Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Building Trust.

A few weeks ago, while preparing for a talk, I reached for Amy Cuddy’s book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. Cuddy speaks about how,  in sizing others up as credible leaders, people ask themselves two questions: Do I trust this person and Do I respect this person?  In the parlance of psychology, these two aspects translate into “warmth” and “competence”, and there is a vast body of research that shows that trust and competence are the two main drivers of credibility.

In the corporate world, we tend to focus primarily on how to become better experts, and much less on how to gain and keep the trust of others. Most organizations are geared to exclusively value competence — it’s how people get promoted, get listened to and gain influence.

But in a world where disruption and constant change is the new normal, agility and the ability to react quickly is just as important. In that case, it’s the leaders that people trust who will be more likely to quickly and effortlessly mobilize people to change, adapt and follow them into unknown territory.

Experience and knowledge are important, but if you want people to follow you, you need them to trust you first, so that they can benefit from your competence.

Knowing this and putting it into practice, however are two different things. And, in fact, while I see that most of my clients understand this, it’s hard for them to pay as much attention to cultivating and developing social connections as they do to the rest of their work.

Why? In a world where we are all constantly busy, it’s hard to slow down to take time to focus on the things that build trust:

  • Listening deeply
  • Taking the time to communicate effectively, authentically and strategically
  • Getting to know people individually as people (I like lunching or coffeeing with people)
  • Practicing kindness and respect towards everyone
  • Developing empathy

What are you doing to actively cultivate and work on your trustworthiness?

All the Best,
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You Cannot Think Yourself Out of a Rut. What to Do Instead.

We all get into ruts: habitual, automatic cycles in our thinking and being. Usually we believe that if we only just think through things clearly, we would be able to be more present, change our mindset more easily. But it’s never that easy. Changing your thinking does not mean that changes in behavior will follow.

For myself, I have found that changing my actual behavior is often much better at changing my mindset than the other way around.

Starting is always the most difficult part. Starting without always having all the right data, or enough data, or the right timing or whatever else we think we need. Just taking a small step. Or half a step.

When you take that first step, you put yourself in a different position, with new points of reference. Your thinking, then, will follow and will course-adjust. I view this as sort of an “agile” approach to changing mindset — not waiting for the big, heavy perfect answer (which can be cumbersome and lengthy), but rapidly testing and improving in small steps.

Here are three prompts I use to jump start this process and help me break out of my automatic/ rote thinking (and I would love to hear yours!):

  1. Radical Exposure to New Things – When I find myself paralyzed – not sure of what to do, feeling I’m not ready, I actively set up “creative dates” with people who I don’t know very well or who are different from me, or with activities (music, museum exhibits) that are outside my usual tastes. Doing so forces me to have a new listening, to open up possibilities in my own thinking.
  2. Focus on your blind spot and what you don’t see. I literally ask myself – what am I not seeing? If I “zoom out” what would I see? If I zoomed in, what would I see? What are other options here that I’m not considering?
  3. Deliberately do the opposite of what you would do – Because I am a little bit of a contrarian by nature, this piece is a little easier for me ☺. I actually enjoy shaking things up. So in instances where I would generally be the first to speak up, I coerce myself to not speak, just listen. If I am always the first person at a meeting, I turn up late. One of the tough ones for me is if I always speak in English with certain situations, I switch to Italian. It can be quite enlightening to stop the routine/the automatic and see how you feel, listen to what people say and notice how you experience things.

Of course, we do actually need to think through things! But thinking alone won’t do anything. The power of thinking is to provide clarity in what you have to do. But the real change will come only when we start to change our behavior.

So what will you do shake things up?

All the Best,

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Often to Move Forward, You Have to Let Go

I have been thinking about ways in which we move forward, and how the hardest part can be just having the courage be in a state of momentary disequilibrium as you move from the known to the as-yet-unknown.

I am reminded of an old post I wrote years ago based on learnings from my friend and personal trainer, Mauro Gumierato, pictured in the photo above.  In his advice on physical dexterity and fitness, I see many parallels and applications to my work on cognitive agility and change.

