Exit Strategy 101: Begin with the end in mind!

EXIT STRATEGY—WHAT IS YOUR END GOAL?
Tuesday, December 13
7:45 am – 9:00 am at 4532 Boardwalk Dr., Fort Collins
RSVP to Shannon Richardson at 970.229.1140 or slrichardson@cobnks.com
Limited seating available.Business owners go into business for many reasons … to be in control of their time, to create wealth, to have freedom, to create a legacy and to, someday, retire wealthy. Without proper planning, many business owners can feel frustrated, burned out and chained to their business instead of experiencing the reasons they went into business in the first place.

Presenters

Jonathan Schultheiss
Partner, B2B CFO, LLCAs a trusted expert advisor, Jonathan concentrates on helping businesses to define and reach long-range goals by emphasizing financial strategic planning, discipline, and execution.
Christina Haxton
Founder and CEO, The Center for Sustainable StrategiesCombining her training, education and experience in psychology with a keen business sense and unique perspective on strategy and leadership, Christina assists business owners and executives with building strong, purpose-driven companies, achieving sustainable growth and avoiding burnout.

Join us to learn how to get unchained from your business, grow, and prepare yourself for a happy, successful exit when you’re ready.

Strategic Planning: 3 Essential Keys to a Complete Strategic Plan That Gets Results

3 keys to a successful strategic plan

The strategic planning process doesn’t have to be stressful, cost a fortune or end up in a binder to gather dust on your shelf….

Have you ever felt strategic planning is a lot of work and expense for not a lot of return on your time or investment?

The good news is creating a strategic plan doesn’t require a lot of time away from the office or a huge, expensive team of external consultants.  Instead, it can be efficient because you can draw on your employees’ knowledge and expertise.  The process doesn’t have to cause unnecessary conflict, confusion, or stress. Best of all, it’ll use straightforward language without jargon and bake in accountability from start to finish.

Do you know you need a strategic plan but aren’t sure where to start?

If you have ever felt frustrated when it comes to creating or implementing a strategic plan in your organization, you aren’t alone.  It’s easy to make the process too complicated, costly and overwhelming, unless you keep it simple and focus on just the three essential components.

Click here to take this quick assessment to find out whether strategic planning in your organization is as stress free and effective as it should be!

An effective strategic planning process includes three key components.  If you skip or poorly execute any one of them, you are won’t get results and it could sit on the shelf collecting dust.  Sound familiar?

The huge costs associated with an incomplete strategic planning process and plan are:

  • Loss of leadership in the market and a sense of losing ground
  • Failure to accomplish anticipated operational and financial goals
  • Frustration in your organization and the view that strategic planning is a waste of time, and
  • Loss of credibility of you and your leadership team
  • Loss of the time and money spent on the first step of the process because the next steps aren’t completed

I’ll share with you the strategic planning process we use at The Center for Sustainable Strategies where we help our clients focus on three key elements:

#1 – Answer the “big” strategic planning questions – without jargon or by spending a fortune on a consulting firm

#2 – Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme – otherwise you’ll have a long list of initiatives, most of which will not get done

#3 – Implement with a clear 3 part accountability plan 

Good news!  You don’t have to hire an external consultant to create your strategic plan, but you (or a good facilitator) can lead your team through all three steps.

The 3 Essential Keys to a complete strategic planning process:

This process is most effective when you schedule three 2-hour blocks of uninterrupted, focused time with all of your employees, or a one and a half or two day offsite retreat with key team members.  If you have more than 10-20 employees, ask for volunteers from different departments to encourage diversity in thinking and keep the discussion manageable. Break people up into small groups to answer the questions and report back to the larger group, otherwise it’s challenging to keep everyone focused.

  1. Collectively answer the “big” strategic planning questions – The big questions to be answered in your first planning session include:
  • Who are our customers and how can we better serve them?
  • Who are our competitors and how can we beat them?
  • What do we do best and how can we build on that edge?
  • How can we prepare the organization to defend against threats and seize opportunities?
  • What are potential “what if?” scenarios we need to consider for the future and how will we prepare for them?

Unfortunately, many strategic planning sessions are filled with inefficient discussions and result in a list of jargon-filled answers.  Encourage the use of clear language everyone can understand, leaving no room for guesswork.   Drill down to specific answers to these questions, so you can take them to the point of creating clear initiatives that can and will get done.

