It’s human nature to try to ease discomfort as quickly as possible. As Freud famously described, we have the instinctual need to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But leaning into the discomfort of uncomfortableness is where we stretch ourselves, grow as people, and achieve greatness.
My greatest moment of discomfort was just over 9 years ago while living in Austin, TX. Early one (really hot and muggy) morning, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to be the person I was capable of becoming while living the fast-paced, uber-materialist, unexamined life I was leading. It was incredibly painful to acknowledge that I was failing at life. But that realization…that burst of utter honesty with myself…was the most defining moment of my life. And it really sucked. I was almost paralyzed with discomfort about what the future would hold.
That day, I made the decision to come clean with my mother and closest friends. I concluded that Durango, where my mother lived, was where I needed to be. A week later, I gave my boss a month’s notice that I was leaving. A month later, I traded in my sports car for a (very unsexy) Honda CRV and packed what belongings would fit into it, put the rest in storage, and drove the 1000 miles from Austin to Durango. And I cried most of the way. What in the hell was I doing?
It was the best decision of my life.
I could have pushed aside the discomfort. I could have ignored it and talked myself into staying in Austin. I could have easily stayed stuck.
Instead, I set my life on a radically different course.
Being pushed outside of your comfort zone means that you are being given a golden opportunity to grow as a person. Rather than run away from it, dig your heels in and resist it, deny it, or blame someone for making you uncomfortable, I encourage you to take it head-on. Breathe deeply and say to yourself, “I am going to learn something really great throughout this process. I may not know what it is yet but I trust that it is going to help me be a better parent/spouse/employee/coach/fill in the blank.”
Here are some things I do when I feel uncomfortable (which happens quite often, truth be told):
There is no doubt that it can be insanely scary to take risks, try something new, or make major changes in your life. You might fail, look stupid, get lost, or lose money. Or you might not. You can try to fool yourself into thinking that playing it safe will ease the discomfort. But I can tell you this, playing it safe isn’t safe. In fact, it’s the biggest risk you can take in your life. Settling for mediocracy in this one life you have to live is a major gamble.
Don’t let your fear and dislike of being uncomfortable hold you back. Acknowledge it, cuddle up with it, take one small step, and observe the powerful sense of achievement you will feel.
Thanks for reading as always, please comment or share if you feel inspired to.
One of the hardest things to do is deliver bad news. I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who enjoys it. As much as I believe in direct, honest communication, giving feedback, and working through conflict, I dislike giving bad news the most.
I recently had to deliver bad news to several people and it helped me put some things into perspective and I learned a few things along the way. Even though it was incredibly difficult, I am grateful for the experience.
So what did I learn?
I learned how important it is to simplify my message as much as possible. When getting bad news, most people shut down or go into fight or flight mode. At first, I tried to fit too much into the delivery of the news (such as all the reasons why) and it confused people. When I reduced it to one sentence, it made it so much easier. Just speak the one sentence.
Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable so we (ok, I) have a strong desire to fill it with more words. I screwed this up a few times by jamming in the WHY immediately after the message. I found I was much more effective and felt calmer when I allowed the silence to be silent. Therefore, after giving the news, I practiced letting the listener sit with it. This is so incredibly hard but so incredibly important. You need to let it sink in before going into the why of the message. And you need to take a deep breath before you continue with the WHY. Silence lets you do this.
I wrote a blog post on the importance of the WHY, so please feel free to reread it here if you would like to understand its significance. Just remember, keep the WHY simple so it’s easier to digest. Bullet point the reasons out, speak them in one or two sentences, and then give the listener space.
Back to taking a deep breath…more than ever before, I learned how important it is to stay in your body and breathe when giving bad news. I found that in anticipation of communicating the news (both in preparation and right before opening my mouth), I experienced the fight or flight rush of stress hormones. I really wanted to avoid this because it causes me to hurry…I want to get it over with as fast as possible. And I dislike the physical and emotional aftermath of adrenaline and cortisol. Before and during the delivery, I took deep breaths into my back and kidneys, paying attention to them the entire time. I can’t tell you how much this helped me keep my composure. I noticed that others matched my breathing, too, which helped them stay calm. Stay centered and just breathe.
I also gained some perspective on my need to try to fix things. I identify with being a problem solver and I found myself wanting to offer solutions when really, it wasn’t my place to do so. Understanding this before I went into my conversations helped me be okay with just delivering the message. Sometimes, you just can’t fix the problem for the person and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Throughout this process, my mantra was “compassion, grace, and gratitude.” That’s how I wanted to deliver my message, always keeping in mind the importance of treating my fellow human beings with dignity and respect, always being grateful for the experience, even when it’s uncomfortable. But I have to say, I’m glad it’s over.
