How Women Can Find The Perfect Mentor To Guide Them To Success

March 6th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

As a female FBI agent, there were very few other women in my office—or in the building, for that matter. The closest thing to a mentor I had was my male training agent, who viewed me as more of a burden than an opportunity.

Woman leader

But it had been to my advantage to be raised on a cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming. It was a tough environment—fast food was hitting a deer at 60 miles an hour. My grandmother had ammo on her Christmas list. And there is one thing you never say to a grandmother who is a crack shot with a rifle—“It’s not my fault.”

This was exactly the type of mental toughness I needed when I found myself as a new agent in an FBI squad with few allies and no obvious mentors waiting to take me under their wing. Instead of blaming others, I knew that I would need to find my own way to move forward if I wanted to be successful.

On my first squad, my desk was next to a hardened older agent named Leo who looked at me with suspicion—could a woman be relied upon to have his back if we found ourselves in a shootout? He thought not, or at least had his doubts. I could tell by the way he treated me—with quiet disdain.

Not all mentoring relationships need to be formalized. Leo was an unwitting mentor who would be horrified to think that I considered him as one! But I watched how he worked his cases. He was a thorough investigator who pursued any and all leads. And when he didn’t have any, he still kept at it.

Mentors teach, coach, guide, and motivate. Leo did all of these things for me, without knowing it. I used the information I learned from him, about reading body language and listening for verbal cues, during the rest of my career. I never liked Leo, and we never so much as had a cup of coffee together, but he was one of the best mentors I ever had.

Why is it important for you to have a mentor to guide you toward success? Even more importantly, what characteristics make a good mentor for you?

The term mentor has become watered-down in the last few years. It can encompass anything from self-help books, to touchy-feely therapy sessions when times get tough, to a wise and trusted guide through business and life.

March is Women’s History Month, and as I reflect on #IWD2015 (International Women’s Day on March 8, 2015) I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned about how women can find the perfect mentor to guide them toward success:

1. Be Wary—Very Wary, Of Praise

Like most overachievers, I look for praise in almost everything I do. 

As a first grade student, I was never satisfied with anything less than an A. My teacher, Mrs. Archie, was very stingy with praise, so you can imagine how much I disliked her. She let me know right away that I was not the smartest person in the room, so when I did get an A she responded with, “You’ve worked very hard to get this grade.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was creating a growth mindset in the way that I looked at my obstacles. 

Researcher Carol Dweck discovered that our mindset affects our ability to fulfill our potential—to grow and learn, take risks, bounce back from adversity, and to build healthy relationships.   

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we believe our qualities, including our intelligence, are something we were born with and cannot be changed.  If we have a “growth mindset,” we believe that we can cultivate and grow our basic qualities, including our intelligence.

Some of the brightest people avoid challenges, dislike working hard, and wilt in the face of difficulty. In other words, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest in the room who end up being the smartest.

A perfect mentor will challenge you to create a growth mindset.

2. Create A Strong Mind

My grandmother was a larger-than-life force in my life. When things didn’t work out the way I expected, she taught me how to be mentally tough. She had no time for people who would not take responsibility for their situation.

I didn’t sweat it when I found no females to mentor me as an FBI agent. I knew that if I wanted to be treated as an equal, I needed to act as an equal. Whining, complaining, blaming others, and making excuses wouldn’t get me anywhere. 

If women are going to use the excuse that they can’t make their way up the corporate ladder because they can’t find other women to mentor them, then they probably aren’t taking their careers very seriously. Take responsibility and find the best person to inspire you to be the best you can be.

Here are the questions I ask myself when looking for a mentor from among the people around me:

  • How can they help me be better at my job?
  • Are they respected by subordinates, peers, and superiors?
  • What skills do they have that I need to develop?
  • How much more do they know more about (this project) than I do?
  • In what ways are they willing to share that knowledge?
  • Will they give me the honest feedback I need?
  • Why do I admire them?
  • How will working with them make me a better person?