One key theme is that often when you want to move forward, you have to let go.  Here’s why:

  1. When you are reaching for higher levels of achievement, you have to push away from your comfort zone and let go of that sense of security – In other words, take a (managed!) risk and trust that your training won’t let you down.  There is no way to reach another level of achievement with moving from where you are and accepting that it might take a few tries, and even some pain, to get it right.  This is absolutely true with personal growth and development.
  2. To learn a new skill, sometimes you actually need to throw away what you think you know and start from scratch – what you know might be outdated or irrelevant.  It might have gotten you where you are now, but not where you want to go.  Even worse, it could actually impede your ability to achieve (either physically or mentally).  Sometimes you need to let go of the old and reach out for the new.
  3. For change to be sustainable you need to adapt, not just adjust.  When it comes to motor skills adjusting is making temporary, compensatory changes to something you are doing at the moment; adapting is changing in the way you approach or conduct movements based on new requirements.  The same is true for changes in behavior – particularly today, when what you’re looking for is real and sustainable transformation in an environment that’s constantly and rapidly changing.

Moving on can be difficult.  But remember – the focus is not on the letting go, it’s on the moving forward – on connecting with and achieving new experiences and skills in your life which make you stronger, flexible and agile.

What do you need to let go of in order to move forward?

All the Best,

Expanding the Quality of Our Thoughts

These days, I am having to work hard at expanding the quality and sustainability of my thoughts — not only to help my clients navigate change, but also to stay focused and balanced as my own family is going through a bumpy period of transition.  So, I’m working on my ability to be comfortable with possibilities that I cannot yet see or imagine and on solidifying my thinking in ways that help me get to where I want to be.

Cognitive behavior therapy teaches us that our thoughts embed themselves into our words, our mindset and beliefs. And these, of course, fuel our behavior, attitudes and approaches to the world and how we react to things.

My personal vision and driving mission is to be a powerful and positive force that inspires, motivates and guides people to live their greatest potential as leaders of character and compassion.  But keeping my vision front and center and retaining my sense of priorities and empathy can easily get derailed in turbulent times.

So I’ve developed some practices that help me stay aligned to my inner vision and values, that ensure that my thinking and focus is of the highest quality, and that supports my sense of who I am, and more importantly, where I want to go.

  1. Build in “thinking time” every day – this is specifically a quiet time, with no distractions (phone off, no one around, no calls) to actually THINK and REFLECT about things – maybe even just gazing out the window, but really thinking about what I want to do, why and how.
  2. Double up on contemplative practices, particularly those which involve physical activity – I go for long walks in the beautiful Parco di Monza, which allows me to be immersed in nature, but also get the physical outlet of nervous energy.  What works for you? – Yoga? A run on the beach or on vibrant city streets? Dancing in your living room?  Singing at the top of your voice?

    Our minds and bodies are very closely connected, and being attentive to them together allows you to access different ways of thinking and knowing things, before you can even see them cognitively.

  3. Use mind-maps to help me think through things.  I prefer mind-maps to lists, or other ways of writing out issues, because it requires fewer words, shows inter-connections and, most of all, lets you expand your thinking and show the various co-concurrences of items.  Also, many of my mind-maps have questions coming from them – leaving room for further thinking.
  4. Talk, laugh, and share with your closest friends. One of the most priceless gifts in my life is having a network of close friends who give me support, feedback, perspective and love. I choose these friends very carefully; not everyone has earned the privilege of hearing my deepest thoughts and feelings.  When you find your people, cultivate and care for these relationships carefully and with great diligence – they will always be one of your greatest assets, particularly in pushing your thinking.

It is within everyone’s reach to be influential and inspiring – by working on the quality of our thoughts and mindset, we invest in ourselves and those around us.

All the best,

Of Transformation and Inflection Points

We all know the frustration of working long and hard at something, expending lots of mental and emotional energy…. only to see very little visible results.  I hear this from people who are working out to get fit or dieting to lose weight, or from writers and artists who feel blocked or stuck.

I also hear this frequently from clients who are struggling to change, to grow.

