Step Away From the Circus

not-my-circusYou may think that drama plays out only on the movie screen or theatre stage. Not so. Look around you, in your work environment or personal life, and it’s there, disguised yet still visible to the keen eye. People “performing” as stellar showstoppers, pulling everyone in their path into their dramatic vortex. If you’re not careful, you may disappear into the darkness never to be seen again.

I came across a graphic phrase that – to me – puts things into great perspective. The sentiment is spot on.

Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Brilliant! Little did I know that this is a Polish phrase (I am a Polish American). I have shared this saying with colleagues and friends who are overwhelmed by the emotional clutter in their lives. Here are a few tips on controlling your involvement in someone else’s drama:

Listen without judgment. Simply hear what the other person is saying. Ask questions for clarification if you need to.

Separate the drama from the content. What is the person’s emotional connection to the content? Anger? Frustration? Pain? Hurt? Anguish? What is the primary message being shared?

Determine your role. What is it exactly that the other person wants from you? Is it simply to hear her voice/opinion? Is there an expectation that you will guide, offer advice or suggest a solution?

Remain objective. Drama divas love to get you worked up to their same emotional level. Remain clear-headed and objective, asking, What does this person want from me? What is the point? How (if at all) can I help?

It’s not your circus. You are not the ringmaster. You are simply an observer. If you find yourself being sucked into the circus, consider the price of admission. There are no free circuses.

If it’s gossip, step away. Nothing breaks down fruitful relationships faster than gossip. Especially in the workplace, do not get pulled into the drama of gossip. It serves no purpose and is a waste of your valuable time.

Make a referral. If you are not the person to offer guidance or assistance, refer the person to a better qualified professional. On-staff psychologist or counselor? Human resource professional who knows company policies? A religious leader to offer spiritual guidance?

Be proactive and create parameters if you’re stuck in the circus. I know what you’re thinking. What if it’s my boss’s circus? How can I escape? Be proactive and create parameters so that you can remain sane in your work environment. Develop a system of handling the drama that works for you. The other option, of course, is exiting the tent.

Imagine putting on your invisible armor every morning, a T-shirt with the words “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” With laser sharp focus and determination, walk into every situation “mentally” wearing your T-shirt. Let it protect you from the drama divas. Remain objective and nonjudgmental as you enjoy your day that is fabulous, trouble-free and drama-less.

 © Christine Zust 

This article first appeared in my monthly newsletter, Q Tips. If you would like to subscribe to this free e-newsletter, click here.

Out With the Old Goals, In With the New

2017-1It’s that time of year again…time to review the year that is ending and plan for the new year that is about to begin. The last week of December is an excellent time to take stock of professional goals and achievements. The review begins with a few simple questions:

For 2016: Goals/Achievements

What were your top professional goals this year?

What were your greatest achievements? (list as many achievements as you like)

Which achievement are you most proud of? Why?

What was the greatest lesson you learned? In what way are you applying that learning to your career?

For 2016: Unachieved Goals

What goals did not get completed? Why?

Will any of these unachieved goals move into 2017? Where do they fit in your priorities?

For 2017: Goals

What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

What are your top goals?

What skill(s) do you want to improve or add? In what way will that skill help to advance your career?

How will you reward yourself when you achieve your goals?

Paying It Forward

In what way will you help others achieve their goals? (Will you serve as a mentor or coach? Will you help to develop an initiative for young leaders within your company?)

How will you recognize or reward others for exceptional work?

In what way will you help to create an open, supportive environment at work?

Taking the time to answer these simple questions is time well invested. By reflecting on your achievements for 2016 and focusing on goals for 2017, you will enter the new year with a fresh perspective on the work that lies ahead. If you like the process, ask these questions at the end of each quarter as you prepare for the next. By the end of 2017, you will be so used to the process, you will be ready for another new year. Who knows? In a year, you may be even further ahead in your career than you anticipated!