A perfect mentor will show you how to develop the mental toughness needed to get you through the roadblocks that are in the way of your success. 

3. Play Big

In the FBI, power meetings among male leaders were held during happy hour—the ones I was never invited to attend. In many larger corporations, power meetings are held in the men’s bathroom during bio-breaks. Either way, the opportunity for women to participate is limited.

When I was tempted to play the victim, I was thought about Leo. He was awkward, ugly and had a quirky personality. He wasn’t invited to happy hour, either. And yet, the truth is this: Leo was a big player in the world of FBI counterintelligence investigations. As my unofficial mentor, he reminded me that people will do things to let you down, and even screw you over—that is life!

So get over it.

Leo refused to think small. He’d never start a sentence with, “I’m not an expert but…“ and then apologize. He taught me that leaders, both men and women, need to play big by taking control of how they react to a situation, and when the going gets tough, to roll up their sleeves and get even tougher. 

He taught me how to recognize self-doubt and not let it dictate my actions.

A perfect mentor will help you to develop confidence in yourself and your abilities.

As women celebrate #IWD2015, find a mentor who can guide you toward success in both business and life.

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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10 Differences Between High Performers And Overachievers

March 1st, 2015 by LaRae Quy

As a new FBI agent, I couldn’t wait to work undercover. John le Carre novels and James Bond movies filled my head, so I jumped at chance when the opportunity came up for me to start an undercover operation against foreign spies in the Silicon Valley.

Overachiever

This was my first time out of the gate as an undercover agent and it was exhilarating. It was necessary that I move immediately from idea to action with very little time between thinking and doing. I loved performing and I was good at approaching the targets of my investigation. As a result, I gained attention, made good progress, and received a lot of praise.

Overachievers are high performers. We. Get. It. Done! Whatever the cost. As an overachiever, I know that I can outlast my competition, wear down opposition, and annihilate critics. 

And while we do accomplish our goals, if we don’t get a handle on what is driving us, it can eventually take it’s toll on our health and leave a trail of devastated relationships.

Here are 10 ways you can tamp down your need to be an overachiever and channel your considerable talent and ambition into the longer lasting results of a high performer.

1. Love Yourself As You Love Others

It turns out that there are a fair number of people like me—overachievers who thrive on being successful. In their book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Riso and Russ Hudson, have this to say about people who are driven to succeed:

“Overachievers fear they will have no value apart from their achievements; they are motivated to perform so they will be loved, accepted, and desirable.”

The idea is to work hard for recognition, to take on leadership roles, and to win. It’s also very important to avoid failure because only winners are worthy of love.

Bill Clinton, Madonna, and John F. Kennedy are famous examples of overachievers.

2. Quiet the Mind that Travels at High Speed

Take time out and allow space for your true emotions to surface. Your emotions are housed in the survival-driven limbic brain system so you “feel” before you “think.” This is why tapping into your gut instinct is so valuable for you as a leader.

Gut thinking is faster than logical thinking. But, until you have mastered gut instinct, give your slower logical, cerebral brain time to process your emotions. 

Taking deep breaths is a good idea, but the reason for breathing is that you’re actually stalling for your logical brain to catch up.

3. Notice When Actions Become Mechanical

Overachievers need to constantly be in motion, and as a result, they are not always leading from their heart. When they aren’t, they lose interest and move on to another project.

High performance leaders stop to reflect and observe before moving on.

 4. Identify When Your Accomplishments Make You Feel More Desirable And Lovable To Others

Stop believing that you’re OK only if others think well of you. Ask whether what you are doing is something that truly has value and meaning for you, or is it just a way to feel valuable and loved?

High performers do not operate from the need to feel valued and loved. They are more interested in building teams and achieving a sense of community in the process.

5. Veer Away From Problems By Introducing New Projects

Stop trying to reframe your failure into a success. Overachievers always look for the winning solution—but high performance leaders look for the optimal solution.

6. Stop Discrediting Sources Of Criticisms

No one is perfect—not even you. 

