable with effort. Only if you are obsessed with the goal will you have the determination to do what it takes. And, only if you have the self-assurance that you can acquire the essential skills and knowledge, will you have the patience and mental toughness to persist in your efforts.

Sounds so common sense, yet is so uncommonly practiced.

How do you develop self-discipline?

So what’s the difference between your level of self-discipline and that of the world’s great leaders? Below we’ve listed 6 prerequisites for an individual to be able to practice self-discipline at the highest level – i.e. the level at which it becomes THE success quality. Upon scanning the headlines you may think, “yeah, know that already”, but read on as there is a lot more to each of them then what most of us practice as we go about our goals, and wouldn’t you like to know how to go from good to great?

  1. A detailed, almost sensory, vision of your goal

We all have goals, but how many of those have you truly visualized? For example, you may have a goal of becoming a truly effective corporate leader. Do you know in detail what achieving that goal looks like? What benefits will achieving that goal tangibly bring you? What will happen or change in your life once you’ve achieved that goal? How will others view you? What steps must you take to reach your goal?

Going through a series of questions like that, to visualize your goals, has a very real effect on you: it makes your goals more real and you’ll become more invested in them. Visualizing your goals helps create the motivation you need to fuel your self-discipline. People, who do this, will for example say, “I wanted it so much I could almost taste it.”

This is also what most venture capitalists look for in entrepreneurs. They look for entrepreneurs who are passionate, perhaps almost bordering on obsessed, about their vision, because that will fuel the self-discipline they will need to succeed against the odds (Remember, 90% of all startups fail).

It is important though, that you don’t just visualize the act of arriving or achieving your goal, but also the journey to it. Just think of what great athletes do. A swimmer, runner or cyclist will envision their race in detail, “seeing” themselves overcome all obstacles to place first. Similarly, before physically shooting a free throw, a basketball player will first visualize every detail: seeing the basket, raising their arms into shooting position, perfectly going through their shooting motion and seeing the ball fall perfectly through the net.

Visualization is not some new-age gimmick. It has very real effects: Visualizing the benefits of attaining your goal will increase your motivation, and visualizing what it takes to get there will help you to recognize and take positive advantage of the people, resources and circumstances that move you toward reaching your goal.

So, get “obsessed” about the leader you want to be by using the questions above and remember:

“Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed imagination.” — William Arthur Ward

  1. A deep self-belief in the possibility of your goal by studying examples of others who have succeeded

Artists copy the works of great masters to study their techniques, writers copy masterworks to learn from and leaders study great leaders who came before them. For example, General George S. Patton Jr., read voraciously about his military heroes Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and William Tecumseh Sherman to learn from them. Similarly, Steve Jobs idolized Polaroid founder Edwin Land and modeled his career after Land’s

Studying the actions and behaviors and attitudes of role models, shows and teaches you what is possible and inspires you to believe you can do it too.

So, who are your role models? Just knowing their names is not enough. Read, watch and listen to everything you can find about them so you can learn from their actions, their behaviors, and their attitudes. It will fuel the self-belief you require to sustain the self-discipline you’ll need to attain your big goal.

To provide you with some inspiration, you’ll find at the end of this article a list of 15 female role models from all kinds of industries and professions and for each of them we have included a link to an article, book or video to learn more about them.

  1. Ability to eat an elephant

Many people who set big goals eventually become disheartened because they cannot envision the path to get to their goal – i.e. they don’t know how to go about eating the elephant. So, a prerequisite for self-discipline is to be able to connect the future with the present – i.e. being able to identify what we need to do today to move one step closer to our future.

So you need to meticulously plan and organize towards your goal. This enables you to prepare for what is ahead of you. You won’t be surprised or deterred by the effort required or the duration of the journey and you can take measures to prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically, socially and financially for what is ahead. Moreover, you will no longer waste any energy on anything that isn’t useful. Your every action will be purposeful.

When you have a clear plan for how to “eat the elephant”, your self-discipline strengthens as you’ll consolidate your energy towards purposeful actions that get you closer to your goal.

So, do you know in detail what it takes to get to that next big career goal? Have you mapped it out? Do you know exactly what your next step is and the step after that and the step after that? If not, take the time to do so now and start making every action matter

  1. A learning attitude towards failure

Fear of failure is what stops many people from pursuing their goals. There can be many causes for this; perfectionism, low self-esteem or over-personalizing failure (seeing it as a statement about who you are). However, failure is an unavoidable part of any path to success. So, you’ll need to make friends with it. Start seeing it for what it is – a point of feedback to help you learn and progress. For me this always brings to mind Thomas A. Edison’s story of how he made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

I personally learned this a long time ago when I trained to become a ballerina at the Royal Ballet School in the Netherlands. We had to bring a notebook with us to every class. After we finished, we had to write down any corrections we were given during the class. The next time we took that class, we were expected to have reviewed our list and be focused on making those improvements during that day’s practice. That daily rhythm of feedback, improve, feedback, improve established a mindset that has served me well throughout my career.