Thanks for reading…writing this was very therapeutic. Now I am going to go breathe.
Early in my career, I put considerable pressure on myself to “do it all.” If I didn’t have every minute of my day filled with something I considered productive, I felt guilty. This caused me to say yes to everything…board seats, volunteer opportunities, meetings at all times of the day, working long hours…you get the point. I was constantly on the go and while doing all of these things brought me some fulfilment, I was always stressed.
In 2012 when I got pregnant, I decided to change all of this. To me, there is nothing more important that raising an engaged, happy child and nurturing my family. But I also had a demanding job (that I loved) which required a lot of my time and attention. How would I balance these two very important things competing for my time? The only way was to ‘just say no’ to anything that wasn’t family or StoneAge related.
By the time Jack was born at the end of 2012, I had cleared my plate. This was not easy as I felt obligated and responsible for several of the organizations I was involved with. But I also had a deep sense of relief. It felt good to have time to be a mom and a wife, not that I had much of a choice since a newborn doesn’t care if you have work to do or meetings to go to.
Over the last three years, I have stayed true to this commitment (for the most part) and some pretty amazing things have happened. I get to take Jack to school almost every day and play with him when I get home from work. I eat dinner with my family almost every night. I have a great relationship with my husband. I spend time with my mom. I take care of myself by meditating and getting regular massages and acupuncture treatments. I trail run, ride my mountain bike/snowboard (depends on the season), and workout out which is a must for stress relief and fun. I have time to think about StoneAge’s strategy, culture, and growth. I go to work feeling energized and excited about my day. I read books, one of my favorite past times. I have time to speak publicly which is incredibly rewarding. And I am now writing again, something I love to do but just haven’t made time for. And sometimes I just sit with a cup of coffee and look out the window, feeling content that I am not doing anything at all except just being.
Sure I am busy and I work hard. I still make trade-offs and there are times when I have to put work in front of my family. But my life is balanced and I only say yes to the things that are MOST important to me. I am happier and more satisfied than I’ve ever been in my life.
And I’ve gotten really good at saying no.
So where do you start? My suggestion is to make a list of the most important things in your life…the things that you absolutely cannot give up (i.e. family, work, health). Then make a list of what you want your future to look like. I can promise you this…to be the future version of yourself, you must have intention AND take action. If you are too busy to work on the future version of you, it will be hard to get there (for example, I want to write a book someday so I decided I had better start writing more…hence this blog). Then make a list of all the other things you do that aren’t vitally important to your life and all the things you do that don’t help you get to the future version of you. Next to each of those, list a few ways you can shed them from your life. Pick two or three to start with and just say no. It really can be that easy.
I was worried that when I stopped doing so much, people would judge me for not giving back more. Instead, every time I said no and explained why, I received a reply like this: “I wish I would have done that more often.”
Be brave, create your life, and remember, less is more.
What if we committed to helping each other with the same amount of effort that we put into competing against each other? What could we all achieve?
I recently read a blog post by Daniel Pink and he was praising a book called “Friend and Foe” by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer. This book discusses the science behind our brain’s hardwiring to both cooperate and compete (I haven't read the book yet but I added to my ever growing reading list). This is a snippet from the blog…
“We are hardwired – in the very architecture of the human brain – to both cooperate and compete. We do both all the time, in every relationship, often unconsciously. That means that all of our relationships are characterized by the tension between being a friend and being a foe. At work, we collaborate with our colleagues to complete projects, but we compete for raises and promotions. As new parents, we cooperate to raise our infants, but compete for sleep. As siblings, we experience both “brotherly love” and “sibling rivalry.” Simply recognizing that this tension exists in every relationship can help us find the right balance between these forces and achieve better outcomes at work and at home.”
What great food for thought! This sparked the idea for a little experiment...
As I went through my work week, I intentionally paid attention to when I felt the need to cooperate and when I felt the need to compete. I then challenged myself to better define the specific emotions and drives behind each of these needs. I made a list throughout the week.
To me, this was incredibly eye opening. Looking at these black and white words describing such powerful emotions and recalling how each situation made me feel made me want to challenge myself to cooperate more and compete less. As competitive as I am, I would rather help someone else win even if it meant I lost. I would prefer to feel the joy of helping someone succeed rather than stand by and do nothing because I feel threatened. I would rather share the limelight with my team and and receive less recognition as an individual.