As Riso and Hudson point out:

Overachievers suffer self-doubt because they believe they need to meet the expectations of others to be accepted. 

As an overachiever, life for you is a competitive struggle; it’s always a question of winning or losing. High performers have the mental toughness to embrace failure because they know they will learn from it.

7. Recognize The Differences Between The Public Self And The Private Self

Differentiate between the image you project and the real person you are. As an overachiever, you are tempted by the trappings of success because they are proof that, “You won the game.” At least this one. 

High performers can listen to their own voice for validation instead of relying on recognition from the outside.

8. Note When You’re Putting On A Show

Stop being a fraud—you’ll love yourself in the morning.

As an overachiever, I could slip on almost any mask and act the part to perfection. The role both protected and motivated me.

High performance leaders are not afraid to be transparent, authentic, and honest.

9. Learn To Tell The Difference Between Doing And Feeling

Shift attention away from the activities surrounding the task to how you feel about the task.

Of all personality types, overachievers have the greatest difficulty perceiving their emotions and understanding their emotions. Instead, they focus on, “Am I successful?”

High performers are mentally tough leaders who are in touch with their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They know how to manage them in ways that set themselves up for success.

10. Start Meditation

American culture promotes youth, energy, and a competitive life. It can be difficult to create a quiet mind if we’re always running at high speed. 

Do not stress out about this—notice when meditation becomes yet another activity in which you want to excel!

“The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success.” Irving Berlin

What advice do you have for an overachiever?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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What 5 Things Build Trust In A Relationship?

February 22nd, 2015 by LaRae Quy

I spent most of my professional career trying to recruit foreign spies to work for the FBI. Foreign Intelligence Officers are trained to believe that FBI agents are not to be trusted because they are manipulative and greedy. 

Communication - 2 people

This stereotype can be a hard nut to crack. FBI Agents have to be masters in selling themselves and their product. The only way to do this is by building trust with the other individual.

And you know what? If I tried to fake it, it didn’t work.

Strengthening relationships is not just a priority for counterintelligence FBI agents who want to establish trust with the Targets of their investigations. You may need to develop trust with team members, competitors, and new clients—it is the most important factor in building relationships.

From my own background and experience, here are some key things you need to do in order to develop trust:

1. Work Hard To Understand The Goals And Priorities Of Others

I developed a genuine appreciation for the Target of my investigation. If I couldn’t, I walked away from the case—the Target deserved better from me.

Your greatest need may be to build stronger connections with competitors, or those who would rather see you fail than succeed. No matter your current relationship, let them know that their goals and priorities are important to you.

Mental toughness is controlling your emotions rather than letting your emotions control you—do not let anger, resentment, or jealousy interfere with your own goals and priorities—to win their trust!

Keep your friends close; keep your enemies even closer.

2. Never Lie About The Things That Matter

I approached my meetings with the Target as a collaboration of honest conversations. I never lied to the Target. I met him in true name and laid out the proposal in plain language. No tricks and no bait-and-switch.

When you look at someone as an object, or as good or bad to your career, trust cannot be built. Instead, try to be non-judgmental and understand:

  • Their objectives and goals
  • Why it is their objective or goal
  • What they are truly after
  • Where you can find common ground

3. Never Succumb To The Temptation of Manipulation

I always believed my relationship with the Target would be long-term and beneficial to both of us.

Whenever a self-serving agenda becomes apparent, we know we’re being manipulated. When this happens, make an effort to understand why they feel the need to manipulate you rather than communicating with you in a more direct manner.

Maybe they don’t trust you?

Look for ways that you can help them think about other, more successful ways they can be successful in what they want to achieve. And then help them achieve their goal.

4. One Favor Deserves Another

I resisted the temptation to feel angry or put-upon when the Target started testing our relationship by asking for favors—especially ones that would help make him look good in some way.

The law of reciprocity says that when we do someone a favor, the other person will feel an obligation to reciprocate that favor at some point in the future. Over time, the need to reciprocate the interest, kindness, and effort that you’ve made on their behalf will pay off.

