Archive for July, 2014

7 Reasons You Will Never Become A Mentally Strong Leader

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

A reporter once asked me whether the FBI provides textbooks for agents to study so they can become mentally strong. The answer is no; FBI agents become mentally strong by facing their situation head-on—no sugarcoating allowed.

Mental Toughness - lightning in hand

My fellow agent and I learned that mental strength is not something you are born with. It is something you can learn. If I learned it, so can you, but only if you’re willing to put in the discipline and effort it takes.

As an entrepreneur or business owner, you need to think big and act courageous. You need the fierce determination that comes being a mentally strong leader. Core beliefs about yourself and your abilities will guide your daily decisions.

You will never become a mentally strong leader if you:

1. HAVEN’T A CLUE ABOUT WHAT BRINGS YOU VALUE AND MEANING IN LIFE

A mentally strong leader lives their life with purpose and meaning. They are an active participant in where their life is going. They have found a direction in life and set overarching goals for what they want to achieve.

Without goals to anchor us, we find ourselves adrift in life. We may think we know what our goals are, but if we aren’t living our life around them, then we’re not living our life on purpose.

2. REMAIN IGNORANT ABOUT YOUR BLIND SPOTS

A mentally strong leader understands that they need to frequently, and critically, analyze their performance, especially their failures. When they do, they identity those patterns of behavior that are not productive and nip them in the bud. Unfortunately, “teachable moments” are usually accompanied by feelings of frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment. 

Psychologists find that we tend to repeat the same mistake, and repeat it in endless variety. That is the definition of a blind spot

3. BELIEVE YOU WILL ALWAYS LIVE A CHARMED LIFE

A mentally strong leader accepts the fact that life evolves, and are smart enough to not be surprised when it does. It is natural to react with anger and skepticism because these emotions are trying to ensure your survival. But new situations can provide you with opportunities to learn important lessons about yourself such as your reactions, values, vulnerabilities, triggers, and how to take better care of yourself.

4. PRETEND TO KNOW EVERYTHING

A mentally strong leader has a beginner’s mind that does not need to prove or disprove anything. It has the humility to hold “what I do know” with “what I don’t know.” Holding this kind of tension leads to wisdom and not just easy answers.

When we allow ourselves the luxury of trial and error, like a child learning to walk, we experience a feel-good neurological response. Similarly, when tackling new and difficult challenges, we experience a rush of adrenaline, a hormone that makes us feel confident and motivated.

5. AVOID CHALLENGES THAT WILL ULTIMATELY MAKE YOU GROW

A mentally strong leader has a growth mindset that looks at success as hard work, learning, training, and having the grit to keep moving ahead even when faced with obstacles and roadblocks.

A growth mindset anticipates transitions that come from uncertainty because it interprets failure as nothing more than an opportunity for learning and improvement.

6. REFUSE TO KEEP EGO IN CHECK

A mentally strong leader knows how to keep a tight rein on ego. The ego is always asking “How will this make me look? How will I benefit?” It looks for ways to prove it is right and others are wrong.

When we keep ego in check, there is room for the wisdom of others to get in. We are able to listen more deeply, learn with an open mind, and adapt new skill sets.

7. HAVE A COWARD’S HEART

A mentally strong leader has the courage to move out of their comfort zone and into their zone of discomfort where they may feel awkward, clumsy, and alone. 

When we get into a comfort zone, we often strive to stay right there—where we have found success. But it is the average leader who stops at success, because success and peak performance are often two different things. Whole lives are spent reinforcing mediocre performance.

“Mental toughness is believing you will prevail in your circumstances, rather than believing that your circumstances will change”—LaRae Quy

Are you ready to become a mentally strong leader?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

 

52 Tips cover small

S

Related articles

How To Get Your Voice Heard When Leadership Doesn’t Listen

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Dean had a tendency to dominate every meeting or briefing he attended. As a supervisor, he surrounded himself with other like-minded male FBI agents who frequently ignored, dismissed, or interrupted others whose opinion they did not respect.

