Are you going to be all American and say YOU CAN DO IT?

Leading with and embracing cultural differences.

As I was talking to a prospective client in London about leadership coaching, he asked “Are you going to be all American and tell me ‘you can do it!'” As he said it, he put on a goofy smile, giggled, and said the words with an excruciatingly fake positive voice. I laughed. He was not the first, nor would he be the last to confuse me with an overzealous cross of a cheerleader and a kindergarten teacher – shaken up with a dash of the cartoon character Homer Simpson.

In chatting with him, it brought me back to early my days of managing global cross-functional teams. In one project in particular, I was managing a team of volunteers to create a global corporate best practice and I had team members from every time zone. (Scheduling those meetings was pure joy! ha!) I remember coming out of the first few meetings feeling really confused. We had a clear vision and mission. We had established clear work streams and leaders. Each meeting ended with a clear list of actions, deadlines, and accountability in proper RACI form. And, yet, the outcomes post-meeting never seemed to match. It took a whole lot of one to one discussions to get us on track.

Part of it was personal preferences. Don’t discount those. No matter what culture you come from, we are individuals so it’s really important to design with your team ways of working and ensure that EACH team member is heard. I have made the mistake of skipping this step and learned the hard way how important it is to check in with the team members that start off quiet and seem to agree with a head nod. Trust me when I say it’s worth slowing down and to have the one to one meetings to really check in before you finalise your team’s ways of working.

The other part of it was cultural differences and norms that occurred not only between countries but even within specific offices. I was able to uncover this with a very complex request: “Tell me what you just heard in your own words.” These conversations were enlightening.

One of my favourite discussions was with a colleague from the Mexico office. He told me that the first thing I needed to understand was that if anyone from his office said they were doing something “ahora” (which directly translates to “now” in English), it actually means they would get to it sometime or more likely… never. In that office, it was the equivalent of saying I’ll add it to the bottom of the list. That certainly changed my optimistic thinking about my last meeting when I had a very enthusiastic “lo haré ahora” from another team member. An immediate phone call was needed.

My French colleague invited me to recognise the importance of coffee – and it required sitting, not walking with an oversized Starbucks coffee. The culture of that office required a personal touch for the big stuff. Important decisions were made over a strong espresso sitting eye to eye from each other and giving each other space to be heard before you moved. Obviously this wasn’t possible for every little thing but it was an important realisation that when I needed broader buy-in at the senior levels, I needed to get on the flight and work my taste buds up to some of the strongest coffee I had ever tasted in my life. (At the time I was more of a coffee drinking simulation than an actual coffee lover. I have a different appreciation for the dark liquid now!)

One colleague reminded me of the importance of punctuality. In the US office, it was a norm for meetings to start five to ten minutes late because we never accounted for the travel between meeting rooms (or bio breaks for that matter) in our schedules. In our Beijing office, however, it was as sign of disrespect to be late – particularly if there were more senior people in the meeting – and, let’s face it, they were often calling in during the late evening taking time away from their families to participate. Therefore, it became really important to make small changes. We had to agree on real start times and keep to them even if others were late. It sounds small but it made a world of difference in the interactions from the team members I had from that corporate region.

As a leader, one of the best lessons I learned to engage my team was to slow down to speed up.

I had to trust my curiosity and have conversations not only about cultural norms for that country, region, office – but also personal preferences. Taking the time to have these conversations made huge differences in how people contributed and the outcomes. When it comes to people, details matter. Engagement comes from caring about the people on your team, designing with them, and creating a shared goal and plan.

If you are currently leading a team that seems to be struggling and you can’t understand why things are not panning out, start with some curiosity.

Ask EACH team member:

  • What do they want to see in the mission, vision, and goals?
  • What are their unique superpowers and talents?
  • What types of support do they need from you and the team to be their best?
  • What are they hearing from you and the team in their own words?
  • What aren’t they saying or telling you?