Trust is built faster and stronger when your agenda is not the first priority.

5. Get Rid Of The Ego

I treated the Target as an equal, and not as a second-class citizen even when I knew he was trying to steal classified U.S military documents.

It’s tempting to take the moral high ground, but I always made an effort to understand why they made the choices they had in life. As I listened to their answers, I answered non-judgmentally and followed up with questions that were not freighted with judgment. 

It means suspending the ego and the certainty of your rightness in the matter. If you make the conversations all about them, you are continually validating them as human beings.

William Shakespeare wrote this famous line—“Love all, trust few.” He had it right—trust only in the few who take a genuine interest in understanding your needs and wants. Trust is not an act.

Once people trusted me, they trusted my message.

Whose message do you trust?

 

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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How Leaders Can Use Emotional Intelligence To Predict Their Success

February 15th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

Few could accuse the FBI of being soft and fluffy, and yet emotional intelligence is at the heart of most successful FBI investigations. 

Discomfort zone - duckling

The ability to recognize, control, and express emotions was often the single factor that led to my success in recruiting foreign intelligence officers to work for the U.S. government. It’s also played an essential role in recruiting human intelligence (humint) sources from among the business community.

By remaining alert for how people reacted to different topics of conversation, I gained an insight into how their emotions and thoughts drove their behavior.

While the FBI is constantly training agents how to do their job better, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence by observing squad mates who failed to demonstrate it.

They were the ones who failed to develop humint sources or get close to the subject of their investigation—they could not break through barriers and develop rapport with people. Not only that, they often had a particular lack of self-awareness—a wreck waiting to happen to anyone, not just those working counterintelligence cases. 

The way in which we react to obstacles, misfortune, and adversity is often the result of habit rather than deliberate choice. With a little training and awareness, we can develop the mental toughness needed to make smarter choices and be more successful.

Here are 5 ways leaders can use emotional intelligence to predict their success:

1. Engage In Psychological Fortune Telling

Our preoccupation with being happy all the time can actually lead us to expect too much from everyday experiences.

Psychologist Maya Tamir recommends that instead of making the pursuit of happiness your guiding principle in stressful situations, you should think about your long-term goal first. Once you’ve clearly identified your long term goal, you can choose the emotion you want to experience in that situation. 

For example, leaders who are under pressure to make a compromise can use emotional intelligence to opt for the emotion or feeling that will help them be more successful.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence do not always choose the pleasant emotion; instead, they opt for the one that keeps them moving down the road and toward their long-term goals.

2. Early Intervention Is Key

Sometimes we’re thrown into situations where there is no exit strategy. But often, many of us could avoid emotional events by simply anticipating them and taking pro-active measures. 

There is always someone with an irksome laugh or annoying habit to deal with, so develop buffers if you know you’re going to be in their company.

Situations that trigger negative emotions often leave people feeling depressed, especially when they could have been averted. 

Many events that produce stress and negative emotions are uncontrollable, such as accidents or illnesses. Many of them, however, can be managed if leaders are savvy about how to anticipate them and intervene.

Identify and address your source of stress proactively rather than try to deal with the emotional fallout later. 

3. Avoidance Is Not An Option

Given a choice, most of us would choose to avoid recurring situations that evoke unpleasant or sad feelings. Dealing with people or situations that continually bleed annoying emotions can be exhausting, so we seek distractions or look away with relief.

Studies have shown that those who know the situation is likely to rear it’s ugly head again in the future but have the grit to stick with it, and pierce through the negativity, are far more likely to respond in ways that are constructive. 

The reason is this: when the situation is recurring, you bolster your brain’s ability to observe and detach from inner reactions so you can strengthen emotional management. 

4. Reframe Your Emotion

Often, the key to managing emotions is simply to reframe them. Anger and fear are both freighted with energy; so, instead of expressing them in a negative way, channel them into a more positive one.

For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, reframe that nervous energy as “getting pumped” for the next performance.