Key Take Away: The big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives that will grow and strengthen your organization.

  1. Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme. The most important outcome of the first part of the strategic planning process is to identify the most important priorities for your organization.

In this second meeting you will:

  • Start with your long list of potential priorities from the first session
  • As a group discuss the relative value of each, and
  • Hone in on only a few key priorities

By having a well-facilitated discussion you will have greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the organization should do best.

Once a list of no more than three to five priorities is agreed upon, the group can come up with a strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall compelling strategic push for the organization that clearly aligns everyone and focuses on the direction of your company. Examples could include:

  • Beat (Our Top Competitor)!
  • Zero Safety Incidents
  • Expand to markets in the southwest region
  • 0% medical errors
  • Become a magnet for top talent

Key Take Away: During this session, many companies just settle for a long list of priorities. While the benefit here is usually to avoid conflict, reduce tension and make sure that nobody feels excluded or insulted. However, doing so makes it highly unlikely that the organization will get any of the initiatives completed because of the feeling of overwhelm that will result from a lack of clarity and focus.  People have to believe the strategic plan is do-able and achievable to feel excited and motivated to take action.

  1. Implement. The biggest complaint I hear about strategy is that it never seems to get fully executed or completed. The five biggest mistakes I see are:
  • Not setting clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems
  • Failing to take things off the plate of busy employees, just stacking more work on them
  • Neglecting to commit essential resources to the strategy, including capital, training, technology, people
  • Lacking will to stop old initiatives that compete with the new
  • Giving up after a few setbacks or initial resistance, instead of getting feedback and making small adjustments needed to stay on track

Key Take Away: If you want to have a sound strategy you will spend as much time on implementation planning as you do on the more glamorous work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities.

While some organizations are strong at asking the big picture questions, but they fail to follow up or bake in accountability. Some set too many priorities, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives. Which of the above areas is or potentially could be the weakest area in your organization?  How can you address them?

 Summary:

We’ve covered a strategic planning process that simple  to implement, efficient and gets results. The 3 essential keys to include in your strategic planning process are:

#1 – Answer the “big” strategic planning

#2 – Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme

#3 – Implement

REMEMBER: Successful Strategic Plans are a process, not an event. 

After you’ve completed the strategic planning process and have a written plan, including any agreements and clear do-able accountability steps for everyone (including yourself), be sure to schedule quarterly reviews to ensure everyone is on track.  This is a good time to make any adjustments necessary so you can continue to implement your plan.  Create a one-sheet strategic plan and post it so all can see and be accountable.  Celebrate milestones in your quarterly meetings and as part of your posted plan so everyone can see progress in action!

Click here to take this quick assessment to find out whether strategic planning in your organization is as stress free and effective as it should be!

 

7 Productivity Habits of Highly Sustainable Leaders

Your brain is not designed to hold ideas, your brain is designed to have ideas.” – Robert Allen, ‘Getting Things Done”

Are you paid to be productive, to think, prioritize and make the right decisions quickly?  If you want avoid burning up or burning out, you’ll need to preserve your greatest asset:  Your brain!left-brain-right-brain1-283x300

An informal survey of 150 senior managers who participated in the most recent Sustainable Leaders Strategic Planning workshop revealed the biggest challenge they faced was “having too much to do in too little time with fewer resources than ever before… and having to make the right decisions quickly.”

The often unbelievable demands to be both highly productive and accurate bombard us daily.  What’s different? The speed with which business must get done today is light years faster than even 15 or 20 years ago.  In many industries (technology), change happens too quickly and if you only strive to keep up, you will be out of business faster than you can say “Buck Rogers.”

There are only 24 hours in a day and you cannot create “more time” in a day.  The solution for most is to work longer and harder to get the job done.  The only problem with that solution is that it is a recipe for burn out.

Let’s break the rules and shift your perspective consider this:  Time is a limited resource and energy is an infinitely unlimited resource.  You cannot create more time.  You can, however, create more energy by taking control not only of your time, but where your attention is within that time frame.

My personal observation is that productive and sustainable leaders who feel happy and satisfied at the end of each day actively focus on BOTH how much they DO and DON’T DO to conserve brain power and leverage energy successfully.

Here are the 7 Productivity Habits of Highly Successful & Sustainable Leaders (who feel satisfied and have peace of mind at the end of the day):

#1.  Be Selfish With Your Time

Say “No” 100 times for every time you say “Yes.” If saying “No” is hard for you (as it is for most people), add “No, thank you” so you can get the added benefit of being grateful and appreciative, if not polite.

