Archive for May, 2017

4 Reasons Why Stoics Make Great Leaders

Monday, May 29th, 2017

When I was 8, my grandfather bought me a quarter horse from the Denver stockyards. A cutting horse, he could pivot on his back legs so fast that I scrambled to stay in the saddle. 

Because the horse was trained to cut cattle from a herd, my dad would regularly send me out to bring in a single cow he wanted to either sell or put in a different pasture. On our Wyoming ranch one pasture was often several thousand acres of rough country.

I found the cow I was to bring in but she did not cooperate. When she tried to turn back to the herd, my horse blocked her. She took off running and we followed. Suddenly, the cow turned right. My horse turned right. I, however, kept moving forward and landed in a barbed wire fence.

Several things went through my mind—Dad would be pissed the cow got away; I’d have to walk several miles back to the ranch house; and how would I find my horse in that big pasture?

Not knowing what would happen, exactly, I held tight to the reins. The barbed wire fence tugged at my clothes in one direction, and my horse dragged me in another. I was in great danger of being trampled under horse hooves so I reached out and grabbed a bush and clung tight. My horse was pulled up abruptly because while I didn’t have the strength to stop him, the bush was big enough to do the job. I got back on my horse, found the cow again, and took her to the corral.

Further obstacles presented themselves while in the FBI Academy as I trained to become an FBI agent, but among the many lessons I learned along the way is this: it’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them.

I could have let go of the reins and suffered the consequences, but I choose to work through the obstacles facing me the best way I could. Some obstacles cannot be avoided, not if we want to come out on top.

Stoicism teaches that, before we try to control events, we have to control ourselves first. Leaders like Marcus Aurelius have found a stoic attitude prepares them for failure and guards them against the arrogance of success.

As a leader, entrepreneur, or business owner it is important to find ways to become stronger in the face of adversity, turn obstacles around, and spin problems into opportunities.

Here are 3 reasons why stoics make great leaders:

1. Accept What Is Out Of Your Control

Leaders who are stoics recognize that only their thoughts and attitudes are within their realm of control; everything is ultimately uncontrollable.

Face it—there is a lot of stuff over which you have no control. You cannot control nature, other people, or even your own body at times. You can whine, complain, and pout but in the end you need to make peace with your situation. Only at this point can you start looking for ways to influence the people and things around you and try to change the outcome.

If you cannot identify and accept what is out of your control, you will collapse into a pit of negative emotions like frustration, sadness, and anger. Tantrums may have worked as a kid but they won’t take you very far up the corporate ladder.

The only thing you can totally control is your own thoughts. No one can take them away from you so make the most of them. If someone holds a gun to your head and demands that you run 6 miles, you feel stressed. If you run 6 miles to graduate from the FBI Academy and have colleagues cheering you on, you feel happy. You cannot blame events or situations for your emotions. The same 6 miles were run; what is different is your attitude about them.

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions, not outside.”—Marcus Aurelius

Resilient people are stoics who are mentally tough. They are not disturbed by events because they know how to control their emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set them up for success.

TIP: Look for ways to understand the importance of your own efforts, regardless of the outcome. Just as importantly, don’t be afraid to pinpoint where you could have done better in controlling your emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

2. Search For The Worst That Can Happen

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.”—Marcus Aurelius

Marcus was a stoic who did not want to be surprised and caught off guard at what might happen during his day. He knew how it feels to fall flat on his feet when confronted with the unknown or unexpected.

Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness. However, reminding yourself of what could go wrong is not pessimism. It’s being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and pain-in-the-ass customers. Why not prepare for them?

FBI agents do not prepare for arrests by assuming everything will turn out OK. They prepare for arrests by anticipating all that could go wrong.

Leaders who are stoics are less likely to get frustrated and blow a deal or lose control during a tense negotiation. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle and find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.

TIP: Take the time to think through the worst that could happen and allow yourself to feel the negative stuff. When you do, you’ll be able to manage the unproductive drama that these emotions can produce.

3. Stumbles Are Welcome

Stoics do not gaze at their navel to become better leaders. They don’t waste time trying to find themselves to become more authentic leaders. Instead, they turn their focus and energy to look for ways they can turn obstacles into opportunities. Often this means they voluntarily choose the hard path, the road less traveled.