And if you are feeling stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out. Strong leadership can be learned. I have quite the bloopers reel when it comes to leading teams (ask me about a text message, a picture of a cheeseburger and working too late next time I see you over a drink… ha). However, the beauty of those “failures” is what I have learned and who I am today. I am a stronger, more powerful leader. I left my last corporate role at a fortune 500 company leading some of the most complex projects and teams in the company because I was achieving results. My approach embraces people. It let’s me be curious, adjust, and learn. And, as a bonus, the people that I have met have led to so much more enriching relationships in my life – both personally and professionally. It’s okay to fail, to change, to learn, and to grow. Just ask my pal in France who was appalled when he suggested a coffee and I told him that sounded great AND my next meeting started in five minutes. (Cue roaring laughter.)

Thank you to my colleagues that engaged, that trusted me with their needs, that took the time to enlighten me, and co-designed with me. And to my former managers, mentors, and sponsors that let me play and learn: Thank you for letting me fail with you at my side in the early days. My success is your success.

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The Perfection Trap

Letting go of perfection in all places can lead to near perfection in the important places. Learn some of my tips and tricks to be imperfect, impactful, and successful.

I’m guilty of falling into the perfection trap. It’s still a path that I fight daily – though I’ve come a long, long way and I’m proud of that. In my early days in marketing, I can remember combing through data, cross-functional partner interviews, sales feedback, market research, and market analysis to pull it all into one succinct strategy and – more eminently – a presentation for management. In those days, it was common in my organisation to present to my manager first, then my manager’s manager, and then finally our division head. I remember getting feedback on using the word “a” versus “the,” changing a color from blue to red, adding a line, emphasising the third word, etc. etc. We were all so focused on having this perfect presentation. By the time I walked into the room with the division head, my head was swimming with all of these tiny, itty-bitty changes and I would almost forget my main point. What was my message?

It took many years, a lot of perspective, and two kids (if I’m being totally honest), to realise that not only was perfection getting in the way of my happiness, it was getting in the way of my effectiveness.

Perfection in every place means you lose impact in the important places.

Today, things are different for me. Don’t get me wrong, I will still likely proof read this blog one too many times before setting it free for your eyes, but now, I have tools to help me find balance and stop.

Here are some tips and tricks I use to avoid getting caught in the perfection trap:

  • Start with the end. What is your end goal or message? If you could only accomplish one thing today or land one message with your audience, what would it be? Does it align with your vision and mission? This is really great if you are getting ready for a presentation or sales pitch. Bullet point out your main take away messages and focus on the one or two slides, or talking points that land that part of your message. All other supporting material and slides combined should take less time to put together than the one or two important ones. When you first start working with this concept, you might even challenge yourself with a timer and have a little fun with it. You will get better the more you practice.
  • Ask yourself where are my expertise unique and necessary? If you are anything like this perfectionist, delegation can sometimes be hard but it’s important. Just because you may be able to do something better, ask yourself if it’s really necessary? Go back to your end goal (see first bullet) and ask yourself which pieces of the project/task in front of you can you best contribute to support your objective. And, then write down somewhere, “It won’t be the same as I would do it.” As you practice this more, you will find that sometimes the end result is actually better than what you would do when delegated – and sometimes it’s not but there are other benefits. What gift are you giving to others when you delegate? My kids now have to tidy their room before bed. When we first started this, I used to grit my teeth at what the end result looked like. However, over time, they have gotten better at it and they feel proud and responsible for contributing to our household. Plus, I get a few minutes to chat with my partner while chaotic cleaning, dancing, and the lyrics of the Frozen sound track float down the stairs.
  • What am I not allowing myself to do or experience by achieving perfection? I love this question. If I find myself getting caught in a cycle of over-analysing, over-designing, or over-organising, this question is always a showstopper for me. Spending too much time on one project is very often at the expense of another one – or worse at the expense of my family. I remember getting caught up in a video project I was editing last week, and, as I heard my daughters laughing in their room, I was reminded that bedtime stories with my two favourite little people was more important than the “nice to have” video I was working on. Often, the need for perfection comes from the voice in my head that prevents me from achieving my values and goals. In business speak, it’s the shiny, quick win opportunity that distracts you from your mission and goals for the year. That video was not the most important thing for my business mission and goals but completing it was a quicker win than my long-term strategy. I was able to re-focus and enjoy a bit of Harry Potter with my eldest AND get back on track with the important parts of my business goals the next day.
  • Would I pay myself for this? It’s helpful to have in mind an hourly rate for yourself (even if salaried). When I’m working on something that has me spinning in circles, I often ask myself would I pay myself by the hour for this? If the answer is no, it may be that where you are is good enough or that the need for delegation applies. I now outsource my scheduling, my accounting, and a few other basic business functions so that I can focus on the things I love like coaching and strategy building. However, this can also apply to your personal life. Even today, while noticing my house was drowning in some misplaced toys and piles of paperwork, I allowed myself only a few minutes to tidy up a few bits and bobs while my coffee was brewing and then I called it good so I could get to this!
  • Celebrate the journey. Consider what’s important to you (or your business) and celebrate when you are honouring those values and drivers. I keep a list of my five most important values in front of me and I do a midday and end of day check in. Am I honouring my values for adventure and learning new things? If no, it’s often because I have let things like perfection get in my way. If yes, I celebrate and recognise it so that imperfection starts to feel better and more normalised over time. For me, celebration is often in the form of a good cup of coffee or some extra time with family. Some of my clients have started weekly check-ins with a friend to celebrate where they were each able to “let go” each week and honour their values. Celebrate what you learned and experienced on the journey, not what you did perfectly.