#2.   Avoid Multitasking

The latest studies in brain based learning prove that multitasking is not only impossible (we switch attention, our brains are incapable of focusing on two things at once), but to make matters worse, the reduction in accuracy for even the “best multi-tasker” doing the simplest of tasks is almost 50%.  Pretty scary when you think about the complex tasks you do simultaneously (driving a car, talking on a cell phone or talking on the phone and typing an email response).  Try to focus on doing one thing at a time.  Notice how much less time it takes, especially because you don’t run the risk of hitting “send” prematurely then spending time on damage control.

#3.  Listen More … Talk Less

Bottom line, people will feel heard and be able to find their own solutions more easily without unnecessary interference from you.  And, you will conserve your brain power for more important challenges that lie ahead.

#4.  Delegate and Leverage OPE (Other People’s Energy)leverage stress

When you delegate, trust and offer challenges to people, not only will it benefit you, but also they’ll feel better about you if you do.  We all know the importance of delegating so that you aren’t seen as the control freak in the corner office.  But did you know that when you delegate responsibilities and tasks (with their buy in of course), the meta-message (as long as the deadline is reasonable or they are involved in setting the deadline) or message under the message, is “trust.”  The receiver feels you believe in them enough to give them the opportunity to rise to the challenge.  Win win.

#5.  Prioritize Prioritizing

Indecision happens when we have too many thoughts getting stuck in or out of sequence in the cognitive pipeline.  Often we can get thoughts flowing again when we ask ourselves “What’s the one most important thing that needs to be decided and acted upon before that decision can be made?”

Whether you are a list maker or mind map fan, get every thought bouncing around inside of your head OUT of your head and onto paper, a whiteboard or computer program you are in the habit of checking or using regularly (“Freemind” is a simple and free example).  Robert Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is a must read for “How To’s” when it comes to being more productive so you can take quick, effective action.

#6.  Take Frequent Breaks

The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC for short) is the part of your brain responsible for your ability to avoid distraction, make decisions, reason, understand and memorize.  Think of it as powered by rechargeable batteries, not a 220v power cord plugged into an outlet in the wall.  It needs frequent recharging (among other ingredients) in order for high performance.  Taking a short 20 minute walk inside or outside your office building at the most hectic time of day will not only benefit your metabolism and your waistline, but also your brain.  Try shutting off your brain for 5 minutes just two or three times a day, talk to a co-worker about a non-related subject (this is probably why gossip is so enticing), play a game of angry birds or juggle.

#7.  Practice Mindfulness vs. Mindlessnesshanding_down_the_key_pc_1600_wht (1) - Copy

Think of how many “mindless” automatic patterns you have every day.  Repeatedly doing routine tasks (like shaving, putting on your pants or brushing your teeth) the same way every day, doesn’t do your brain any favors.  You are just deepening the same brain groove over and over.  You are wasting valuable real estate!  If you normally put your right leg in your pants first, put your left leg in first instead.  If you begin shaving your face left side first, try starting your first swipe on a different part of your face.  Do you have stairs in your office building?  Which leg do you typically start with as you start up a flight of stairs?  Try what you think I’m going to suggest next ….

If you are paid to think, treat your brain and your energy as precious commodities that need daily TLC to function most effectively and with ease.  Pick one of these 7 Tips to practice each day and notice what happens to your mind and your mood; you too will become a Sustainable Leader one small step at a time.

 

 

 

3 Tips To Avoid Burnout, Sell Your Business For Top Value & Retire Wealthy

are-you-ready

Will you be able to sell your business for top value and retire comfortably before you burn out?

Most small businesses or family-owned businesses are not ready to be sold because they are too dependent on the owner running and working in the business every day. As a result, millions of business owners will never be able to tap into the wealth they have tried to create after years and years of effort.

Here are three requirements for being able to sell your small business for top value or be positioned to retire with peace of mind and security (click here now to take a free assessment and find out):

#1: You have the right mindset. Success begins with your mindset. Many business owners keep their businessesYou can't sell your business if you have a closed mindset dependent on them due to limiting beliefs. For example:

  • “I can’t trust anyone to do the job as well as I can”
  • “I need to be the hero”
  • “Everything always needs to be perfect” and
  • “This company is my baby and I won’t surrender control

In contrast, business owners who are able to sell their companies for top dollar go beyond these beliefs. They are willing to surrender full control. They don’t need to micromanage. They are open to hiring people smarter than they are, and to giving them the resources and time to develop professionally.