Managing your emotions is a skill; you learn it better when you practice it over time. The same goes for reframing them—it takes intentional training. Often, we let the energy from our emotions decide how we react. We do not intentionally cultivate the emotions that will serve us best.

Neuroplasticity has shown us that we can literally re-wire our brain by changing the way we think about negative situations. If we can take responsibility for own brain, then we can also take responsibility for our own emotions.

5. Let It All Hang Out

But what if someone insults you? You cannot avoid feeling hurt no matter how hard you try to control your response. 

There are times when we need to express our emotions because holding them back takes a toll.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister conducted a series of experiments where people who suppressed their emotions (both happy and sad) tended to give up sooner on later projects. Resisting emotional  responses had taxed their willpower and energy.

Other research has found that people who suppress their emotions all the time have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and suffer from more broken relationships, chronic pain, tinnitus, and diabetes than the rest of the population.

Leaders who use emotional intelligence to anticipate their reactions, visualize the outcomes, and identify the actions that could change future feelings are in a better position to predict their success.

How has emotional intelligence helped you to be more successful?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

 

 

What Really Holds Women Leaders Back

February 8th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

As a retired female FBI agent, I take umbrage at the assumption that professional women don’t have what it takes to move their career to the next level without special assistance or lowering the standards of the position so they can be hired.

Stressed businesswoman screaming into phone inside small cubicle

I served on a search committee recently where one of the members of the organization said to me, “We need a woman to fill this position. Whomever you pick, make sure it’s a female.” My jaw dropped—she was implying that special consideration should be given to the women who applied.

I responded to that individual with such unfiltered intensity that she started backing away from me. “Do you truly believe that there will be no qualified female candidates?” I demanded. “We’d be doing women no favors by hiring someone just because she’s a woman!”

As it turns out, the best candidate was a woman, and she was hired!

The fact is, men still make up 95.2% of Fortune 500 CEO’s positions. Men comprise the majority of corporate boards, and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel stands out like a lightbulb as a female head of state.

While blatant bias no longer blocks women leaders from soaring into top positions, there may still be residual discrimination. But research is showing that societal factors are the biggest culprit in nudging women away from top level careers.

Here is what really holds women leaders back:

Math Is A Four Letter Word

Researchers have repeatedly found that girls and boys do not differ in average mathematical abilities. 

For math-centric fields, in which women are very scarce, it appears that a difference in interests is the primary factor to explain the disparity. Girls are told from an early age that they do not have an aptitude for Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) so they opt for other professions.

According to neuroscientist Lise Eliot, there are small inherent differences in aptitude between males and females at birth (boys seem to have an edge in spatial cognition). Society takes these differences and makes them much bigger—by supporting boys in math and science and by discouraging girls to pursue careers in these areas.

Stereotypes Are Alive And Thriving

When we expect an individual to perform at a level below the standard, studies are finding that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! 

Females who take tests in certain fields that are traditionally dominated by men do much better if they’re asked to fill out their gender after they’ve taken them

The seeds for this pattern of behavior are planted early. By the time girls are in high school, these self-limiting beliefs and lower expectations of their future have already been embedded into their thinking.

The Road Well Traveled

Many women leaders prefer to opt out of the competitive world of business and academia because they don’t believe leadership positions are compatible with having families.

These women don’t like the rules of the game, where working 24/7 for the first 20 years of their career is the only route to leadership. There aren’t enough options and pathways to the top today for people (men or women) who are not willing to play the game as it’s played today.

A 2010 Survey of Doctorate recipients indicates that women are more than twice as likely as men to leave the labor force. Most of those who were not retiring cite family considerations.

Bigger Really Is Better

The best and brightest young women can become great leaders. It’s easy to say, but do we need to convince women that they really should be going for the big jobs? Do women wither in the face of competitive leadership and business tracks?

Part of the answer lies in whether women feel confident they can fill the pin-stripe suit who occupied the desk before them. 