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Millennials

Credit: nanonews.org

U.S. Gymnast Simone Biles proudly dons a gold medal. Photo: nanonews.org

With the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics at an end, the young athletes who competed this year remind us all that Millennials are hard working, determined, and anything but complacent.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I have facilitated cross-generational communication seminars. Invariably, someone (older) in the audience will say something like this about the youngest generation: “They don’t even know what hard work is. They have had everything handed to them on a platter. They are the generation of entitlement.” It’s time to set the record straight: Millennials have a lot to offer the world.

This year, I watched in awe at the physical grace and endurance of the young athletes. They came to Rio to win. And many of them did.

Gymnast Simone Biles, 19. What a powerhouse! At just 4’9″ tall, her body was built for gymnastics. She brought home four gold medals, including Women’s Individual All-Around Gymnast, and one bronze medal. Many in the media claim she is the best American gymnast…ever!

Katie Ledecky  Photo: cnbc.com

Katie Ledecky
Photo: cnbc.com

Katie Ledecky, 19, dominated the female swimming competition, bringing home a gold medal in the women’s 200 meter, 400 meter, and 800 meter freestyle races, as well as the American team’s 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay. Add to that the silver medal for the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay.

Ryan Murphy, 21. First time to the Olympics, he brought home three gold medals in men’s swimming, the men’s 100 meter and men’s 200 meter backstroke, and the men’s 4 x 100 meter medley relay.

The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team Captain Ali Raisman, 22, earned a team gold and individual silver medal.

In an interview, target shooter Virginia Thrasher, 19, who won the gold medal for the 10 meter air rifle shooting competition, casually mentioned that she wasn’t able to stick around Rio because she was starting her sophomore year of college in a few days.

One of my favorites…Gwen Jorgenson, 30, won one of the most grueling competitions in the Olympics, the women’s triathlon. No small feat. I so admire any athlete who can swim, then bike, then run. And then win.

Michael Phelps, 31, the most seasoned American athlete competing in the Rio Olympics, secured 2 individual gold medals, 3 relay medals, and 1 silver individual medal. He remains the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, with 28 medals total, 23 of which are gold. He is truly a force of nature.

Multiple gold medalists include swimmers Simone Manuel, 20, Madeline Dirado, 23, Lilly King, 19, Nathan Adrian, and Caleb Dressel, 20, runner Allyson Felix, 30, as well as first-time gold medalist shot putter Michelle Carter, 30. The list goes on.

I know what you’re thinking. “Of course most of the people who compete in the Olympics are young athletes.” I get that.

What struck me about this year’s Olympics was the high level of professionalism of the Millennial athletes (minus one). They showed the world that Millennials have the drive and determination to succeed.

Olympic athlete or not, Millennials offer tremendous value to society and the workplace. Their energy, talent, tenacity, and creative thinking have earned them a place at the table. Let’s invite more of them there, and more often.

What We Can Learn From the Olympic Spirit

Team USA Swimmer Ryan Murphy Wins Gold. Image: Reuters.com

Team USA Swimmer Ryan Murphy proudly displays his gold medal. Image: Reuters.com

With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I am watching my favorite events, and learning a lot in the process. I particularly enjoy NBC-TV‘s coverage of the events, especially sharing the athletes’ personal life stories about their journey to the Olympics.

On August 8, one story was so inspirational, I had to share it. It began with an eight-year-old boy’s interest in swimming, which became a dream and a goal.

That young boy, now 21-year-old Ryan Murphy from Team USA, claimed a gold medal in the men’s 100 meter backstroke swimming competition on Monday, with his parents witnessing his completion of that goal stated more than a decade ago.

RyanMurphy

Image: NBC.com

When he was a child, Ryan wrote a letter to his parents  expressing his love of swimming. The letter contained drawings showing him swimming in blue water, with his mom standing next to the pool. The end of the letter simply stated his desire to continue swimming and his intentions to compete in the Olympics, break world records and be “the best swimmer in the world.”

On Monday, Ryan’s goals were fulfilled.