What normal person volunteers to experience pain or discomfort? It’s not a self-inflicted penitence; instead, it’s another way the stoics develop character—they go out of their way to experience failure.

When successful executives are asked to list the top five moments their career took a leap forward, failure is always on that list. It might be the loss of a job or a lost client. It is always a time when failure requires them to step up to the plate.

TIP: If you want to increase your performance, set high goals where you have a 50-70% chance of success. According to Psychologist and Harvard researcher David McClelland, that’s the sweet spot for high achievers. When you fail half the time, it motivates you to figure out what you should do differently and try again. That’s called practice.

4. Develop A Petri Dish

The mindset of a stoic leader is not perverse. There is a method to their madness! After all, we will all fail at something sooner or later, so why not practice failing well? There are several reasons to keep a petri dish on hand full of experiences that can lead to discomfort or failure.

First, failure helps you build up the strength to cope with whatever the future holds for you. Success and comfort does not prepare for the shitstorm that will come at some point in your life. Whether it’s your career, your health, old age, or something unseen, know that you will be able to endure the discomfort.

Second, when you experience stumbles and failures along the way, they will help you mitigate the fear that always comes along with the unexpected. Expose yourself to discomfort and failure so you know how you will respond when a setback rears its ugly head.

Third, regularly embrace the discomfort of the road less traveled because it will create an appreciation for what you do have.

TIP: Do not make failure a stranger. Embrace the stumbles along the way and become smarter because of them. Recovering from failure is a mindset.

“Life is hard. Pain Is Inevitable. Growth is optional.”—LaRae Quy

© 2017 LaRae Quy. 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.”

Boost Your Self Esteem – 5 Effective Ways

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Self esteem is an essential component of FBI Firearms training. FBI agents train to use good judgment when confronted with stressful situations. They are confident in their ability to handle all types of weapons because they spend hours developing their skills.

When we have high levels of self esteem, we are less vulnerable to anxiety and stress. 

Self esteem is your belief in yourself. It is a fuel source and it powers your approach to both business and life. Almost everyone has experienced a time in their career when they’ve lost faith in themselves. It could be the loss of a job, a failed business, the startup that hasn’t quite started, or the realization that they are in the wrong career.

I learned quickly in the FBI that success would not make me confident. Instead, confidence would make me successful. Loss of self esteem is a loss of dignity and self-respect, and that is a downward spiral that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here are 5 effective ways you can boost your self-esteem:

1. UNDERSTAND YOUR ENVIRONMENT

understanding your environment will help to improve your self esteem

When I was transferred to a new city or squad, the first thing I did was identify the top performers. I learned the secrets to their success, from their interactions with colleagues in the office to the way they conducted their investigations in the field.

Troubled relationships with supervisors and colleagues can easily destroy even the most talented person’s confidence. If you have relationships that are troubled, try to identify when/where/why it happened. Then, look for ways you can do to get things back on track.

How To Make It Work For You: Take the time to study your environment, especially the people with whom you work. Educate yourself on how to recognize different personality types so you more easily identify what makes the people around you tick.

2. FIND A MENTOR

find a mentor to boost your self esteem

After I identified the top performers on my squad, I made them mentors. The toughest nut to crack was a group of 4 male agents who hung around together and had all the best cases assigned to them. They were an exclusive club so I labeled them “The Gang Of Four.”

Trying to become one of them was laughable, but I knew I needed to mirror their approach to working counterintelligence cases. They would die of shock if they knew I considered them to be my mentors, but they gave me the perspective I needed if I wanted to be confident—and successful.

By latching onto their attitudes and habits, I better understood the culture of my environment. They helped me identify the unwritten rules of the FBI that boosted my self esteem.

How To Make It Work For You: There is a big difference between a coach and a mentor. A coach is someone who sees the potential in who you can be, while a mentor is someone you’re trying to imitate or mirror. Both are essential but if you are experiencing lack of belief in yourself, surround yourself with people who are experienced and confident so they can show you how to move forward.

3. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

be honest with yourself to improve your self esteem

In the FBI Academy, we trained how to run down and tackle an individual resisting arrest. I was a lousy runner and showed up at the rear end of every race our class ran. The idea that I could run down or even catch up with a suspect produced snarky comments and rolled eyes from my classmates.

Yep, my self esteem suffered mightily but I also knew that true confidence must be grounded in reality. I had to make an honest assessment of my skills and strengths (I excelled in firearms), and then plan for ways to grow my strengths so I could manage my weaknesses.

Ego can take a hit but it’s essential that you are honest about your abilities. Pretending that you don’t have drawbacks or weaknesses is just being stupid. Instead, be smart and get ahead of them so they don’t sabotage you when you’re confronted with a stressful situation.

How To Make It Work For You: Find ways to get constructive feedback and criticism on what others see as your strengths. It will make it easier to shake off unfair criticism that you may receive in a competitive work environment.

4. HEAL FROM THE PAST

healing from your past will improve your self esteem

Take the time to uncover any unresolved or stress-producing issues that could still be lingering from your past. If you struggle with something from your past that drags you down, now is the time to have the mental toughness you need to deal with it, once and for all.

How To Make It Work For You: Get a counselor or therapist if you need one, but it’s time to slay that demon once and for all. “Age and wisdom do not always travel in pairs. Sometimes age shows up by itself.”—LaRae Quy

5. EXPLORE NEW LIFE EXPERIENCES

explore new life experiences to gain self esteem

One of the best ways to boost your self esteem is to learn a different skill-set by starting a new pastime. Your ego is not as invested in an avocation as it is in your career, so it will feel less threatened if you fail. 

Each time you learn something new, you will build confidence in what you’ve accomplished. You will build self-awareness of how you deal with disappointment, rejection, or failure.

To get something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.

To boost your self esteem, you will need to wrestle with your fear of failing as if the quality of your life depends on it. Because it does.

How To Make It Work For You: Notice how you respond to both failure and success. What can you learn from your experience? The more you understand how you respond to situations where you experience failure or success, the better you can craft the reaction you want.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. 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.” 

10 Hard Skills To Learn That Will Last A Lifetime

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

To survive growing up on a remote cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming, there were hard skills to learn if I wanted to survive. I needed to be scrappy, gritty, and tenacious. If I wasn’t keeping an eye out for rattle snakes, I was avoiding horned bulls from charging my horse as I tried to cut them from a herd of cows.

I learned many important life lessons on that ranch, not the least is that it takes hard work, sweat, and mental toughness to get to the top and stay there. I took many of those lessons with me into the FBI as an undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years.

Here are 10 hard skills to learn that will last you a lifetime:

1. Hunt The Good Stuff

Positive thinkers are not optimists. Positive thinkers believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believing their circumstances will change; optimists believe their circumstances will eventually change for the better.

FBI Agents are not optimists who hope or expect an arrest to go without a hitch—instead, they prepare for the worst and practice ahead of time.

When they do come across adversity, they don’t wait and hope things will change for the better. They adapt quickly to the new situation and remain flexible by choosing to remain positive so that they will find a solution.

TIP: The greatest mental toughness tool we have is our ability to choose one thought over another.

2. Become Emotionally Competent

We all know lots of people who are intelligent, but they are not necessarily competent. If you can’t empathize with other people, you will never develop the emotional skills needed to get along with them.

As an FBI agent, I learned that empathy is not feeling sorry for others; it is relating to what others feel. Empathy helped create a team spirit within our squad and motivated agents to try harder.

As a leader or entrepreneur, you need to develop empathy to become a leader who can push people beyond their own apathy and to think about something bigger than themselves.

Emotional competency also requires you to develop the skills necessary to communicate accurately with people. This includes understanding the importance of both verbal and non-verbal cues.

TIP: You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but if you can’t explain them to others, you will never be anything more than an educated loser.

3. Know What Makes You Tick

Successful people spend their time thinking about what they want to do and how to make it happen. They know what is important to them; they have a vision and a set of goals to get them there.

In other words, it’s hitting your stride because you’ve found what makes you tick. The FBI only hires second career professionals because they want to know that the individual is making a deliberate and well thought-out move from their first successful career into their second with the FBI.