#2. You have a plan in place to recruit, retain, and develop people who can keep the business growing without you. Building a successful business starts with a strong foundation that makes it possible to develop a pool of talent who can run the company without you. Elements of this plan include:You need a succession plan to sell your small business

  • Clear roles and responsibilities for all owners and employees
  • Accountability and standards for quality work
  • A clear organizational chart (or at least a description of who is responsible for what and who makes which decisions)
  • A plan and strategy to attract good employees and potential buyers
  • A process that develops your own leadership skills, business skills and your employees’ industry knowledge
  • Relevant rewards and a management philosophy that engages and keeps your best people on board
  • Opportunities for you to delegate responsibilities to key employees
  • Systems and processes that allow the business to run independently from you
  • A clear idea of expectations that are fair yet demands the best from your team

#3. You have an ongoing succession planning process to keep challenging and preparing your team.  If you have the above requirements in place, the final piece of the puzzle is an ongoing succession planning process. Succession planning is not a one-time event to replace a retiring business owner. It is an ongoing approach to identifying top talent, developing them, and challenging them to move up. Develop your team to sell your small business

Small businesses that have these three essential ingredients in place can keep on growing. They give the owner more time to spend on strategic issues and setting high standards. They allow the owner to take long vacations and have a great life outside of work. Most importantly, they make the company more valuable.

Small businesses that don’t do the above will not sell – eventually they will wind down, and the owner will lose out on a huge potential source of wealth.

Sometimes the help of an outside advisor can make a huge difference in being able to sell your business– now or in the future – for top dollar to an enthusiastic buyer. The Center for Sustainable Strategies specializes in this area. For more information, contact us at Christina@christinahaxton.com or call (970) 387-8935 or click here to take a free assessment to see if your business is ready for SUCCESSion or sale.

The Center for Sustainable Strategies Announces Expanded Services for Entrepreneurs, Small Business Owners & Non-Profit Organizations

SustStrat-SEETHRU

The Center for Sustainable Strategies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

DENVER, CO – The Center for Sustainable Strategies (formerly Sustainable Leadership, Inc.) is expanding to serve clients from Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado, specializing in helping bio-science and technology executives meet the demands of Colorado’s growing biotech, bio-science and technology industry.

The Center for Sustainable Strategies helps entrepreneurs and newly hired or recently promoted leaders transitioning into an executive role develop effective leadership practices and business development strategies in fast-growth bioscience and emerging technology companies. The Center for Sustainable Strategies CEO Christina Haxton said that in a fast-paced industry, it is essential that technologists, scientists and physicians transitioning into a business environment find the balance between achieving sustainable business growth, applying best leadership practices, achieving successful work/life integration and avoiding burnout.

Haxton, recently relocated from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience, a graduate level certificate in Evidence-Based Coaching for Executives & Businesses, Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy specializing in business partnerships, Bachelors in Psychology and over 25 years of healthcare industry experience, including over 10 years in management and board level experience in non-profit healthcare, economic development and membership organizations. Haxton is a co-author of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Leadership Revolution One Person At A Time, is an author of numerous articles, dynamic presenter and keynote speaker on the topics of Sustainable Leadership, increasing employee and executive engagement, improving productivity, resolving workplace conflict, transforming stress and avoiding or recovering from burnout.

About The Center for Sustainable Strategies
The Fort Collins office is located at 219 West Magnolia St. Suite #120 Fort Collins, CO 80521 with a second office in the Greater Denver Area. Haxton’s original company, Sustainable Leadership, Inc. an executive coaching and leader development consultancy has now expanded to include offering business growth and development services for small business owners and non-profit organizations. The Center for Sustainable Strategies provides specialized expertise in assessing, developing and implementing innovative solutions to effectively address executive and team development, employee engagement, strategic and succession planning and execution, as well as custom leadership development programs for small to medium-sized health care, bioscience and technology companies. The Center for Sustainable Strategies has offices in the Greater Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado areas.
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For more information:
Contact: Christina Haxton   Email: Christina@ChristinaHaxton.com
Phone: (970) 387-8935

7 Simple Questions To Create A Highly Engaged Team

7 Simple Questions that Every New Leader Can Ask to Mobilize Employees & Create A Highly Engaged Team

http://sustainable-leaders.com

Do you have a highly engaged team?