Woman with bullhorn

As a woman I was tired of not getting my voice heard in meetings where louder voices drowned out what I had to say. How could I change the behavior of leadership?

When I looked around the room, I saw that Dean and others of his ilk were also ignoring some of the other male agents who did not stand out as exceptional performers or leaders. While being a female agent may have had some impact on their behavior toward me, it clearly was also a matter of who was perceived to have anything important to say.  Here is how I used mental toughness to get my voice heard:

1. FIND SOMETHING POSITIVE—EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO LOOK REALLY, REALLY HARD

I had my list of complaints about Dean, but now was the time to focus on the positive aspects of his leadership style, not his faults. For every 1 negative trait, I looked for and found, 5 positive traits about him. As a former U.S. Marine, he was:

  1. Disciplined and conscientious
  2. Possessed clarity of purpose
  3. Used humor to defray tension
  4. Relied upon a high standard of integrity to guide his decisions.
  5. Loyal to his friends

2. USE EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Emotional intelligence is being savvy about the what is important to not only ourselves, but others as well. Awareness is being alert and honest about my feelings of frustration and disappointment that I felt when ignored by Dean and others like him.

Mental toughness is letting go of our ego after we’ve acknowledged our feelings and focusing our attention on someone else instead of ourselves.

When I focused on Dean, I identified one characteristic that seemed to dominate every decision he ever made—integrity. If I wanted to get my voice heard, I needed to appeal to his sense of integrity, not his sense of equal opportunity.

3. NETWORK STRATEGICALLY

There is a saying: if you can’t beat them, join them. While collaboration is increasingly important, the silo mentality has arisen for a reason: people naturally tend to form safe tribes with colleagues and avoid those they don’t know well. This is because collaboration with people they don’t know is a threat to their brain. 

The emotional limbic brain is survival-driven, and it tends to trust those with whom we’ve developed close ties or have shared experiences. 

I intentionally sought out Dean, and his buddies, to ask for advice about my cases. I buried my pride and made them partners in the direction I took my investigations. Since Dean and his friends had developed deep relationships, I suspected they would talk about me in my absence, and I wanted those conversations to be complimentary and positive.

4. WATCH BODY LANGUAGE

Our emotional limbic brain system leaks all sorts of information through body languageWhen I approached Dean, his eyebrows arched, indicating a genuine feeling of warmth at seeing me. Few people notice this, but an “eyebrow flash” is an automatic reaction when you see someone you like.

Smiling is a sign of submission, which is why many dominant individuals don’t smile. If the smile is genuine there will crow’s feet and the cheeks will push up.

Smiling activates our mirror neurons; our brain sees a reaction in someone else and it wants to mirror those same emotions. I always approached Dean with a smile, and he naturally wanted to smile back.

Dean and his band of buddies laughed and joked around with each other but never smiled at anyone else. So, I began to smile at Dean every time I saw him. I’d smile and say, “How’s it going?” After a few weeks, he only smiled back but also stopped to tell me how it was going!

5. MAKE PITHY, STRONG STATEMENTS

Dean was a busy guy and very quick witted. I didn’t dawdle when chatting about a case—I came straight to the point with pithy, strong statements. I didn’t waste his time by trying to ingratiate myself in a way that he would not appreciate. 

In our next meeting, the discussion circled around to a topic that Dean and I had previously discussed. He knew he could rely on me to be succinct and make an impact, so he asked for my opinion. I didn’t let him down—I made my statement and then shut up, not using this opportunity to make sure everyone else in the room knew how competent I was. 

That day was a turning point. While I have never developed a loud voice, I have developed a strong one.

That is something you can do as well. Use it well.

 

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

52 Tips cover smallS

4 Easy Ways To Get Others To Cooperate

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

As an FBI counterintelligence agent, my job was to get others to cooperate. Specifically, foreign spies in the United States to steal propriety economic, defense, or political information. 