It doesn’t always take talent to meet goals. Instead, success needs flow. Flow is described as a state of deep absorption in the activity during which performance seems to happen effortlessly and automatically.

According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge so it acts as a catalyst for learning new skills and increasing challenges.

TIP: Ignorance of your competition makes you vulnerable; ignorance of yourself makes you stupid.

4. Have The Confidence To Fail

Unfortunately, most of us fear failure so much that we shuffle along in life until we accidentally stumble onto something at which we are good. Success can be very misleading because often it is not what really fuels us. It is a success that is based in complacency because we are too scared of failure to pursue the type of work that would provide value and meaning.

It takes confidence to look failure in the face and keep moving forward because if we are confident in ourselves and our ability, we look at failure as part of the fine-tuning process.

Most of my FBI investigations met many failures as I continually looked for the soft underbelly of the puzzle in front of me. Each failure educated me more about how to keep moving forward to solve the investigation.

TIP: The way in which you deal with failure determines how you will achieve success.

5. Identify Self-Limiting Beliefs

A British psychologist proved that our memory is not always reliable.  Instead, we extract the gist of the experience and store it in ways that makes the most sense to us. That’s why different people witnessing the same event often have different versions.

We already know that we are biased toward anything that confirms our own beliefs, but it’s important for you to realize that your brain has its own built-in confirmation bias. This means it stores information that is consistent with your own beliefs, values, and self-image.

For example, if you have low self-esteem, your brain tends to store information which confirms your lack of confidence. That will be all you remember about a specific event.

TIP: When you have doubts about your abilities and have self-limiting beliefs about what you can do in life, never rely on memory to give you accurace feedback, especially if the feedback is negative.

6. Stretch Toward Peak Performance

Unless you know your limits, you will not be able to prepare either your mind or your body to move past them. To move toward peak performance, you need to stretch your current skill level—but not so hard that you want to give up.

At the FBI Academy, if coaches didn’t push every agent past their comfort zone every day they weren’t doing their job.

Experts agree that this magic stretch is 4% greater than our skill. Anything more will discourage you from trying harder; anything less will not push you hard enough to move forward. However, its important to keep that continual tension between stretch and skill if we want to move toward our peak performance.

TIP: Smart leaders focus on developing peak performance by continually moving into their discomfort zone.

7. Manage Time Wisely

Find a system that works for you and stick to it. Not everyone is a morning person, so perhaps you’re most alert after you’ve exercised or taken a nap. The idea is to schedule the tasks that take the most energy for when your brain is fresh and alert.

Visuals are a great way to activate the mind. That’s why storytelling, pictures, and metaphors work so well—they generate an image.

Visuals are laden with information. They provide color, shape, size, context, etc. Since they take less energy than words, they are efficient ways for the brain to process information.

TIP: Grab a pen and paper and write down your prioritized projects for the day. This saves your brain from the need to recall and review each one. Save your energy for getting those tasks done!

8. Use Positive Self-Talk

The internal conversations we have with ourselves, called self-talk, can go on for days, and sometimes through our nights as well. Many of us know how vicious that inner critic can be. Often, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others. It’s not because we want to be, it’s because we don’t know how to manage our negative self-talk.

Energy follows attention—wherever your attention is focused, your energy will follow. If your inner critic is beating you up about a failure, your failing will be the one thing you focus on.

TIP: The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others

9. Make Room For Your Emotions

Mental toughness is managing our emotions in ways that will set us up for success. Instead of denying uncomfortable emotions, acknowledge them.

Researcher David Rock believes that labeling our negative emotions is an effective way of short circuiting their hold over us. So give your inner critic a name or call it out for what it really is—jealousy, insecurity, fear, etc.

You can keep the name in your head, but Rock believes that when you speak it, it activates a more robust short circuit to help break the emotional hold.

TIP: Destroy negative thoughts when they first show up and are at their weakest.

10. Find Your Tribe

Sebastian Junger wrote in his book, “Tribe”—“We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–tribes.”