Engaging and mobilizing team members or employees can feel like a daunting challenge, especially if you are a technologist, engineer, scientist or physician making the transition into a leadership or management position. However a few simple behaviors can make a huge difference to improve engagement with the people you need to help you get the job done.

It is frustrating to have to read minds

For instance, many employees are frustrated because they feel like they have to be a mind reader, psychic or great guesser as to what their your priorities are at any given time. Even worse, they don’t know how they are doing and how they can do better. Their annual performance review is sometimes their only chance to find out.  Often stressful for both of you and because it happens only once a year, the annual review does not set people up for success.  Your employees need more frequent, detailed feedback and feedforward so they can make responsive adjustments and know they are on track!

Spans of control contribute to the problem

This situation is not completely the fault of management. In some organizations, spans of control have become so large that managers have to complete another formal performance review every three or four days.  Leaders are busy, busy, busy.  I get it.  But that’s still no excuse.

The solutions are simpler than you might think

There are many simple strategies to mobilize employees and create a highly engaged team. the good news is they cost almost nothing to implement, can be put into place immediately and have huge impact.

For instance, one opportunity that many leaders have to build trust with their team members – even at the C-level – is to give more frequent, informal feedback about how each employee is doing. It takes just a few minutes to ask a question and listen to the response you get.  That way, everyone in an organization knows what is expected of them and how they can get better.

The seven questions

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7 Questions Leaders Can Ask to Engage & Mobilize Employees

There are seven simple questions every leader must ask employees … and intently listen to the answers to create a highly engaged team. As with advertising, frequency counts. Small, informal conversations about performance go a long way – especially when they include teachable moments about different situations and details.

The questions include:

1. What do you believe I expect from you?
2. What are you doing well?
3. What, if anything, can you be doing better?
4. What, if anything, do you believe I see you could do better?
5. (If appropriate): What do you expect will happen if you improve (e.g., more responsibility, more time with leadership, more desirable assignments)?
6. (If appropriate): What do you expect will happen if you don’t improve?
7. How can I help?

While all of these questions are important, and you don’t have to ask all of them at once, the last question is especially important. It shows the employee that the leader cares, and is not merely abdicating responsibility or shifting blame.

No more excuses!  For more information about how you can easily and effectively engage and mobilize your team and to take a confidential and free self-assessment about how well you are engaging and mobilizing your team or employees, click here.

Are workplace negativity and poor attitudes a problem?

If workplace negativity and poor attitudes are a problem in your office, AVOID IS NOT A STRATEGY and you are not alone.  Here are some simple, no cost solutions  (and if this doesn’t work, you can find your customized solution at the bottom of this post):

Poor attitudes

Infographic by Quill

P.S. If this infographic doesn’t completely solve your workplace negativity problem, click here to contact Christina or email christina@sustainable-leaders.com or call (970) 387-8935 today to discuss a customized solution for your organization.

held hostage habits

Are you held hostage by old, comfortable habits?

Can habits hold you hostage?

Have you ever had a moment where you’ve said something and as you’re saying it you kind of can’t believe what you’re saying?  You’ve heard yourself telling the same story about how you endured a soul-sucking job, tolerated your obnoxious boss or felt exhausted and stuck in your business.

I was catching up with some old friends this weekend about some of our experiences and how our lives have changed over time. I was telling the story of when I first started my private counseling practice how I was contracted by Social Services to help clients who were “unmotivated and unwilling” (i.e., court ordered) referred by social services who were at risk of losing their children to the court system.

And especially about how I was on call 24/7 (remember pagers?) and we couldn’t take a family weekend away because there was no one else who could be “on call.” Sometimes I needed a police escort to my appointments.  How every Monday morning I’d find myself thinking “why am I doing this?”.

Since the social services contract made up 90% of my private practice, I was very busy.  I did the “crisis counselor” thing as an in-home-intensive-family-therapist for about 8 years.  And for the last six of them I’d be thinking “why am I doing this?”

As I explained this it dawned on me that it had taken rather a long time for me to go from realizing I wasn’t enjoying it to actually doing something about it.  Over 6 years.  Wow.  I was being held hostage by my own habits.

