Self-talk is not often covered as a leadership topic, but Erika Andersen cites it as one of the most important skills to master.
Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses on leader readiness. She’s the author of three other books: Leading So People Will Follow, Being Strategic, and Growing Great Employees. All of her books are full of actionable advice from her three decades of advising and coaching executives.
I recently spoke with her about her tips to manage our internal conversations.
Leadership Tip: listening and mastering self-talk are critical skills for leaders.
Let’s talk about managing your self-talk. How important is managing self-talk?
Critically important. If I had to name the two most valuable skills I’ve learned over the past thirty years, I’d pick listening and managing my self-talk. It’s enormously powerful to be able to recognize and shift how you’re talking to yourself about yourself and your circumstances. It allows you to have much more control over how you respond to what happens within you and around you.
You give 4 steps to managing it: Recognize. Record. Rethink. Repeat.
Yes, here’s how it works:
Recognize: In order to manage your self-talk, you have to “hear” it. Unless you’re aware of this internal monologue, it’s impossible to change it. For instance, let’s say you’re feeling incurious about something you need to learn. You notice your mental voice saying, This is so boring – I can’t possibly focus on this enough to learn it. Once you start attending to the voice in your head, and recognizing what it’s saying, you can begin to do something about it.
Success Tip: writing down your self-talk is a key part of managing it.
Give us an update about your research and work since writing the last book, Break Your Own Rules. What have you been up to and learning?
We conducted original research to help us understand why women were so turned off by office politics and how we could help. We surveyed 134 senior executives in leading organizations, and the results revealed that women and men fundamentally disagree on the overall objective of politics. Women said they use the tools of politics to “manage relationships,” whereas men use them to “win.” Women were far more likely to mention “creating impact and ideas,” while men were more than twice as likely to describe “carving a one-time advantage.”
Women are judged more harshly than men when engaging in office politics, and our lack of access to sponsors puts us at a disadvantage.
Also, women and men have differing approaches to power and influence. It’s collaboration vs. competition.
Study: Women are judged more harshly than men when engaging in office politics.
“It’s a myth that a leader’s personal qualities must remain separate from their professional identity.” You share a story of an awful tragedy and how you kept that private during a leadership retreat. Tell us more about the intersection between the personal and professional.
The core premise of my work is that leaders personal and professional identities aren’t separate. They are inextricably linked. Leaders have been fooled into thinking that being impersonal and rational leads to success. It doesn’t. Poor engagement and alienation results. Without personal qualities, leaders are faceless bureaucrats, and their staff find it difficult to connect with them. Our experience of being with any leader is greatly influenced by their personal qualities.
My book deals with leaders’ professional identities. By thoughtfully choosing what is personal, what is private, and what they let come to the foreground in their interactions, leaders influence how others experience them. I coach leaders to bring helpful personal qualities into their interactions. Leaders with personal qualities like contempt, demanding, and cold create anxiety and emotional turmoil around them. People don’t like working with them. Leaders with personal qualities such as being insightful, approachable, and succinct have powerful effects in inspiring others to action.
The secret in my book Leadership Material is that if you don’t know who and what has shaped you as a leader, you won’t be able to lead people. The key lever for developing as a leader is through your earlier life experiences. By uncovering the likely source of unhelpful behaviors, you then have a choice of your current authentic response which builds relationships and produces results.
“When people feel understood and accepted, they flourish.” –Diana Jones
Do you want to motivate your staff and be a more effective leader?
Rhett Power is cofounder of the toy company Wild Creations, named one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing companies. He is a speaker and author and has written for numerous publications from Time to the Wall Street Journal. I recently spoke to him about his research on success.
As a busy entrepreneur, with multiple conflicting to-do lists, how do you prioritize personal development? Why is this critically important?
In my first business, I learned that if I didn’t take the time for personal development, then my business would suffer. I buried myself into making that first business work. I worked 20 hours a day seven days a week. After two years, I was nearly bankrupt, and I was physically and emotionally wiped out. I wasn’t reading, eating well, exercising, or spending time with family and friends. When I stopped to reevaluate my life and made significant changes, I saw dramatic results.
I started taking more time out of the business. When I was well rested, I made better decisions. When I started exercising, I had more energy and was more productive. When I started to take time for personal and professional growth, meaning spending time reading, researching, and planning, my business took off.
“Constant self-improvement is as important as a physical workout.” -Rhett Power
Let’s start with overcoming fears. You faced some seriously challenging days and, in the end, you now say that facing a fear helps you gain strength. What practical tips can you share for someone who feels paralyzed with fear?
I have always believed I would rather have my fate in my own hands than in someone else’s. That is why I kept going even when times were tough, and I was scared we were going to fail. It’s important to understand that significant fear cannot be overcome overnight. That’s why it’s significant. To effectively deal with this kind of fear, it’s helpful to break down the object of your fear into small, more manageable parts. One of the benefits of breaking down a task that you fear is it can provide you with some insight as to what, specifically, about the task causes you to have fear.