Negative feedback is not something to fear. We can’t assume that we’d do everything perfectly straightaway, so have the courage to try and then ask for feedback, write it down if you need to, and improve it next time.

When we embrace failure as an expected part of our journey it won’t have a chance of denting our self-discipline – it won’t make us quit. Instead, we will just learn from it what we can to support our progress towards our goal.

  1. Can do attitude

What we are talking about here has become known in recent years as having a “growth mindset”, as popularized by prof. Carol Dweck’s book. It boils down to having the believe that our intellect and capabilities aren’t fixed, but that we can learn anything if we are willing to apply ourselves.

This un-flinching belief and attitude that you can and are willing to make the effort to learn whatever is needed to move towards your goal is an important prerequisite for self-discipline.

There are plenty of great stories out there of how great leaders did this. For example, Sara Blakely who founded Spanx, taught herself about the hosiery business by reading about it online and talking to hosiery mill owners. At one point, she even spent seven nights straight at the Georgia Tech library researching every hosiery patent ever filed to save herself from having to pay a patent lawyer.

This can-do attitude combined with the learning attitude towards failure and the detailed, almost sensory, vision of your goal, are what provides the well of positive energy to fuel the persistence you’ll require to be self-disciplined in the face of challenges, conflicting goals and great effort.

So, identify the skills or knowledge you’ll need to achieve your goal and then start your learning journey – today. Don’t wait for someone else to invest in your education. Control your own future: invest in you. Invest your time and if you can, your money, to further your skills and knowledge towards your goal. Read voraciously, talk to experts, attend conferences, trainings, workshops, etc.

  1. Rome wasn’t built in a day

Patience is not something many of us have these days as we have become accustomed to a world of ‘instant everything’. However, patience is critical to practicing self-discipline. You need to have the ability to tolerate waiting, delay, or frustration without becoming agitated or upset. You need to be able to control your emotions or impulses and proceed calmly when faced with difficulties. Time is nourishment

So how do you handle this if you are a type A, speed junky? Once you have visualized your goal as well as meticulously planned your journey to get there, the trick is to forget about the big goal and just concentrate on the next step; just putting one foot in front of the other; achieving & celebrating one mile stone at a time. This approach takes your mind off the total length of the journey (for example, the many years until you make CEO) and instead focuses you on an attainable intermediary destination (mile stone) to aim for in the short term.

How might your leadership benefit from a little boost in self-discipline?

Start by asking yourself where you are using excuses to rationalize weaknesses in your leadership. List them and then review them against the 6 prerequisites above. Which prerequisite do they suggest is not being met?

Below we have provided some examples of typical excuses we often hear from leaders regarding weaknesses in their leadership and a potential quick diagnosis of which pre-requisite for self-discipline may not be met.

“I’ve just never been a good communicator” or “Long-term visioning is just not my thing. I’ve always preferred a more practical approach to leadership” – This suggests a disbelief in your ability to acquire the necessary skills

“I just still don’t see myself as a leader” – The words give you a way: you don’t have a clear vision of what you look like as a leader and you may also lack a sense of self-belief due to a lack of good role models

“I’m just not comfortable taking on ……….” or “I got burned so now….” –  Could indicate a fear of failure

List of 15 female leaders to inspire your search for your role models

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, book:  Road to Power: How GM’s Mary Barra Shattered the Glass Ceiling 

Mary Kay Ash , founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, book:  The Mary Kay Way: Timeless Principles from America’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur

Mindy Grossman, CEO of the Home Shopping Network, article: How Mindy Grossman Turned Around HSN

 Leslie Blodgett, Founder of Bare Escentuals, article: How I Did It: Leslie Blodgett of Bare Escentuals

Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of Minted, Minted’s, video:  Mariam Naficy on How to Start Again After a Fail

 Natalie Massenet, founder of net-a-porter, video: Natalie Massenet in conversation with Imran Amed

Beth Comstock, Vice Chairwoman at General Electric, article:  The GE Executive Pulling Women Up the Ladder with Her

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, article: How Sara Blakely of Spanx Turned $5,000 into $1 billion

Barbara Corcoran, book: Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, book:  Indra Nooyi – A Biography

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, video:  Ginni Rometty on Charlie Rose

Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burbery and current SVP of retail at Apple, video:  Angela Ahrendts on Charlie Rose

Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, book:  The Power of Many: Values for Success in Business and in Life

Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State, book:  No Higher Honor

Sandra Day O’Connor, first female Supreme Court Justice, book:  Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice

Kirsten Gillibrand,  U.S. Senator for New York, Book:   Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World

About the author

Brenda van Camp Brenda van Camp
Founder & CEO, Upwardley

Brenda is the Founder and CEO of Upwardley, the new San Francisco based start-up that harnesses the latest people science & technology to re-imagine leadership development for the modern enterprise by making it more affordable, personalized, on-demand and habit-building.

Brenda is also the author of the book “The Leadership Workout”, which provides you with a 31-day framework to purposefully direct and regularly review your leadership through daily reflection and practice, to help you refine and further develop your leadership. One facet at a time, one day at a time