Much of the work I do today with business and executive coaching clients these days gives them a new perspective on their business and their impact.  Shows them possibilities and solutions they just hadn’t thought of before.

But often, just like me on a Monday morning, they already know they need something different. Sometimes they even know what that different thing is.  But they feel stuck.  Held hostage by habits.

Because when you’ve done something for a long, long time it becomes part of you.  It’s just what you do. For some, It’s who you become.  A mindless habit.  It’s easy.  It’s familiar.  It’s certain.  You know how to do it.  I’ve heard it all (and done it myself).

Even though you don’t like it, or it’s not really getting you the results you need, it’s a lot less scary than something completely new that might not work at all.  Or might make you look silly.  Or you might fail.

It took over six years (and a lot of encouragement from my husband) for me to get the courage to give up the certain income that came with that counseling contract and do what I really wanted to do.

Don’t let it take you that long to try something new in your business (or career).

You don’t have to change everything.  But pick one thing you don’t think is working well and drop it for a few months and do something else instead.  Stop saying “yes” to every request and say “let me give it some thought and I’ll get back to you.”  Stop taking on new clients who don’t fit your ideal client profile and say “Thank you, but it’s not a good fit, let me refer you to someone who could be a better fit for your needs.”

If it works, keep doing it.  If it doesn’t, try something else – sooner rather than later.

Not rocket science.  Obvious on paper.  Trickier to do in real life.  Therefore the six years.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Don’t you waste six more years, or even six more months doing something that constantly drains you, leaves you feeling exhausted or fails to bring you joy.

What’s one small thing you are willing to do (or stop doing) today so you aren’t held hostage by habits?

 

Christina Haxton, MA LMFT is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of Sustainable Leadership.  An executive coach, business consultant and speaker, Christina assists busy business owners, high potential managers, key executives and CEOs to achieve successful work/life balance and peace of mind to become exceptional leaders who are built to last.  

To apply for a confidential Strategy Session to explore your business or career goals or to inquire about a professional development program for your team, meeting or conference, contact Christina at christina@sustainable-leaders.com or (970) 387-8935.

 

3 Simple Steps to Manage Lizard Brain & Turn Conflict into Cooperation

Manage Lizard Brain:  How to Quickly & Easily Turn Conflict into Cooperationlizard brain

Remember your last argument? Neither of you remember how it started or what it was about and before you know it it’s off to the races.

Twenty minutes later a great comeback pops into your head … Aha! “Damn, I wish would have said that instead. Why couldn’t I think at the time?”

Because of Lizard Brain and our brain’s hard wiring, did you know we cannot manage our emotions? 

The good news is we can learn to manage our behavior and respond instead of react to our emotions. The bad news is it is harder than we think.   The good news is “practice makes permanent.”

Here’s a little of the “Why” and Three Simple Steps to Stay Cool Under Pressure the next time the lizard tries to threatens to hijack your brain.

A complaining customer, a whiny child, an out of control teen or a grumpy boss, at some point we all lose our cool. People push our buttons and we feel irritated, frustrated, overwhelmed and sometimes we just explode. Or, we hold it in, tell ourselves it’s no big deal, it doesn’t matter what I do, it won’t make a difference what I say, so I’ll say nothing and pretend it’s okay and march on (a recipe for stress-related disease).

Either way, we feel regret, shame, and humiliation at how we’ve just lost our temper again. Here come the “should’ve-s”: I should’ve known better, stayed calm, counted to ten, remembered what happened last time I lost my temper. Lizard Brain makes it impossible to act on the should’ve-s, and here’s why.

What is Lizard Brain?

The part of the brain responsible for survival, our amygdala, an almond-shaped area at the base of our brain way down deep and part of our limbic system, otherwise known as “fight or flight central” still exists, even though we are no longer running from saber toothed tigers. Otherwise knows as “reptilian brain” or “Lizard Brain.”

The good news is our brain has evolved since we were cave dwellers. Today, humans have complex language, use tools to make and fix things, and send people into outer space, due to the evolution of the Pre-Frontal Cortex.  But before the “thinking” part of the brain evolved, our reactions were dictated by Lizard Brain.

Despite the existence of the Pre-Frontal Cortex and our ability to reason, in response to stress (even perceived stress), our limbic system goes into high gear and our fight, flight or freeze response gets activated.  This is an automatic, instinctive reaction and there’s no thinking or deciding involved.