Ryan Murphy’s Olympic win demonstrates what it takes to achieve a goal:

State a powerful intention, a dream, a vision, a goal.

Learn from the best. Work with a coach or a mentor who can help you achieve your goal.

Show physical, mental, and emotional strength. There will be times when you think you can’t make it. Keep strong.

Be persistent. Keep at it. Keep your focus on that end goal.

Practice! To improve in anything, you need to practice every day. I learned that lesson from my piano teacher.

Post a visual reminder of your goal. Even at eight years old, Ryan Murphy put his intentions on paper. At that young age, he knew what he wanted. A visual image helps you see what accomplishing your goal will look and feel like.

Enhance your talent or skill. You have to be good at it. To make it to the Olympic medal platform, of course, you have to be exceptionally good.

Give it your all. Push yourself beyond where you “think” you can go.

If you find yourself struggling to achieve goals, let Ryan Murphy’s example inspire you. Reflect on what it takes to get there…all of the above!

Strategy + Focus = A Winning Combination

Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Wimbledon 2016, Credit: PA, The Telegraph

Serena Williams with Angelique Kerber, Wimbledon 2016, Credit: PA, The Telegraph

The goal of winning 22 tennis championship titles in the Open era was finally achieved by American Serena Williams on Saturday, when she defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany at the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Finals, 7-5, 6-3. Williams now ties Steffi Graf’s record 22 championship wins. Watching the match from beginning to end revealed a winning combination of strategy and focus.

Strategic Action. Something was different in this game. Kerber had defeated Williams at both the Australian Open in January and again at the French Open in June. What was different at Wimbledon was strategy in action. For this match, Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, had reviewed the data of those two games to find ways to defeat Kerber. What really won this match was the greater frequency of Williams’ ace serve. It was this one move – strategy – that made all the difference in Williams’ win.

Clarity of Focus. Serena Williams is one of those players who remains clearly focused before the game. Doing the “long walk” from dressing room to court, Williams kept her head phones on as long as she could. It’s a tool that she uses to remain focused, ease tension and promote positive reinforcement. The match lasted just 1 hour, 21 minutes. When you are focused, nothing stands in your way. How focused are you?

Strength. Kerber kept in pace with Williams throughout the entire match. For every point Kerber made, Williams pushed through it and remained strong and positive. Athletes who possess the physical strength to win can lose because of weak thinking. How often do you succumb to your own negative thinking? Give up? Say it’s too hard or too difficult? Sometimes the greater opponent isn’t the one facing you; it’s the opponent in your head, you, who is reacting negatively. When you do find the strength within yourself, you come out of it all, intact and victorious. Recall those moments of victory to help you get through those times of adversity.

Adjustments. Wimbledon is known for its unique grass court. The flip side of that is the unpredictability of outcome. Sometimes a ball will bounce in a different direction, or the wind will catch it and put it somewhere else entirely. How often do you adjust your actions to achieve a winning play? Invest the time in knowing your environment before you arrive; once you’re in play, be mindful of any shifts, and make necessary adjustments.

Grace. The tradition at Wimbledon is to present the non-winner trophy first, then the winner’s trophy second. Kerber walked around the Wimbledon court first, before being interviewed. Then Williams walked around the court, before her interview. In her comments, each woman was graceful and grateful to her opponent for playing extremely well. How often does that happen in the workplace? If someone’s idea is genuinely better than yours, tell her. If you got into a heated discussion with a co-worker, thank him for a great debate. If someone else got that promotion instead of you, congratulate her. How would you act in the workplace if you truly possessed grace?

Positive role models can be found in the public arena, in your community, and in your workplace. How can you present yourself like the true winner that you are? What can you do to inspire others to practice clarity of focus and strategic action?

All In, Against All Odds, the Cleveland Cavaliers is a Team Built on Trust

2016-nba-champions-splash

National Basketball Association

Anyone who has read Patrick Lencioni’s seminal book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, knows that when lack of trust exists in a team, the team will implode. Real trust, on the other hand, builds a solid foundation for any team’s success. Trust is what we have witnessed in the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. Trust provided an iron-clad bond that allowed the team to rise above adversity and win the 2016 NBA championship.