Perfection is hard to overcome but as you take small steps on the journey, you will find that by letting go in some places, you are better able to focus on others. Finding success and happiness often means you need to let go of things you have done your whole life if they aren’t in service to what you really want in your long-term vision. This can cue up some fear for many of us (especially if it’s ingrained in an organisational culture) but with some open conversation, this can also be overcome. Engage others around you to help you in your goals – potentially even clients. I have had open conversations with clients, where I tell them that I can charge them for perfection for every step along the way but it will cost a lot more, or we can agree that I won’t overcharge them and we will design a deliverable list that allows for us to hit the impactful pieces at each step. This allows us to get to the end goal in a smarter, efficient, and more flexible way for both sides.

The greatest gift of taking this journey, though it was scary at times, is that I found that I was closer to perfection than I had ever been on the IMPORTANT things – with less effort. I feel lighter, more fulfilled, and excited about what I’m doing – and my clients feel it too. And, while I admit, there are moments where the perfection trap still ensnares me, I can break free a lot faster using the tools I’ve learned along the way – and then I celebrate those learnings and my freedom!

If you would like to dive deeper on how perfection is getting in your way personally, celebrate what you’ve learned thus far, or develop ways of working for your business that will help you be effective and imperfect, we at LivthenticTM are only one free 1 to 1 meeting away where you will get one hour of uninterrupted attention on your areas of curiosity.

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Riding the Entrepreneurial Wave…

Sometimes we need a little more than logic. Tips and tricks to building resilience during the slower cycles in your business.

This week was hard. One of the biggest challenges for me in leaping into entrepreneurial work was accepting that it has cycles and that it has a direct impact on my financial situation. Even though I know that there are busier and slower periods and I have done the work to predict them, it still makes me grit my teeth, my heart plummet, and my stomach tie itself in knots when the income also follows that cycle.

Late July/early August is a hard time to sign any coaching and consulting projects. Most people are already dreaming of their holiday and doing everything they can to tie up loose ends for the big projects at work. My strategic plan and sales forecasts were ready for this but, apparently, my body wasn’t quite on board.

I can still remember that feeling of my sweat glands going into overdrive as I peaked at my business revenue for the last few weeks. My breathing quickened a bit, my stomach started punching me on the inside, and I could feel the weight of my heart dragging itself toward my gut. My head quickly kicked in: You knew this would happen. It’s fine. And, yet, my body was not quite ready to hear logic.

Has this happened to you? It’s frustrating to say the least!

So, what did I do? Well the first thing I did was simmer in it, which I don’t necessarily recommend. I let my body overtake logic. In my body, I could feel the presence of a cheeky child pulling continuously on my arm and relentlessly saying, “Naa-na-na-nah-naa-na. You aren’t doing enough. Do more. Do better.” And then I heard the sinister sneer of another voice saying, “You aren’t enough. This won’t work.” Some coaches call these saboteurs or your inner critic. But, basically, it’s the voice in my head that gets in my way and blocks my thinking so that I lose sight of my vision. And, even worse, it often has me doubting myself and my abilities.