I am not saying that there isn’t a place for competition in the workplace or on a team. Being competitive can aid in moving things forward. It can motivate us to perform better. Competition can be energizing and helps to get the creative juices flowing. Some of the world’s greatest innovations have come from the need and desire to compete. But this little experiment helped me better recognize the potential of cooperation and the powerful effect it can have on the emotional health of individuals and the team. In my opinion, cooperating encourages leadership, builds self-esteem, creates a sense of belonging, and generally improves your health. It feels so much better to work together as a team than is does to work against each other as individuals.
I challenge each of you who read this blog post to take just 10% of the effort you put towards competing with those you work with and instead direct it towards cooperating and helping your teammates become successful. My guess is that you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more you are able to achieve and how satisfied and positive you feel.
I’ll leave you with some wise words of Franklin D Roosevelt…
“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”
I welcome your thoughts, comments, and results,
Fear is one of the most destructive emotions in the workplace. When we come from a place of fear, we are more likely to be defensive, find fault in others, blame ourselves, and tell ourselves a story about that fear that is most likely inaccurate. We tend to focus on the fear rather than doing more beneficial things such as completing a task or building a relationship. What’s more, there probably isn’t a single person in your organization that doesn’t feel fear each day (or its close cousins…worry and anxiety). Fear, if not overcome, is unhealthy because it robs people of their potential and creates a stressful and unproductive work environment.
In my experience, change is one of the biggest drivers of fear. Even though we experience change constantly, we fight it tooth and nail. Our brains expect certain things to stay the same and when they don’t, the information we trusted has broken down causing us fear over what comes next. What we don’t know tends to scare us and change creates a lot of unknowns.
That’s why, as a leader, it’s so important to explain the WHY. The WHY behind the change gives people context and helps them understand the reason behind WHAT is changing. Once the brain knows the WHY, it can start building a new story, one that is (hopefully) more accurate.
Along the way, I’ve learned that just because you share the WHY doesn’t ensure that everyone understands it. Speaking articulately and accurately in front of an audience, in meetings, or one-on-one can be incredibly difficult. Not only must you think about the meaning and tone behind your words, you must also understand who your audience is and what is going to resonate with them. Something that has helped me, especially in crucial conversations where change is significant and stake are high, is to write out what I am going to say. I actually write out every word I want to say. This may or may not work for you but at the very least have a bullet point list of what needs to be conveyed.
Another important step is to try to predict questions, concerns, and push back so you can either work them in your dialogue in advance or so you are prepared when someone speaks up. Anticipating where things could go wrong is so often overlooked…especially by overly optimistic people such as myself. But identifying obstacles and push back can not only prepare you to think on your feet, but also helps you come up with a plan to overcome them and deliver an effect WHY message.
Lastly, commit to following up with whomever your audience is. What you say and what people hear are often very different. It’s important to do this even when the WHY message isn’t high stakes (practice makes it a habit). Remember that different things trigger different people. You might be wanting to slightly tweak a person’s role and he might hear that his entire job is changing. He immediately stops listening because his brain goes into “fear of change” mode. He may nod and act like he understands and then walk away anxious and angry.
Following up can be as simple as waiting a day and asking if he has thoughts and/or concerns about the discussion. Make time to sit down in a quiet space and listen intently to what he has to say. Ask questions to get to the heart of the matter. If your audience was bigger, perhaps having a small, departmental or team meeting can air concerns. One thing I am going to try in the near future is a departmental town hall meeting where people can anonymously submit questions in advance and I will answer them with honestly and candor (I know this isn't new but I haven't done it before). Taking this feedback with gratitude and grace (aka don’t get defensive) is critical and I’ll write more on this in the future.
If there is one thing you do as a manager or leader, its share the WHY as often and openly as possible. Even if it seems benign, people ALWAYS want to know the WHY behind what they are doing. It makes them feel in-the-know, part of the solution, and safer. And never do this…no one finds it funny.
I know I am not supposed to say this but I’m going to anyway…I want to be liked as a leader. I know, can you believe I just admitted that??? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that as a leader, you just have to get over the need to be liked. I have even said these words. And logically, I believe these words, or at the very least, that you have to find ways to care less about being liked. Emotionally, though, it’s hard to “just turn off” such a desire. Being liked means you belong and belonging is something almost all of us long for.
Today I am not going to debate whether this is a valid need or discuss how to get over the desire to be liked. Perhaps I’ll do so in subsequent blog posts. Today I am going to talk about likability and authenticity.