As much as the individual I mentioned earlier wanted my search committee to give the job to a woman, her attitude exuded a lack of confidence that a woman could get the job on her own merits. To me, that indicates a dangerous lack of confidence in the capabilities of the women out there on the fast track to leadership.

Home Sweet Hell 

According to a study of Harvard Business School alumni, women leaders want high-achieving careers even after they start families. 

The study also found that men generally expect that their careers will take precedence over their spouses’ careers and that their spouses will handle more of the child care. 

Women, on the other hand, expect that their careers will be as important as their spouses’, and that they will share child care equally—but, in general, neither happens. This pattern appears to be nearly as strong among Harvard graduates still in their 20s as it is for earlier generations.

Among women in the 32—67 age group, only 25 percent expected their husbands’ careers to take precedence. In reality, their husband’s career took precedence 40 percent of the time. Half of the women expected to handle a majority of child care; in reality, nearly three-quarters ended up doing so.

If strong women leaders want to take their careers to the next level—or to the top, they need to address the real issues that are holding them back.

What do you think really holds women leaders back?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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5 Ways Strong Minds Tap Into Authenticity

February 1st, 2015 by LaRae Quy

No one on my squad liked George. He was an officious know-it-all who grated on everyone who had to work with him. The solution was obvious—find a reason to never work with him! We got very creative in finding ways to give George the crap assignments no one else wanted.

Authentic - strong woman

Once the FBI has enough probable cause, warrants signed by a judge to search a suspect’s trash is not uncommon. Guess who was given the unpleasant job of searching through the slime ball’s garbage? George!

I giggled with the other agents as he put on his rubber gloves and headed out the door.

But then—George and his wife asked me over for dinner at their house. I risked losing my “cool status” among my squad mates if I went, but it seemed too cruel to make an excuse, so I said yes.

The George I met at the front door of his home was a completely different man from the one that showed up at the FBI office every day. He was still a little weird, but I couldn’t get over the shock of him being one way at work, while reverting back to his true personality at home.

As I thought about it on my way home, I wondered if I “acted” differently when at work? At a church event? With family members?

George is not the only one who struggles to live all aspects of his life with authenticity. Many of us put on an act when in certain situations. While we can make excuses for our behavior, the fact remains that when we are not authentic, we are pretending to act like someone else and afraid to voice our own truths.

It takes mental toughness to have the courage to be seen for who you really are. Authenticity is NOT being pressured into emotions, thoughts, and behavior by outside influences. It is about trusting your heart and following your gut instinct.

Here are 5 ways strong minds tap into authenticity:

1. Use Your Gut Instinct To Make Decisions

Strong minds tap into their authenticity when they are able to make decisions that come from their gut. 

If you stay true to yourself, and stick with work that has both meaning and value for you, nothing will be able to distract you from achieving your goals. 

Stop wasting time and energy on projects that do not resonate with you. When you listen to your gut, you become a lot clearer on what is, or isn’t, on your priority list.

2. Keep Your Eye On The Bigger Picture

Strong minds tap into their authenticity when they are able to focus on a future that is full of promise.

Once you hitch yourself to a project or career that resonates with you, obstacles and roadblocks are temporary. You will find the energy and creativity to keep moving forward. 

Use your energy to control your emotions, thoughts, and behavior so your outlook always remain focused and positive.

If you focus only on your barriers, you’ll never see the road.“—LaRae Quy

3. Resist The Temptation To Take It Personally

Strong minds tap into their authenticity when they are able to accept rejection without crumbling like a sugar cookie.

No one likes to be rejected, and often we don’t let people see us for who we really are because we fear their disapproval. When we’re criticized by others, it can cause us to crumble a little inside each time. Many times, we do silly things just to make sure we’re loved and accepted.

Strong minds have a deep sense of self-worth because they’ve taken an honest inventory of their qualities. They are not afraid to take ownership for who they are—and most importantly, for the awesome person they are becoming. 

4. Learn From Bad Times

Strong minds tap into their authenticity when they are able to be their very best in the darkest moments.