Recognizing that the simmering wasn’t working, I did a few things that really worked:

  • I connected with my own coach. Yes, even coaches have coaches. In fact, having experienced life with a coach, I now don’t think I would ever go without one. Check ins really help. My coach helped me to connect into the part of me that knows what I’m capable of, that can embrace the logic, AND feel the emotion without letting it overwhelm me.
  • I talked about my feelings with my community. I am fortunate to have built a community of fellow coaches, entrepreneurs, and business colleagues. In an early morning meeting, I admitted that I was having a wobbly day when I first spoke. What was really powerful about that is that this group recognised that what I needed was space and they “sat” with me (virtually) and gave me a few minutes to feel the untruths my body was signaling, which allowed me to acknowledge them and move forward.
  • I reconnected with my vision. Over a year ago, I was challenged to give myself a simple way to connect with my vision – not the book of a business plan I wrote, not the to do list – my vision. I painted. That painting is sitting on my desk to remind me of where I want to go – where I WILL go. Today, I took a few moments to allow myself to connect into that space of creativity, freedom, calm. I reminded myself that there is no such thing as failure, only learning. And, while laughing, I gave myself a good old kick in the bum and reminded myself to “Simmer down.” The journey is long and I’m having too much fun to let those old party poopers in my head crash this party with their unsavoury gossip and untruths!

If you are currently in the entrepreneurial space, here are some tips and tricks I would highly recommend to prepare yourself for the waves of your business cycle.

  1. Know your cycle. A little dose of logic does help. Do the research. Look at the data. Talk to others in your field. All industries have cycles and if you know your slower and busier periods, not only can you better mentally prepare for it, you can also build this into your strategy so the highs and lows are potentially less severe. Also, consider adding your holiday time into the cycle and your strategic planning. Depending on the length of your sales cycle time, even a small break could feel like a bit of a blip. Planning for those breaks will better ensure that you take the time you need and are well rested to bring all of your greatness on the days you do work!
  2. Invest in your mental strategy. When you work on something that is your “baby,” it’s not surprising that the emotions, self-doubt, and negative speak can be strong at times. Make sure you have developed techniques to get yourself back on track mentally. This can come from working with a professional coach, mental fitness programmes, mindfulness, or investing in available literature that focus on these areas (and really committing to the learnings and actions you take away from them). Find what works for you and consider it a required part of business not an optional treat.
  3. Build your community. Whether you are an a solopreneur or run a business of millions of employees, it can be lonely. Find your people – the ones you can have courageously intimate conversations, the ones that you trust to tell you the truth, the ones that you know will hold you in the low times, and those that will celebrate with you in your successes!
  4. Find your voice. Be open. Okay, so maybe you don’t want to go into a sales pitch and say I’m doubting everything I ever did in life. However, how would it feel to go into a meeting and to ask for a minute to truly “arrive” because you had a tough morning. If you are feeling bold, maybe even invite others to do the same? Take a few deep breaths, connect to that vision, and then go get ’em!

To my fellow entrepreneurs and business leaders, congratulations for all of the brave steps you have taken thus far. I hope you celebrate your courage and resilience as you experience and prevail over these times of uncertainty and self-doubt. Paddle that surf board out with confidence knowing that you will catch your next wave.

If any of you need help building mental fitness techniques to ride the waves more fearlessly, do not hesitate to reach out to us at Livthentic TM. Schedule a free 1 to 1 to discuss your needs as a leader, as well as any questions you have around your business strategy and building your business.

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Living Abroad during Covid-19

From Expectations and Disappointment, To Experience and Joy

Cue three years ago in June of 2018, my husband and I were Americans walking into our new life in London. We were jet-lagged, scared, and excited all at the same time. We had two toddlers (ages three and one) that had suddenly decided that clubbing at 2 AM was a thing and we were still fighting for our UK bank account, which meant (gasp) no internet or television, and the only people we knew lived in our corporate world. We had planned and dreamed of this moment for years – both exploring ex-patriate opportunities with our respective companies and it was finally happening! We craved the adventure of it all!