The other day my husband, who works with new startups and new products, was talking to me about how important the concept of inflection point is when launching any new or different project.   Although originally a mathematical term, in business, the inflection is the point in a trajectory when it makes a dramatic change in direction – the point when the fundamentals of a business or product change significantly.   So for example, when you launch a new product, it takes a while for the market to catch on and before things take flight.  Savvy investors know not to panic, to keep moving ahead even though it looks like “nothing is happening”.

An inflection point is usually the consequence of some catalyzing factor: reaching a critical mass of subscribers/members that sparks a network effect, or when youtube videos go viral, or any event that allows the intended target audience to very rapidly catch on to either the novelty or importance or usefulness of what you’re doing or selling.  My point is that inflection points are generally not just the sum of a number of initiatives – which is an accumulation of activities – but also a detonator, an event – ie: the fall of the Berlin wall for the political transformation of Eastern Europe – that allows all the work, patiently done over time, to bear fruit all of a sudden.

It’s not that there’s nothing for a long time and then, all of a sudden, there’s something — it’s more that progress seems to be very slow or hidden.  In the meanwhile, you’re usually operating on faith, which can often look like struggling to just get two steps forward and one step back.  Then, of a sudden, there is the inflection point when the tide suddenly changes, and everything comes together and blooms.

To me this is the perfect analogy of the nature of inner or personal growth – whether it’s related to leadership, maturity, or even parenting.  Because whenever you’re playing a long game (which, by definition most of transformation is), there’s a lot of underground work that you don’t really know when it’s going to pay off.   It’s messy.   It’s dark.   It’s murky.   But because we don’t know always know how to predict the precipitation point, we can give up too easily.

In the business world, the change and triggering factor is easier to notice because we’re used to tracking and recording every small thing; we are primed to watch for the change, and we have words and ways and stories to support it.

But internal growth is harder to track.  It often comes as a sudden flash: “Wow, THAT, wouldn’t have happened six months ago”.  We know that all the tedious work is necessary and that we wouldn’t get anywhere without …but it can be hard to trace the micro changes that occur within us.  We are hyper- focused on “How do I see results quickly” – to which the answer is, of course,  “You don’t!”.

So maybe in times of transition and growth, it would be better to focus on solving for “how do I live with uncertainty and microscopic growth”.   Which means you have to just keep doing the work and having faith.

If you stop because you don’t see immediate results, you just might deny yourself of the big inflection point, where things start to go your way.   But by building personal resilience, you find yourself quietly emerging and ready to bloom when the factors fall into place.

All the best,

Why I’m not doing resolutions this year… and some interesting alternatives

Every year most of us approach the New Year as an opportunity to jump-start our lives, or at least our vision for our lives.  Resolutions are one of the most popular ways to renew our sense of purpose.

This year I’m not doing them.

Instead, I’ve been experimenting with cultivating the right daily and weekly habits.  Increasingly I have been feeling that resolutions, while giving us focus, have too much of a duality: you either achieve them or you don’t.  On the other hand, improving daily habits will provide you with a richer life both personally and professionally. Annie Dillard got it right when she said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

In this spirit, I offer three alternatives on what to focus on in 2019:

  1. Build in (and schedule on your calendar!) reflection periods throughout the year – either on your own or with close friends.  This is time devoted to reflecting on where you are and reflecting on how you want to course-correct.  This makes personal growth an ongoing effort, with smaller steps.
  2. Instead of a to-do list (which is, in essence, a list of goals), focus on a “not to do” list – what is it you want to let go of?  What do you want to clean out of your life? Leave behind?  View the new year as an emotional or mental house-cleaning time.
  3. Accept yourself the way you are!  (i.e don’t make a resolution this year).  Use the time to just be comfortable with yourself – warts and all.  Not only will this save you from the stress of the never-ending “fixing” yourself treadmill. Can you imagine how immensely satisfying the feeling of just sitting with “right now, I am enough” could be?

Whatever you choose to do – reflection, resolution, acceptance or nothing at all – growth happens in many ways and phases.  Here’s to all of us growing in 2019!

All the best,