Recently, I was discussing my want to be liked with a colleague and he said something interesting. He believed that a person’s desire to be liked would lead him or her down the path to inauthenticity. He questioned, “If you have such a strong desire to be liked, how do you make the tough decisions, have the hard conversations, and be authentic in the face of a storm? How do you overcome the need to be liked and make the hard decisions that would make some people NOT like you?”
First, I’d like to establish that to be a good leader, you do not have to be liked. To be a good leader, you have to be well respected and credible which you gain through making good decisions, admitting mistakes, being honest, genuine and self-aware, communicating regularly and clearly (explain the why), and by living and breathing the mission. These traits describe authenticity and I believe that being an authentic leader is not only the best way to lead, but the only way to lead.
But in my experience, being liked is helpful and it brings a sense of fulfilment. Likability makes it easier to build stronger connections with the people you lead. When people like you, they want to be around you, ask your opinion, share their fears and worries, and partner with you to get things done. When you are liked, it’s easier to influence outcomes because people are genuinely engaged with you at a deeper level.
The risk with chasing likability as a leader is that it can lead to making poor decisions and can stop you from having much needed but crucial conversations. Instead of focusing on making good business decisions, you may find yourself focusing on making decisions that keep you part of the tribe. This is not being a leader, especially an authentic one. For me, there is no trade-off. Being authentic always comes first…leading always comes first.
I have learned to be okay with making decisions that will not be liked by everyone. I am not afraid to have conversations that are difficult. I am willing to take the long view even when there is pressure to make immediate short term gains. But that doesn’t mean that my desire to be liked hasn’t gone away, and for that, I am glad. My desire to connect with those I lead means that I put extra thought into decisions and conversations because I recognize that what I say and do can have a profound impact on those around me. It helps me put myself in others’ shoes and see things from different points of view. It helps me lead with compassion and empathy. And when I have to make a tough decision that some may not like or if I deliver a message that strikes an emotional chord, I am grateful for the feeling of uncomfortableness it brings because it means I care, I’m invested, and I’m human. It creates more opportunity to pause and reflect, asking both myself and those I lead if I could have done it better. To me, all of this is what being authentic is about. And never does the desire to be liked trump the desire to be authentic.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wouldn’t be being authentic if I didn’t admit I like being liked!
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today. I welcome your comments.
Those who know me well have heard me say this many times. It doesn't really matter how you THINK you're perceived. What matters more is how you are ACTUALLY perceived.
Leadership is about trying to breakdown these "perception barriers" so you can connect better with those you lead. And by breaking barriers down I don't mean convincing people their perceptions are wrong. They very well may be true! It's about looking yourself through others' eyes, being honest about the validity of their perceptions, and adjusting your style through positive action to show that it's either misguided or something you need to shift within yourself.
Here is a perception I have of myself: I am a caring, compassionate human who connects with and appreciates people. I am open and am willing to change my mind. I like getting to know people to understand what motivates them. Yes, I am driven and have a powerful personality but that doesn't mean that I am unapproachable. I see myself as really LISTENING to people...most of the time.
But the reality is that some see me as intimidating and hard to talk to. Some think that I don't listen. That I can overwhelm with my personality and that it's hard to win an argument with me. I have the power to hire and fire. And some people avoid talking to me at all costs.
So which perception is true? Well, both. Just because I see myself as open minded and easy to talk to doesn't mean that I am to everyone I lead. To be honest, I am all of the things I listed above. My strong leadership style HAS shut down people before and I am painfully aware of the times when I unintentionally alienated people in my drive to proceed and achieve. But it has also connected deeply with many people who look to me for guidance and friendship. My goal is to embrace the feedback that I get, whether I think it's accurate or not, and address it with curiosity and a genuine desire to connect with people on a deeper level. And that's what leadership is all about...breaking down the barriers of perception.
Wow, I did it! I promised myself that I would have my blog and speaking website up by the end of the year. And thanks to motivation from the amazing Jen Sincero's Bad Ass coaching class and to Seth Godin's constant message to 'just ship your work dang it', I managed to build my website in a matter of days.
What's even more amazing is that I am NOT technically inclined and I built this site myself. It will morph over the coming months to something much more amazing (hopefully) but the most important thing is that I actually have my own website!
So I guess the first thought I would like to publish is that you are your thoughts and you can create your reality. This is virtual proof!
I am now going to pay attention to my family who is wondering what the heck I am doing.
A Quick Blurb on what this blog is about.
Welcome to my blog! My name is Kerry Siggins and plain speaking, honest leadership is my mantra. My intention is to help those who lead (or want to lead) become better at saying and doing what needs to be said and done in a way that it can be heard and seen, one person at a time.