Trust perseverance. At the beginning of this NBA season, no one predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would make it into the finals, let alone win the national championship. Yet, that’s exactly what happened on June 19. Against all odds, the Cavaliers made NBA history, coming back from trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1 at the end of Game 4. The Cavaliers is the first team in NBA history to win a championship from such a significant deficit stance, especially facing a team with the “most games won” record in the NBA this year.

Trust ability. The synergy between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving was palpable. In Game 5, the dynamic duo each scored 41 points in the game, breaking an NBA record. In Game 7, LeBron James stormed down the court at record speed to powerfully block Warriors player Iguodala’s layup, now known as The Block. Moments later, Kyrie Irving outmaneuvered Steph Curry’s defensive block and shot a three-pointer, another game changing move.

Trust risks. There were absolutely some nail-biting moments, especially in Games 5, 6, and 7. There were some risky moves, switched-up strategies, and fresh approaches. The Cavs coaching staff and team took risks, and they paid off.

Trust the plan. When LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, he publicly committed to bringing an NBA championship to the city. The Cavs came close in 2015, yet the championship went to the Golden State Warriors. LeBron let the fans know that this 2016 championship was for them.

Trust the leadership. Coach Tyronn Lue (I call him Cool Hand Lue), who was elevated into the head coach position mid-season this year, possesses a consistently cool persona, especially in tough times. He never wavers. He never loses his temper. If he questions a referee’s call, he does it in a respectful way. Just five months into his new position, he led the Cavs to a national championship victory. In my opinion, the Coach of the Year Award should go to Lue, because he earned it. MVP LeBron James leads, motivates and inspires his fellow team players to push the limits. In interviews, every player spoke of LeBron’s tremendous leadership, generous spirit and commitment to the team. At the victory rally, LeBron gave accolades to every player for his individual contribution to the team’s success: “I’m nothing without this group behind me. I’m nothing without this coaching staff. I’m nothing without this city.” And let’s remember Cavaliers owner and businessman Dan Gilbert, who has invested millions in downtown Cleveland and in the Cavaliers team. His vision of a championship team began years ago.

Trust the vision. Cavs fans were in shock when longtime Cavs player Andy Varejao was traded mid-season, in exchange for three players: J.R. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. The irony? Varejao joined the Golden State Warriors. Think about how differently this season could have ended without the critical plays of Smith, Jefferson and Frye.

Trust advocates. The city’s celebration began the moment Game 7 ended, with fans crowding downtown Cleveland, welcoming the team home the following day at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and a record estimated 1.3 million people to celebrate at a homecoming parade and rally on June 22. I was part of that 1.3 million crowd and have the sunburn to prove it. Standing for more than four hours and sandwiched in with a sea of other Cavs fans, it was worth every minute. My husband and I were proud to be part of this historic moment in our city. Yes, we have the souvenir T-shirts, caps, pennant, license plate frame, poster, and commemorative newspapers that will never be sold on eBay!

What does this championship mean to the people of Cleveland and to the State of Ohio? Everything. Cleveland is a great city. I love living here. The city has carried many titles – and promotional slogans – over the years: Best Location in the Nation. Comeback City. All-American City. More recent additions: Believeland and a favorite, LeBronland. Whatever you call it, it’s home to the 2016 NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and to MVP LeBron James. And we know, there’s no place like home.

Thank you, Cleveland Cavaliers, for the best 2015-16 season, and for demonstrating trust in action.

In Life, Take the Long Way Around

BlackRockSunsetIt was a bone-chilling Halloween night, leaving our legs and fingertips tingling from the cold. My friend Linda, my older sister Marianne and I were making our way back home, three long blocks away, after filling our sacks with candy. Linda complained that her thighs were numb, so we had a brilliant idea. “Let’s cut through.” We knew we would save time by cutting through people’s property, even though we knew it wasn’t socially acceptable. And so the cut-through began. First Dennison, then Lexington, then our street, Northfield. Just three blocks. We picked up our pace. Our short steps turned into long jogs.

