April 27, 2017

Embracing the Leadership Zig and Zag

Change.

Some say that change is the only constant.

For the leader, change is not only a constant but the reason leaders are needed in the first place. It’s change that tests our leadership mental and pushes us to look for better ways to achieve our objectives and the objectives of our organizations.

Why Change is Scary

Change almost always catches us off guard. It’s not that we don’t expect change — it’s just that it never comes about how we envisioned it. For some, this is extremely uncomfortable. For most, it’s the reason they don’t push through their struggles to achieve their goals.

Change should not be scary. It’s a natural part of our life and if embraced, can lead to more opportunities.

Embracing change means that you are open to changing your direction when required. Embracing change means that when change zigs, you zag and vice versa.

The Risky Part of Zigging and Zagging

One of the major drives of being change adverse is the risk involved with zigging and zagging around an issue, obstacle or setback. This risk is real but not as scary as most people think.

Risks can be mitigated and the leader who understands risk, assesses the options and then takes calculated risks will be more successful and more resilient than the leader who stays on an unproductive path.

When to Zig, When to Zag and When to Completely Change Course

Most leaders wait too long to zig and zag. They usually fall into this trap because they have made a huge investment in their present course and don’t want to look foolish or rethink their brilliant plan.

That’s absurd.

The leader who does not change course when they need to, will look more foolish when the entire effort careens into the side of the mountain. Changing course or direction too often is also a bad idea but don’t let that stop you from truly assessing the situation by following these guidelines:

  • Three steps ahead: As much as you can, think ahead of your present course. By doing this, you can anticipate course corrections you might have to make.

  • Down the rabbit hole: It’s fine to explore new opportunities but don’t get distracted down a course that going to only be marginally fruitful or downright distracting. Remain focused on your goals.

  • Natural forks in the road: There will always be decision points that come along in every effort. These decision points need to be vetted and contemplated so that the right decisions are made.

  • Beyond the finish line: Looking beyond the end makes it much easier to anticipate how decisions will impact not just finishing but what happens after the finish. All projects or efforts have long lasting impacts so look a little farther and anticipate them.

  • Multiple data points don’t lie: Too often, a leader will stay on a given course simply because they don’t want to change. If you are hearing from multiple people, in multiple ways that things are just not working, that’s a pretty strong indication to change course.

Embrace Change by Learning to Zig and Zag

Change is a scary thing. Anytime something changes, we are put in a vulnerable position simply because change creates an opportunity for both success and failure. Being able to zig and zag when change occurs will allow you to become resilient to change. This resiliency will make it possible to adapt and overcome the challenges you and your effort will face.

By learning to zig and zag, you create more opportunities for success because opportunities are everywhere and it’s the leader that understands and grasps those opportunities that will be successful.

 

How to Fight Your Creative Bonks One Light Pole At A Time

Bonking is one of the most dreaded conditions for the endurance athlete. It’s that point where every ounce of energy you had is expended and all you want to do is quit.

When bonking, your entire mental attitude goes south. You struggle with the most mundane tasks. Your thoughts turn to anything except continuing on.

You feel like quitting is your only option.

Creatives bonk just like endurance athletes. It may be writers block, procrastinating, doing more research, organizing your desk, not starting a project or just watching too much TV.

These creative bonks sap you of your creative desires and make it almost impossible to write prose, stroke the brush, bend metal or practice a piece one more time.

Why we Bonk?

For the endurance athlete, bonking is the metaphoric “hitting the wall” where they have used up all their energy stores and their body is telling them stop.

Bonking is your body’s way of telling you “I need fuel” which means that your blood glucose levels are abnormally low and need to be replenished.

Creative bonking is when you run out of creative energy. This can be for any number of reasons and all are valid (at least when you are bonking).

Like blood glucose, your creative energy needs to be replenished by training your mind and body to recognize when you need to feed yourself and to break through the bonk to achieve your creative goals.

Fighting the Creative Bonk

There are times when we just don’t feel like creating. These are the times when your creative energy is low and we just want to play Angry Birds. There are times when we just want to stop enduring and quit.

In order to replenish that creative energy, you can employ a trick that endurance athletes use — just make it to the next light pole.

The Next Light Pole

Bonking is both a physical and mental process. The physical process is a mechanism to protect your brain from starving by diverting blood flow from your muscles to your brain. When this happens, you feel tired and lethargic. You may become confused and disoriented. Control of your emotions flies out the window and you will find it hard to focus on anything. A flood of emotions overtakes you such as anxiety, hopeless and the feeling of being unable to carry on. This is your body telling you to slow down and replenish you fuel or it will shut down to protect itself.

To fight this, endurance athletes play a mental game called make it to the next light pole or aid station or bend in the road or whatever small goal they can easily obtain until they can replenish their fuel and get back in the race.

The game goes something like this: You pick a marker that you can make it to. It’s a simple goal but an important one to achieve. Once you achieve that goal, you pick another one, just as easy and continue on.

By doing this, you give yourself time to refuel and collect yourself to continue on.

This takes a tremendous amount of willpower because emotions are running high, you fell really bad and refueling yourself is really the last thing on your mind.