Triggers might be his/her yelling or icy stare and can often include what I call Universal Lizard Brain Words such as (hands on hips, finger wagging eye rolling optional): Why did you …? You always or You never …! You should… No!

Our limbic system has been triggered and Lizard Brain is now in charge. We feel emotionally hijacked and now our “thinking brain” is rendered helpless. These triggers can bring up strong emotions (i.e., pain) from the past right into the present moment, as if it’s happening all over again. The Lizard’s primary responsibility is to protect us from perceived harm. The Lizard has now jumped into the driver’s seat and we are in the back, a passenger hanging on for dear life, yet the road is oddly, comfortably “familiar.”

Congratulations, You Are Humanbrain image creative

How come Lizard Brain happens repeatedly to highly intelligent people? Because it’s not about IQ or an inability to learn from past mistakes. It’s just the default wiring of our very human brain.

The Lizard Brain(LB) switches off the Thinking Brain, or the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), where reasoning, understanding happens and which explains why your aha! moment after an argument comes later in time, probably after a few deep, belly breaths when the reactive

Lizard Brain is no longer driving the bus and your Pre-Frontal Cortex gets the oxygen it needs to regain control. It’s a myth that if we understand “why” we react then we will automatically be able to respond calmly next time our buttons get triggered. The rational PFC can’t always prevent the LB from engaging, it’s out powered and just not that evolved. It is impossible to “not feel” a feeling. Not a weakness, just wiring. So, stop trying.

What’s the Good News?

The good news comes from recent scientific discoveries that our brains aren’t hard and set like concrete at age three, which is what neuroscientists (brain researchers) believed until very recently. Neuroplasticity is the good news. Our brains can and do make new connections and build new neural pathways by the millions every day, most of which we are not even aware of …. Scary.

How? By changing your habits and creating new neural pathways, the process is actually quite simple. Becareful not to confuse the two – I said simple, but not easy.  Change is hard, but not impossible.

Pick one person or situation that triggers your Lizard (the holidays are coming up, it won’t be hard family gives us ample opportunity to practice).

Begin by simply noticing opportunities to recognize Lizard Brain as it creeps up on you or identify situations where Lizard Brain gets triggered.

Next, we’re going to create a new habit or neural pathway.

Three Simple Steps to Stay Cool Under Pressure: Notice, Acknowledge & Renametoolbox_kit_fix_1600_wht (1)

1. Notice the pattern – Simply become an observer of the pattern, as if you are watching from the sidelines. What has to happen to trigger your own, your partner’s or your bosses Lizard Brain? Describe the pattern sequence to yourself or someone else. Do you react to “Lizard Brain Words?” If so, which ones? Do you use them with others? Notice what happens when you replace a judgmental Why did you …? question with a sincere question, for instance How do you see it? When asked with genuine curiosity, words such as What or How land differently than Why and allow you to create more productive pathways in your brain (and his/her brain).

2. Acknowledge the emotion – Use your powers of observation without judgment (ban the should’ve-s). Notice the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion without feeling you “should” change it, stop it, or judge it as “bad” or “wrong.” Instead, see what happens when you respond with an emotion such as curiosity and words such as “Mmm, interesting …” (with your eyebrows up, please!). See if you can get a little distance and prevent an emotional hijack by observing the conversation, as if you were a bystander.

3. Rename the feeling – Label or rename the feeling (not the person, not their motivation, not their intention) as “sad, scared, hurt” instead of ANGRY. Anger is actually not a primary or real emotion, it is a secondary emotion, just a “safer” feeling and often hides primary emotions such as Sad, Scared or Hurt. When we believe someone is angry, our LB gets activated and we can feel defensive. When we can re-label anger as “Sad, Scared or Hurt” or a combination of those feelings, the part of our brain responsible for empathy is engaged, the Lizard can get out of the driver’s seat and our thinking brain can work again.

Conclusion

Practice makes perfect and new neural pathways. Changing our behavior or learning to do something new takes awareness, intention, action and practice. Just like when you learned to ski, ride or play the guitar. There’s no way around it.

By understanding a few simple facts about how our brain works and making small adjustments to the words we use and practice.

Hint: Just the act of imagining yourself taking these steps will create new neural pathways because our brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s imagined and what’s real), you can create new habits and stay cool under pressure, lower your blood pressure and, as crazy as it sounds, begin to see conflict as an opportunity for practice (and have a little fun, too).