I was quite proud of my sweets stash. My new orange plastic pumpkin with the black handle was chock full of candies and goodies. I knocked on a lot of doors to earn that candy. I couldn’t wait to get home to show my parents.

From the darkness between Lexington and Northfield came two masked teenage boys, much taller than us, running, shouting “A-r-r-r-r-r-r” and grabbing at our goodies. I fell down, and so did my teeming pumpkin, spilling some contents on the ground. I was so startled, I didn’t even stop to retrieve my lost candy. The three of us ran as fast as we could to Northfield. We stopped to catch our breath only when our feet touched the sidewalk. That experience left such an indelible impression on my young eight-year-old mind that I vowed never to cut through people’s property ever again. (The impression, of course, was reinforced by my parents when my sister and I told them what happened).

The experience taught me an important life lesson: When you think of taking short cuts, don’t. Take the long way around. In the end, you will be safe (or even sane) and further ahead in the process.

How often does that little voice inside of you say “Oh, just put in the basic information. No one will know the difference.” Taking the time to think something through, do the extra research or write a content-rich report is worth it in the end. Next time you’re tempted to take that shortcut, take the long way around instead.

Time Can Be On Your Side

CompassWhen you hear the words spend and invest, you may automatically think of money. What if you applied those words to time? You would look at time in a very different way.

Spend represents depletion, exhaustion, using up something. It can have a negative connotation. “I spent two full days preparing this report.” It’s time that you will never again have. The blessing – and the curse – of time is that those moments never again return.

Invest reflects a forward intention, movement, planning, strategic thinking. “I invested my time in a spiritual retreat over the weekend.” Investing one’s time symbolizes some benefit, a return on that investment in the future.

Do you have a negative relationship with time (dislike)? or Do you have a positive relationship with time (love)? Is time your enemy or your friend?

If you have a dislike relationship with time, most often you feel like you are continually running out of time, trying to do too much with too little time, finding yourself angry at the time gods each night when you go to sleep (if you’re even getting much sleep).

If you have a love affair with time, you most likely feel complete and fulfilled each day rather than depleted. You know how to pace the work you do and balance it with leisure activities that reconnect you with yourself and loved ones.

Reality check: Most people feel like they don’t have enough hours in the day. You are not alone!

What is your attitude towards time? Do you love it or dislike it? Does it work to your advantage or disadvantage?

If time is currently your enemy (you feel like you never have enough time), then how can you shift your thinking and actions so that you feel like you have enough time each day?

Here are a few suggestions:

Ask. If time is your enemy, ask why.

Assess. Take stock of the things you need to get done in a certain period of time. Are there times of the week, month or year when you feel more of a time crunch (like weekly reporting, monthly sales numbers or at annual tax time)? Are there times of the week, month or year when you feel like you have all the time in the world (annual meeting is over, the sales cycle has ended, new hires are all in place)?

Prioritize. Decide – and do – the most important work first. If you have a performance review scheduled with your boss tomorrow and a monthly report due in three days, which do you prepare for first? The boss, of course.

Delegate. Ask (or hire) someone to help you with small or large tasks, short-term or long-term projects. You may have added some personal burdens that people may not know about, like caring for an aging parent. I don’t know what it is about human nature…we are all so afraid to ask for help. Does it come from that little kid inside of us who – at an early age – wanted to demonstrate how grown up we were by announcing, “I can do it myself!” It is a sign of strength, not weakness, when you know your limitations and ask for help.

Chunk it. Large projects and tasks can be overwhelming. Break down any large assignment into smaller pieces. It’s easier to work on a small part of something big rather than to tackle it all at once.

Do it now. By the time you finish thinking about doing something, you could have gotten it done. The minute you hear yourself saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow,” stop, and ask yourself how long it would take to do it today. Chances are, if you do it today, you’ll sleep better.