Your Next Creative Light Pole

Most of us (okay, all of us), have bonked creatively. It’s that point where you struggle to keep moving your creative project forward for whatever reason or maybe you can’t start something because the last thing stalled or failed.

It’s tremendously frustrating, depressing, harrowing and frighting to stare at the unfinished canvas, blank page, chunk of metal, lump of clay or bag of work out gear knowing that you want to get something accomplished but feel you can’t. That’s why it’s important to get to that next creative light pole so that you can break the bonking cycle.

To fight the bonk and achieve your creative goals, consider these getting to your next creative light pole techniques:

  • Set a micro goal: Micro goals are like those light pools — easy to see and achieve.

  • Practice your craft: Sometimes the anxiety to create something wonderful gets to us. That’s why you need to step away and practice. Practice will help you get back in the groove.

  • Slow down: If you push too hard, you may end up burning out. Step it down a notch. Slow down your mind and focus on just one thing.

  • Help others: Reaching out to other struggling creatives will not only make you feel better but also inspire you to create. Seeing others struggle may be the thing you need to put things in perspective.

  • Get inspired: Take a walk. Thumb through a book. Watch a little TV. Any of these things can inspire you to get back to creating. Don’t do them too long or you might end up procrastinating more or quit altogether

For each of us, the creative bonk looks different. It might be the fear of failure that drives us to quit (or success for that matter). Whatever it is, just be assured that we all face it, you can work through it and you will create more once you learn to fight your creative bonks.

 

When To Stop Enduring and Move On

Failure. It’s one word that most leaders (let alone most people) never want to say, let along face. Failure has an ugly stigma that can push people to endure through tough times almost like super humans.

In some cases, failure is not an option and enduring whatever hardship you are under has to happen. Usually, these situations are ones where the consequences of failure are catastrophic (e.g. Death, dismemberment or harm to others).

Take the life experience of Dr. Viktor Frankl.

Dr. Frankl is the author of a best selling book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning about his experience in concentration camps during World War II.

His insights into how to endure an almost unendurable situation created the third Viennese school of psychotherapy called Logotherapy (the other two are Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology).

The primary idea behind Logotherapy is that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning to life.

Dr. Frankl’s insights help him endure through a tremendous amount of suffering and hardship because he really had no other choice — it was either find the meaning in the experience or perish.

When It’s Not Life and Death

What about the situations where enduring the suffering, discomfort or situation is not a matter of life and death? When should you stop enduring and quit?

This is a tough question to answer and an even tougher thing to achieve considering quitting usually means failing

What we can learn from Dr. Frankl’s example is that if we having meaning, even in failure, we can survive and be successful. In fact, failure is vital to our success since it’s by failing that we understand success. By failure we also push ourselves and others to succeed.

Three Questions to Consider

Any situation can have either a positive, neutral or negative outcome. For leaders, it’s about understanding these outcomes and figuring out if enduring the situation is still worth it. To help you determine when to endure or quit, answer these three questions:

Question #1: Will I Be Physically or Mentally Harmed?

Lots of times we want to press on even through pain and mental hardship. That can lead to growth but pushing too hard can result in long term damage that is not worth the pride of continuing on.

Professional athletes push themselves to the point of physical harm because they are driven to win. Even amateur athletes “push through the pain” to accomplish a goal or finish the race.

If you truly feel that you will harm yourself by pushing on then stop. It’s not worth the agony and your sense of pride or ego will only be bruised for a little while. You can always try again.

Question #2: Can I Change The Situation?

In some cases, the situation you are in cannot be changed (like what Dr. Frankl had to endure). If you can change the situation, then make an effort to. This can make all the difference even if you can’t make all the changes you want — at least you are taking control as much as you can.

If your attempts to change the situation fail and the conditions you find yourself under are just not bearable anymore, then it’s time to leave or stop. There is nothing wrong with leaving a bad situation especially if it’s harming you physically or mentally (like with an abusive spouse or boss).

It’s really not worth the agony to continue on in hopes of changing something that can’t be changed. It will just delay the inventible — you leaving anyway after being too frustrated to stay.

Question #3: Am I Able to Leave the Situation?

In some cases, you will have to stick it out simply because you can’t leave the situation (like Ernest Shackleton’s south pole expedition that got stranded when their boat got stuck). In these cases, your inner drive, mental toughness and endurance will be put to the test. You will have to find meaning and hope in whatever you can.

If the situation is not as dire as south pole survival, then you need to consider why your are staying. Is it because I’m afraid to leave or are can you really not leave. Chances are, if it’s not an exotic expedition, you can leave — it will just take courage and a little planning to do so.

Our Strong Desire To Stick It Out

The questions above really point to our desire to stick it out no matter the situation or potential outcome. We really fear failure and avoid loss at the cost of future gains. We want to take the safe and secure path even if it ends up hurting us (at least in the short term).

It’s hard to fail and even harder to move on after failure but what’s the hardest is to allow yourself to use failure as a way to learn and grow.

Sometimes you have to quit. Sometimes the situation is not healthy and the best way to protect yourself and live to compete another day is to stop before you get hurt. Don’t be afraid to stop enduring — it might be the best way to eventually reach your goals.