Lisbon, Portugal

And, while there were nights that my children felt like small beasts trying to eat me alive and I craved a hug from my mom more than air itself, we were ready. We were happy. We visited La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, spent an extravagant two weeks in Greece, hiked Krka National Park in Croatia, tasted port in Porto, enjoyed Christmas markets in Germany, and skied in Austria (which for one of us might have meant sliding most of the way down on our behind… but that’s a story for another time. Ahem). We learned new corporate rules, new culturally appropriate greetings (weather, always the weather first), and how to make friends in a city swimming with people. We navigated the smoldering hot tube stations in summer and learned to keep a jacket handy for the inevitable 10 degree shift in temperature when we emerged at the overground train station. We were living our adventure! New foods, new languages, new stories! As we meandered into a restaurant or baker, the locals would kindly share their beautiful traditions, their personal journeys, and their tasty homemade goodies. Our kids enjoyed extravagant views from our hiking backpacks and would often nod off for a nap finding themselves in a new place. My favorite quote from my then four-year-old on a trip to Lisbon was “Mommy, what world are we in?” We rolled with naps and a missed turn on the road. We raced across new cities for toddler potty breaks and we laughed about it all over a local glass of wine.

Then, Covid-19 hit. Cue lockdown.

At first, like most people, I hoped for a flu-like cycle and that by summer we would be back to normal. When science and experience proved that theory wrong and weeks turned to months, I started to feel the squeeze of the walls of our small London home. Where was my adventure? My husband and I fought. We tried to homeschool two young kids who could not be less interested in zoom. We video chatted with grandparents, aunts, and cousins who were missing hugs and the small moments that come from in person exploration together. And, my kids became so British that my name changed to “Mummy” as zoom-led phonics and the British version of “Paw Patrol” ruled our roost. Rather than enjoying the tastes of my British adventure, I felt swallowed whole by it.

And, then the pivot happened. What was I here for?

Every day that passed was a chance to wallow in what I was missing or a chance to create my adventure.

Sure, I could not hop on a plane to a new country or enjoy the warm sun of southern Europe, but I was here, in another country. The chapter I had written in my head needed to be edited and fact-checked with my reality. What was my new adventure going to be? We started with exploring new neighborhoods – a long bike ride or run toward London Bridge, noticing a gate to enter the bank of the Thames River and letting the water nip at our toes. And, as lockdown eased, we expanded our reach – a morning trip to find dinosaur bones at Crystal Palace, a long weekend in Brighton, a week at the Isle of Wight, a week in the Lakes District – all here in Great Britain. We found adventure in cooking – perfecting our soft pretzel recipe to get a taste of home and trying our hand at quiche with two kids that initially thought cracking eggs meant impaling their hand through the table. We bought a caterpillar kit and raised butterflies. We painted. We collaborated with others to create fancy dress/costume parties on a zoom call and embraced the make-up skills of a then 3 and 5 year old. (You’re going to have to get to know me better to see THOSE pictures!)

Is my adventure perfect? Absolutely not. I still have my lows. There is depression, loss, and sadness at times. However, if I’m being honest, my up all night raves with my toddlers when we first moved here, were not exactly living the dream either. What I realized is that the difference is in my choice. I can choose to focus on lack of sleep or the missed adventure in Switzerland, or I can celebrate the adventure in the place that I’m in. I can relish in the deep, lifelong friendships that formed with a global cast of characters that helped me flourish during this really difficult time. I can celebrate how I honored my value for deep connection in the relationships that were forged and strengthened – and in the ones that felt faraway at moments but lasted and emerged in a new, beautiful place. I can mourn the loss of the adventure I wrote in my head AND be delighted and surprised at what emerges in the actual journey.

So, for those of you on your adventure or exploring the idea of living abroad, I can promise you one thing: It will not be what you expected.

Even without Covid-19, nothing is ever quite what we think it will be. However, if you want to move or live abroad, do not let the fear of disappointment distract you. If you truly know what values and drivers are compelling you take that step, you will find a way to connect to them, to flourish, and to find something even more beautiful than you had ever imagined.