I attempted to persuade the foreign spy to jump ship and work with the FBI instead of their own government. It was a tough sell. If caught and their perfidy discovered, they risked imprisonment, loss of pension, and abandonment by friends and former colleagues.

For 20 years I made my living by learning how to get others to cooperate with me. If it wasn’t a foreign spy, it was supervisors, colleagues, and members of the business community from whom I needed cooperation if I wanted to keep moving ahead in my career.

While the chance of you crossing paths with a foreign spy are minimal, you will encounter investors, clients, prospects, and other team members you will need to elicit cooperation from if you want your business to move forward.

Here are 4 easy ways you can get others to cooperate:

1. UNDERSTAND THAT COLLABORATION IS NOT OUR FIRST REACTION

Success in most jobs today requires the ability to develop strong collaborative ties with others. Kare Anderson shares a potent reminder in this quote: “Speak sooner to a strong sweet spot of shared interest to strengthen our friendship and generate more opportunities for us.” 

The key word is “sooner”, and here is why:

Our emotional limbic brain system is survival driven. It’s sole purpose is to keep us safe by warning of us potential threats in our environment. Its first reaction to the unknown or the uninvited that shows up in our life is—to run away!

Obviously, not everything that is new or different is a threat to our safety; however, the limbic brain system does not know that. Furthermore, it doesn’t differentiate between events and people. 

In the absence of positive information about an individual you meet, the limbic brain system warns you to distrust that person. This happens subconsciously, before you have time to think about it.

This is why you must move quickly when wanting to get others to cooperate with you so you can alleviate the innate instinct to react negatively. This also explains why icebreakers are so important at workshops when people are meeting each other for the first time.

2. REFLECT WHAT YOU’RE THINKING

The way the brain connects and relates to others is through a series of mirror neurons that light up when we see others perform an action that has specific intent behind it. For example, when we see someone smile in delight, our mirror neurons light up, too, and we smile back. Our brain likes to share the emotion of the person in front of us.

This is why facial expressions are so important when we want to get others to cooperate with us. When we see someone experience an emotion, it activates the same circuits in our brain.

If you want a positive response, show it to the other person. Their mirror neurons will register your emotion and their automatic limbic brain response will not be to move away from you.

Remember, the flight emotional response is always the easiest to arouse, so be careful in what you say and how you say it if you want the other person to get others to cooperate with you.

3. SHARE PERSONAL STORIES

Positive social connections help you perform better on the job. 

Sharing personal stories activates the mirror neurons and deepens connections between people. Not only will these increase the likelihood of meaningful collaboration, but people with good social connections do better at planning, thinking, and regulating emotions.

When we tell stories that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on others too. According to Uri Hasson, the brains of the person telling a story and those listening to it can synchronize. Not only are the same language processing parts of the brain activated, but the same emotional parts as well. We can plant ideas, thoughts, and emotions in the brain of the listener. 

4. USE THESE TWO WORDS TO DISARM ANY DISAGREEMENT—AT LEAST TEMPORARILY!

Our natural instinct is to become defensive if our point of view is challenged because our limbic brain system is trying to protect us. To others to cooperate with us, it may be necessary to disarm a potential argument or disagreement by simply saying “You’re right.”

This immediately neutralizes the situation by showing respect for the other person’s point of view—even if it does not coincide with your own. Once the other individual is disarmed, you can follow up with something like, “I see how you feel (or think), but here is another way to look at the situation…”

Try role-playing with a friend and ask for their input. Disarm a heated argument with those two words, “You’re right.” Ask your friend if you are coming across the way you want.

I have found that mental toughness often has less to do with being tough than with being emotionally savvy about what is going on in the brain of those around me. I have used these 4 techniques to get people to cooperate with me, but there are many others. 

What would you add to the list?

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

52 Tips cover smallS

 

5 Science-Based Tips For Building Your Resilience

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

My brother almost died from a heart attack a few years back. Because of his resilience, he is now in great health. Nothing gets your attention quite like a life or death situation. 