It’s easy to give up and blame others for your misfortune. If you have mental toughness, however, you use times of hardship to discover your inner strengths and capabilities. Despite your darkest moments, you were able to stay connected to your core—you remained true to your values and beliefs.

5. Stay Strong By Being Soft

Strong minds tap into their authenticity when they are able to thrive by developing a flexible and agile way of thinking.

Lao Tzu once said, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” 

You can survive, thrive, and be an incredible leader if you remain flexible when times are tough and outcomes are not clear. Mental toughness does not mean blasting through your obstacles and roadblocks. 

Often, being mentally tough requires the resilience to cope with the harsh realities of life without ever losing sight of the road.

How have you relied on authenticity to be a better leader?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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5 Effective Ways You Can Take It To The Next Level

January 25th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

After 20 years working counterintelligence cases, I was asked to become the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California. My first reaction was “No”—I was very comfortable in my position as a case agent. By this time, I knew every step in the manual and had my network of informants in place so I could launch an investigation against a foreign intelligence officer with very little effort on my part.

Successful-people-succeed

I felt the quiet pleasure of a smug satisfaction with my existing situation. But in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t continuing to hone my skills; I wasn’t striving to do my best. In truth, I had become complacent; I had reached a plateau.

When I said “NO,” I was refusing to take my career to the next level. I was successful as a case agent, but my complacency was not nurturing my ambition. 

The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.”—Benjamin E. Mays

Stanford researcher Carol Dweck observed, “There is no relation between students’ abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery-oriented qualities. Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected.”

I had always been a go-getter, but somewhere in those 20 years I had settled into a comfort zone that produced mediocrity.

Complacent strength is our greatest weakness.“—LaRae Quy

I eventually did say “Yes” and represented the FBI for 4 years in Northern California. I’m going to share 5 effective ways that I took it to the next level, and so can you:

1. ADMIT YOU HAVE HIT A PLATEAU

You can’t take it to the next level until you admit you’re looking at a long stretch in the way of where you want to go. 

As hard as you look, it appears to go on forever. If you ever do find the end, you may be greeted with a sharp precipice plunging downward—or a steep incline reaching upward.

2. INSPECT YOUR FOUNDATION

You can’t take it to the next level until you take a closer look at why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Often, we get into something only because a teacher or parent told us we should. Finding ourselves stuck on an endless plateau may be a pinprick to our heart that we’ve taken the wrong road.

A plateau can be the way your body and mind gets your attention if you are pursuing a career or goal that does not hold value and meaning for you. Flat terrain may provide you an opportunity to reassess the direction your life is going to decide whether this is where you really want to be.

3. DISTINGUISH BETWEEN PLATEAU AND BURNOUT

You can’t take it to the next level until you know whether you’re experiencing a plateau—or a burnout.

In a plateau, you can find ways to become empowered and recharged. Burnout is trying to do the same old things, or do things in the same old ways, without recognizing your need for reassessment.

  • The cure for a plateau is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm will propel you to learn new skills and information to keep moving forward.
  • The cure for burnout is excavating the resentment you feel for what you’ve had to sacrifice in order to get where you are.

4. RECOGNIZE SURVIVAL MODE FOR WHAT IT IS—MEDIOCRITY

You can’t take it to the next level until you can sift out the junk that’s taking up so much of your time and energy.

When you’re so tired and frustrated that you feel you’re just in survival mode, change is one more item on your list to deal with! So why not stay in the plateau? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t—right?

Mediocrity is settling for less than you know you can be, whether in business or life. It’s giving up on finding a path that will bring greater happiness and joy.

5. DEVELOP A GROWTH MINDSET

You can’t take it to the next level until you make learning new skills and qualities a priority in your life.

Carol Dweck discovered through her research that our mindset affects our ability to fulfill our potential—to grow and learn, take risks, bounce back from adversity, to build healthy relationships.   

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we believe our qualities, including our intelligence, are something we were born with and cannot be changed.  If we have a “growth mindset,” we believe that we can cultivate and grow our basic qualities, including our intelligence.