Note to readers: To those already living abroad, if it’s feeling hard and you are having trouble connecting to your why for being there, I’m here. To my global explorers still noodling the idea of living abroad, I’m here. And, to my fellow leaders with employees living abroad, help them connect to their why for being there, and know that I’m only a click or phone call away if you need a helping hand. Schedule a free Spark session if you want to chat. And if push comes to shove and you really need a laugh, maybe… just maybe… I’ll break out some of my awesome make-over photos from my adventures with my now four and six year olds over the last year! Cheers to adventures!

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Get Sparked! If you are currently living abroad and it is feeling hard or you are thinking about moving abroad and are not quite sure yet of what your unique drivers are, don’t hesitate to reach out to explore what’s important for you and how to connect to that in different ways. The more you know about what you want, the more enriching the experience will be. For my organizational leaders, let’s design something that helps your employees living abroad connect to their spark and find their adventure again!

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Emerging from the Covid-19 Bunker…

Recognizing your journey and redesigning how you live, work, and do business

There is a tingling energy around my heart as I watch two of my fellow lunch mates hug after a long awaited face to face meeting with some colleagues. Were they going to hug me? Did I want a hug? Was it okay to hug?!? My head is racing with questions. What are the rules? I cannot shake the feeling that I am in a zombie movie, where I am emerging from my front door for the first time into my new zombie infested world, baseball bat in hand, vigilant eyes darting in all directions, jumping at any small noise, and looking for any small clue that survival is possible. I am sifting through the chaos for a small glimmer of my past… a reminder of those that I lost and a way of life that may no longer exist. I’m scared. I’m mourning but I’m hopeful. This is what Covid-19 has done.

As I wander, I have new friends borne of this apocalypse. I’ve been reunited with fellow zombie survivors that I lost in the early days of the invasion. Each day we are navigating in our brave new world, establishing new rules for what is okay – and what is not okay, grappling with the feelings that come from what we’ve lost in the last 18 months and trying to understand what we’ve learned as well. We are trying to blend the old with the new and not sure what that all should look like. I enjoy the quiet of the new world and the loud celebration of my old world – and it does not all seem to fit in the same place. I love the laughter I’ve found in the small moments and I loathe the jumpiness in my chest every time I hear the murmur of a zombie moan or the starting of a cough that means I must again hide in my bunker while I’m tested to see if I have been breached.

I am faced with factions that believe I should be handling my survival plans differently. Some people are ready to jump all hands in to meeting in groups, hugging, and hopping on a plane to a global conference, others still haven’t left their house, and then there are people like me – tiptoeing out of our doors, craving a conversation but still silently calculating 6 meters and inching our way backwards as we remind ourselves to just breathe.

Your colleagues, your employees, your customers – they are all learning and surviving in their own way. Many are frustrated not knowing what’s next, feeling like they can’t even see two feet in front of them. Others are determined to find passion in their work and their life, to marry what they have learned during this time with everything they “knew” pre-covid-19. For some, there’s a knowing that something needs to be different but a deep frustration of not being able to identify what that is. For almost all, there’s an audible sigh of pure, unadulterated tiredness.

We are all tired. We have experienced a trauma on a global scale. We have to let ourselves heal and breathe, we need time and space to see clearly, and we need recognition that the world is different. We are different – and that is okay.

To my fellow colleagues, business leaders, and business owners, this is your chance to show who you really are. Are you going to stay in your underground bunker and ask your customers and employees if they still want to work from home or order online? Or are you going to walk beside them as they rove this new world? Will you ask deeper questions, listen harder, and help design with them the next few steps on their journey? If the old path isn’t working, are you brave enough to stand with them and design a new one? You can connect and be a part of this new world or you can keep hiding in your bunker and make yourself obsolete.

We have just learned that zombies exist – big, global, life-changing zombies! So whether your entire world has been permanently marked by Covid-19 or your home feels almost as if its returned to “normal,” this is not a debate on if you can work from home or go in the office. It’s so much more than that. Be kind to yourself and those around you. Remember that part of you is still learning how to live while listening for the zombies.

Let’s recognize our unique journeys and design together what it looks like – for us, for our families, our customers, our businesses. Let’s connect on what’s possible.

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