Enjoy it. Bertrand Russell said it best: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” Learn to fill minutes – even hours and days – with time that allows you to enjoy the present moment, whatever it is.

Shifting from disliking time to loving time requires a small investment of your time and attention.

 

Lessons Learned From the Master, B.B. King

kin2-008

B.B. King Photo Gallery, Academy of Achievement

The thrill is gone. America lost one of its greatest musical icons, B.B. King, on May 14. The loss of a legend provides the opportunity to gain some valuable life lessons. Here are a few that I have learned from B.B. King:

Be self motivated. B.B. King first learned the basics of guitar playing from his church minister, then taught himself the rest, mostly through mail order books. How motivated are you?

Be kind to others. Kindness is a general theme gleaned from interviews with the people who knew B.B. King best. It is true…a little kindness goes a long way. He was kind to others as he made his journey to the top. When he reached the top, he was kind to those who were just beginning their journey in the music world. It resulted in solid relationships and others wanting to do good for him.

Put your heart and soul into it. B.B. King was born to sing the blues and he remained committed to his craft into his late 80s. He unleashed raw passion and deep emotion for the music and the lyrics. Are you putting your heart and soul into what you do?

Measure the advice of others. B.B. King often told the story of advice his cousin, Bukka White, gave him when he decided to pursue a career in music. He said, “If you’re going to be a blues singer, a blues musician, always dress like you’re going to the bank to try to borrow money.” Sound advice for everyone launching their careers and managing impressions.

Create a unique sound. Tim Weiner, music critic of The New York Times said of King’s music: “Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.” All too often, we try so desperately to be like someone else and in the process we lose sight of reaching our own full potential. What do you have to offer that is unique only to you?

Give back and pay it forward. Coming from a small southern town, B.B. King decided early on in his career to support the people from his adopted home town of Indianola, Mississippi. Over the years, he has helped to support the town’s efforts through an annual summer music festival, community programs and economic development with the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center front and center. Thanks to B.B. King’s talent and generosity, Indianola is a thriving town today.

As we admire the life of this remarkable music legend, consider your own legacy. What work do you still want to do? What do you yet want to accomplish? Who can you inspire and motivate? Who can you extend a hand to and pull up along the way?  Rock on!

 

OH-IO: A Lesson in Responsibility

 

Cardale Jones Photo: Getty Images

The story – and media clips – of the College Football Playoff National Championship game between The Ohio State University Buckeyes and the University of Oregon Ducks will go down in history as teaching top lessons about the power of positive thinking, team building, leadership and responsibility. It’s this last topic, responsibility, that deserves attention.

If you were in the shoes of Cardale Jones, the Buckeyes’ third string quarterback, would you be able to rise to the occasion as he did? How often in your career have you been asked to fill in for someone else who was originally assigned to lead a project team, deliver a conference presentation or meet with a big client? Each time you were chosen as a substitute, you faced a challenge: Do I shirk responsibility (“I can’t do this…I’m not qualified”) or claim responsibility (“I can – and will – deliver”)? Cardale Jones claimed responsibility and with that came victory.

Third string means there were two other quarterbacks ahead of Jones in the line-up. When the lead quarterback was injured, that moved Jones into second position. When that lead quarterback was injured, that moved Jones into the lead QB position. In this lead role for just a few weeks, Cardale Jones led the Buckeyes’ victory over the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Two weeks later, Jones again led the Buckeyes into victory over the Ducks with a 42-20 win, clenching the national championship title.

WOW. Congratulations to QB Cardale Jones, running back Ezekiel Elliott, coach Urban Meyer and the entire Buckeyes franchise for winning the national championship. If the media buzz is any indication, this success story will be told and retold for many years to come in schools, community centers and meeting rooms to inspire and motivate people to do their best.

The take away from this historical event: Anything is possible when you align leadership, team and talent with dedication, drive and responsibility. May we all be more responsible in our lives and in the work we do.