The FBI Academy created a tribe when they refused to let new agents leave for the first several weeks. We grew to depend upon each other and it was habit that we took with us into the field as we looked out for fellow agents

When you are a member of a tribe, you have an acute sense of belonging—you feel accepted and safe when things go wrong. Many of us are lucky enough to feel that our biological families are our tribe, but usually tribes are founded around groups of people with shared values, ideas, and experiences.

In the competitive world of business, it is not always easy to feel safe and accepted. When things go wrong, you fear losing your company, your job, and maybe even your health.

TIP: In times of stress, it’s easy to feel neglected. It’s impossible to instantly create deep bonds of familiarity and trust. Don’t wait until things go wrong to start finding your tribe. Start now.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. 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.” 

4 Tips To Create Stronger Bonds

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Contrary to popular television shows, FBI agents are the most effective when they create stronger bonds with the people in their investigations. Beating people into submission makes for a good action movie scene, but it’s not an agent’s first response when they face an obstacle or roadblock.

Brute force and ignorance can only take you so far; interviews, not interrogations, still remain the FBI’s primary investigative tool. Face-to-face conversations create stronger bonds of trust and understanding.

To be truly successful in today’s competitive marketplace, you must also learn how to create stronger bonds with the people around you. Communication must be crystal clear if you want to construct your business on a strong foundation.

Here are tips on you can create stronger bonds:

1. SHUT UP AND LISTEN

I live in Marin County, California where liberal helicopters parents are enthusiastically minting the next generation of  Snowflakes (precious children who find their self-esteem damaged when criticized.) Trump supporters are labeled as deplorable blue collar workers, ignorant, uneducated, and racist.

But wait—when I engage in conversations with people in my community, I find that there are many smart people in Marin County who support Trump. I also find that they are not deplorables, blue collar workers, ignorant, uneducated, or racist. Some of my colleagues live in a bubble where they assume everyone thinks like they do. They continue to preach and rant when they really need to just shut up and listen.

I listen to my neighbors, and when I do, they talk. In the process, stronger bonds are created. Trust is built, slowly but surely.

TIP: Listen to what people have to say and give them an opportunity to express their opinions. Have the mental toughness to control your emotions, thoughts, and behavior. Do not preach at them or judge them. Instead, let them feel your sincerity.

2. ENGAGE IN CONVERSATIONS

Heineken recently blew away viewers with their ad that puts people from opposite sides of an issue in face-to-face conversations. Those conversations led to a powerful message—appreciation and strong bonds can exist between people who have polar opposite views on a political issue or current event.

The reason is simple: we long to be seen, heard, and understood. FBI agents find engaging in conversations a powerful tool because that basic need often is unmet in many of today’s relationships. Conversations create levels of intimacy because we are connecting with another human being.

TIP: Conversations are a key component of intimacy and connection. It means you need to respect the person across from you even if you do not agree with them.

3. ACTIVELY LISTEN

Actively listening to a suspect accused of supporting and aiding a terrorist organization does not mean that the conversation will be easy. It does mean that it will help an agent move through the conversation more effectively.

Active listening helps create stronger bonds because the other person is aware that you are fully present. It doesn’t mean that you will know the right thing to say or the best way to respond. Agents are good listeners because they can sit with the discomfort of an awkward moment or an emotional outburst without judgment or retaliation.

TIP: If you are having a difficult conversation with a person, well-honed listening skills will help you move through it more effectively because those skills are allowing you to really hear the person’s story. Acknowledge what the person said. Do not criticize but be honest in your response. This is how to create stronger bonds.

4. NOTICE FEELINGS

In my interview training courses, I was taught to pay special attention when a suspect expresses a feeling. This was reinforced by my spiritual direction studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. People are the most vulnerable and honest when they talk about their feelings.

Customers and team members may find it difficult, or even unprofessional, to express emotions. Instead, they often skirt around what they are truly feeling about an issue or situation. This means you will need to pay attention to words freighted with emotion or the needs they are experiencing.

TIP: Practice noticing when and how people express their feelings, in what context,which words they use, and the non-verbal hints that indicate an emotion or feeling. You will be more prepared when you have a difficult conversation later down the line.

© 2017 LaRae Quy. 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.”