Struggles - tiger in waterWhether a person hangs in or gives up during tough times depends on their mental toughness and ability to bounce back. Resilience is harnessing your response to stress when you’re faced with adversity. Since setbacks are part of any endeavor, success hinges on resilience.

Here are 5 science-based ways you can increase your level of resilience when faced with stress and trauma:

1. REINTERPRET YOUR SITUATION

Columbia University Psychologist Kevin Ochsner has found that when people intentionally reinterpret a negative situation as being less negative, they experience fewer unpleasant emotions. This technique has worked successfully for former Vietnam prisoners of war. Most of the veterans had been brutally tortured during their imprisonment. Instead of feeling despair or engaging in self-pity, they reinterpreted their situation and found meaningful ways in which they could grow stronger, wiser, and more resilient as a result.

They were also able to see possibilities in the future, relate better to others, and appreciate life.

The key is to teach ourselves how to observe our own behaviors and thoughts, challenge our negative assessments of stressful situations, and replace them with more positive points of view. 

Do this by asking questions such as, “Is there a less negative way to look at this situation?” “Am I exaggerating my circumstances?” “Is there something I can learn from this experience?” “How can I grow stronger as a result of what I’m going through?”

Mental toughness is choosing how you respond to your situation.

2. ENGAGE IN MINDFUL MEDITATION

If we can consciously live in the present moment, we can stop fretting about either the future or the past. This is important because it trains us to become an observer of our own life who learns how to watch, and not judge, what is going on.

The mind tends to follow familiar conditioned patterns of thinking that, because of our negativity bias, tends to focus on the stress in our life and our failure to cope. Mindful meditation helps cultivate our ability to focus on the positive and develop more flexible thinking so we are better able to deal with anxiety, pressure, and trauma. 

Both reinterpretation and mindful meditation activate the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is associated with greater emotional control, a boost in positive emotions, and faster recovery from feelings such as fear and anger.  

3. REGULATE YOUR STRESS RESPONSE

Boosting your ability to bounce back from difficult situations also promotes mental and physical health. These benefits provide you with a far greater ability to regulate your stress response. 

We have a natural negativity bias that has kept us alert for dangers since the caveman days. Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that negative emotions tend to narrow our focus of attention and restrict our behavior to that more suited to the emotions associated with survival, not dealing with day to day stress.

Conversely, positive emotions have been found to broaden our focus and produce more creative and flexible responses to stress and trauma.

It’s important to note, however, that mental toughness and resilience are associated with realistic positive thinking—not fantasies or wishful thinking. The key is being able to filter out the drama that often derails our decision making process. 

4.WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING

Aerobic exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. It improves attention, planning, decision making, and memory.

Workouts need to be challenging to be of the most benefit to both your body and your brain. Stress inoculation is the theory behind peak performance. It is based on the idea that if a person deliberately takes on increasingly difficult challenges, they will gradually learn to handle higher levels of stress and produce at higher performance levels. 

The graded exposure to stress can apply to physical, emotional, and cognitive resilience. This means your experiences will need to be outside your comfort zone, but not so intense that they are unmanageable.

This is a quote from the U.S. Navy Combat Stress Control Handbook: “To achieve greater tolerance to a physical stressor, a progressively greater exposure is required. The exposure should be sufficient to produce more than routine stress reflexes…In other words, you must stress the system.”

5. GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Many studies have confirmed that the strength and depth of our relationships is a primary component in developing mental toughness. Relationships with others weaken the impact of stress and bolster our courage. 

Support from friends and family is important because it increases our self-confidence and provides a safety net if we should fall. As a result, we tend to be more aggressive in meeting challenges and embracing risk. Social ties stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that is known to reduce anxiety and fear.

A resilient leader is not someone who avoids stress but someone who learns how to master it. Science is showing us how we can boost our resilience. Setbacks are part of any endeavor, and those who react positively will be the ones to keep moving forward.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

52 Tips cover smallS