 

Christina Haxton, MA LMFT is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of Sustainable Leadership.  An executive coach, business consultant and speaker, Christina assists busy business owners, high potential managers, executives and CEOs to achieve successful work/life balance and peace of mind to become exceptional leaders who are built to last.  For more information about leadership training or presentations for your team, meeting or conference, contact Christina at christina@sustainable-leaders.com or (970) 387-8935.

 

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Purpose isn’t everything … or is it?

Why Are Purpose-Driven Companies More Successful?purpose

“Purpose isn’t everything, but it trumps everything else.” – Roy Spence, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For

Last month I had the privilege of travelling to Kauai with a client on their annual company retreat to help them solve what was a very good (or potentially horrible) problem.  This technology company needed to be prepared for:

  • Tremendous growth in an untapped market
  • Where the company was VERY passionate about making a difference
  • Which (oh-by-the-way) … was so groundbreaking, they may even have to create the opportunity.

That was the good problem.

The bad problem?  They lacked one very important building block in their company in order to achieve sustainable success, clear direction and growth:  A clear, shared and inspiring Purpose Statement.

The owners of the company were in tune with their individual core values, knew their team and their market enough to know they could achieve lofty goals and make a huge impact on the industry for their partners and customers. (As a consultant, this was a PLUS!)

This wasn’t their first rodeo, and the co-founders know that in order to move forward everyone on the team needed to be aligned and ready for the ride.   Because if they weren’t, and it got rough, they could lose their best talent and ruin the trust of their partners, and excellent reputation they worked so hard to create.

What Needed to Happen First (and Kauai was the most beautiful place to do it, so why not)?  Individually and collectively, the team first needed to identify, verbalize, connect with their core values.

Then some serious brainstorming needed to happen, which was framed by answering four key questions (more on that later).

Finally, to begin to craft the Purpose Statement, they needed to get BIG and answers needed to come from everyone in the room:  “What difference do we make and for whom?”

Many of you may say, “Yes, but isn’t that the same as a Vision or a Mission Statement?”  No, it’s different.

What a Purpose Is:

A Purpose is our strong WHY we get up in the morning.  A purpose is inspiring.  A Purpose includes everyone who works at the company.  A Purpose connects individuals and core values of people and the culture of the organization.  EVERYONE knows the purpose and knows how their role and unique talent they bring to their work everyday is a necessary for the company’s achievement of the Purpose.

What a Purpose Is Not:

A Purpose is never achieved, is not measurable and NOT attached to the bottom line.  A Purpose is not “how we do things” or our strategy.   WARNING:  A Purpose is not for the faint of heart because you WILL be called to act on your Purpose (and everyone is watching).

Ultimately, everyone in the company is accountable for making decisions that are aligned with the Purpose, including which work we do, how we hire and fire people, and how we allocate our resources.

A company’s sustainable success today goes beyond the bottom line and a by having a clear, inspirational purpose you attract and keep great talent, and repel and easily de-select people who aren’t in alignment with your company’s Purpose.  Because if your people aren’t on board, you may not survive your own success.

Purpose-driven companies thrive through challenges, good and bad.  And, by the way, the most financially successful and thriving companies are driven first by a strong, clear Purpose.  Bottom line is important or they wouldn’t survive, but it’s not at the top of the list.

Some examples of excellent, clear Purpose Statements:

Merck: To gain victory against disease and help mankind
Disney: To use our imaginations to bring happiness to millions
Johnson & Johnson: To alleviate pain and suffering

Merck, Disney and Johnson & Johnson, as well as my client, realized the process of identifying and crafting a compelling, inspiring, clear and meaningful Purpose Statement isn’t for the faint of heart and doesn’t happen in a half-day leadership workshop.  It is a process, and not an event.  It starts from the bottom up, the top down and is inspired by the strong WHY?’s of the founders, the team members who make it happen, core values and most of all the BIG DIFFERENCE they make and for whom.

My client is almost there with their Purpose Statement, or at least one they will “live with” for a few months until our next oil-change.  Most importantly, the process of discovering their Purpose was inspiring, fun, engaging and they found that doing so connected people at a whole new level, one they need to be at in order to thrive through their next growth opportunity.

Is your company ready for your next “good problem?”

Share your favorite (or your own company’s) Purpose Statement below.  What do you like about it?  How does it speak to you?

To Your Sustainable Leadership!
Christina

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