The other thing that always makes me less fearful is preparation. Everyone remembers the feeling of confidence you get from being ready for that school exam. You also know the feeling of not being prepared. I find being over-prepared makes that feeling of fear turn into confidence.
Each time you face a fear, no matter how small, and overcome it, you gain great strength. That strength turns to courage and that courage to confidence in the doing–no matter what “doing” you might be called upon to do.
Reward and Recognize Good Work
You share the importance of valuing employees. As an entrepreneur, you also know that resources are often a challenge. What creative ways have you seen to accomplish this goal on a limited budget?
Even on the tightest budget, you should recognize and reward great work. Here are some things I do in my businesses:
Ask staff to post recognition notes to each other on a bulletin board. Add testimonies from external customers.
Give people time off. Time is the most precious gift, and people will always remember that afternoon or day to do what they love.
Send a letter to the employee’s family, telling them why their loved one is so important to the company’s mission.
Do one of the employee’s least favorite tasks.
Give a coffee or carwash gift card, sports or movie tickets.
Allow people to work from home or present them with a “flexible day” certificate.
Give departments their own week: Accounting Week, Programmer Week, etc. Recognize the contributions made, take them to lunch, make certificates.
Create opportunities: to be a mentor, chair a committee, do research.
Celebrate birthdays, babies, weddings, graduations, and any happy time.
Establish a “Wall of Fame” for photos and clippings that recognize outstanding achievements. Mention staff in the company newsletter, too.
Say, “I’m glad you’re here,” and “Thank you.”
Bring people together for cake and socializing or a meal like a potluck lunch.
I’m a student of good communication and have been all my life. And Jack’s observations and practical book upped my game immediately from Chapter 1. I’m sure you will enjoy learning to recognize these sentences and strategies and how to handle them as they arise.
Jack Quarles is the founder of Buying Excellence, a company helping businesses choose the best vendor possible. He is a specialist on expense management, negotiations, and increasing ROI.
How to Spot the Expensive Sentence
Give us an example of an “expensive sentence.”
Skip, here are a few I’ve heard in the last week:
“I’m too busy to look at that now.”
“She’s the only one who can do the job.”
“It’s too late to change our plans.”
They surround us. Sometimes they take the form of proverbs, like, “You can’t change horses in mid-stream,” or “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Others can be very localized, like, “Our boss isn’t interested in new marketing tactics,” or “That’s just Ted being Ted.”
“The best time to manage the damage of an Expensive Sentence is right after you hear it.” –Jack Quarles
How are expensive sentences related to poor communication?
Unfortunately, Expensive Sentences have the effect of ending conversations and stopping communication. For example, imagine that you and I are discussing which consultant to hire for a project, and I say, “Well, you get what you pay for.” That phrase has weight; it sounds wise and definitive. You will probably think I am quite set in that position (of hiring the higher-priced consultant), even though I may only be 60% sure that it applies here. I’d be better off qualifying my words before they define our decision, and you might be smart to gently respond, “Yes, it’s often true that you do have to pay for higher quality… but is that true in this case? Or could that be an Expensive Sentence?”
Myths that Drive Decision-Making
Jack, you debunk many common myths that drive corporate decision-making. And then you give suggestions on how to handle them. I’d love to delve into a few, starting with, “The customer is always right.” You give examples of where customers are mistaken. Would you share one and the implications?
In the book, I share about a meeting I took part in with the CEO of Five Guys, Jerry Murrell. They’ve grown with a franchise model, and so they have customers who run restaurants (franchisees) and customers who eat burgers (“French fries-ees” – sorry, couldn’t resist!) Lots of people associate burgers with milkshakes, and a common request/complaint is that Five Guys should sell milkshakes. Other customers would love to see turkey sandwiches or coffee on the menu.
Murrell sees these potential expansions as diversions; he has always been laser-focused on burgers & fries. The chain prides itself on being the best reviewed restaurant in the world, in part because they serve such limited fare. If they were to start offering other items, they’d be graded on the average of their full menu, and Five Guys is not confident they can make what would universally be considered the best milkshake or turkey sandwich or cup of coffee in the world. (Burgers & fries? Done.)
There are only two reasons that our customers are “wrong” with their requests: either they add too much cost for us to serve them sustainably (i.e., profitably), or they lead us in the wrong direction, away from our core business. We must be clear and confident about our business model to avoid letting customers steer us in the wrong direction. This can be tricky because sometimes we need to experiment, and business models can evolve. But over-responsiveness is a proven path to exhaustion and losses.
Five Guys is an extreme example of focus (even within the restaurant industry), but note their success. Clearly, it’s not “wrong” in the abstract to want a turkey sandwich or a milkshake with your burger; the point is that’s not the kind of experience that Five Guys is offering.
How wide-ranging is your “menu”? Where does your business draw the line? What are the wrong kind of customers? Do you currently have a client who might be better served by one of your competitors? These are great questions to discuss with your team.
“The cost of Expensive Sentences transcends the income statement; it affects lives all around us.” –Jack Quarles