Pay attention to the conversations you have with yourself; self-talk is a powerful tool when it comes to developing mental toughness. If you assume you are capable of change and growth in all ways possible, it’s the starting point for moving beyond your plateau.

In other words, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up being the smartest.

What tips would you add for taking your career to the next level when you’ve hit a plateau?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

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How To Think On Your Feet When Under Pressure

January 18th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

During a large meeting of agents at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C., the Counterintelligence Section Chief turned to me and asked what I felt was the priority target for foreign spies in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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My answer was based on solid information gathered by my fellow agents. I kept my answer concise and clear. The Section Chief nodded and then asked, “What operations have you initiated to stop it?”

As every head in the room turned toward me, I felt my mouth get dry and I cleared my throat so I could respond with a calm and clear voice. But the truth was awkward—I hadn’t initiated any operation against the target. Yikes!

Have any of you ever felt yourself under pressure to come up with the perfect answer when put on the spot by your CEO or supervisor? And in front of your colleagues? What if you can’t think of anything to say?

I felt a collective sigh of relief from the others that I had been the one singled out and forced to admit the FBI was struggling to find effective ways to penetrate the activities of a foreign intelligence service. It didn’t help that I’m the kind of person who comes up with perfect retorts—about twenty minutes after the question is asked.

Thinking on your feet is an important skill. Once you master it, your responses will create immediate confidence in what you’re saying.

Confidence is critical when learning to think on your feet. Confidence allows us to respond in ways that portrays competency, trustworthiness, intelligence, and a strong mind.

Here are 5 ways you can learn how to think on your feet when under pressure:

1. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE

The secret to thinking on your feet is to be prepared.

There is no such thing as being over-prepared when you enter a meeting or situation where there is even the slightest possibility of finding yourself faced with unexpected questions.

This means taking the extra step—always. It also means working very hard as you brief yourself on the issues, the alternatives, and the consequences of each alternative. With a bit of reflection, it’s often possible to predict the types of questions you might be asked, so you can prepare and rehearse some answers to questions that might come your way.

Yes, you may be over-prepared 99% of the time, but when you do eventually hear your name called out, you will know the answer. 

That confidence will help you to remain calm when you’re in the hot seat.

2. GIVE YOUR THINKING BRAIN TIME TO CATCH UP WITH YOUR EMOTIONAL BRAIN

The secret to thinking on your feet is learning how to stall for time.

You’ve probably heard it said a hundred times that taking a deep breath is important.

But here is what you really need to know—stalling for time gives your thinking cerebral brain time to process the facts and override the emotional limbic system that is freaking out.

3. BE SAVVY IN THE WAY YOU STALL FOR TIME

The secret to thinking on your feet is asking for the question to be repeated, or better yet—repeat the question yourself, but this time change the wording slightly.

By changing the wording slightly, the onus is now on the person asking the question to reorganize their thoughts. Their mind is no longer solely focused on their original question as they absorb the new thought or twist you introduced when you repeated their question.

But, be clever about this, because it can also be very obvious to the individual asking the question that you are stalling for time or trying to avoid answering it. The key is slightly rewording the question and subtlety introducing a new element.

For example, when answering the Section Chief I could have reworded his question so it sounded more like, “What initiatives has San Francisco taken? Several—for example…” The attention was moved from “me” to “San Francisco.” 

And by answering with in-depth knowledge and confidence, I could have listed several operations initiated by my fellow agents. The momentum created by the direction I took the conversation would have shifted from what I personally had not done, to giving credit to my colleagues for testing out some creative approaches.

4. STICK TO ONE POINT AND SUPPORT IT WITH FACTS

The secret to thinking on your feet is making one fabulous point instead of trying to cover everything. 

When you’re under pressure to produce an answer, there’s a tendency to try and cover up what you don’t know by giving too much information. That does nothing but leave you looking as though you haven’t organized your thoughts and you risk more probing follow-up questions from the individual asking the question.

Long answers are always risky because they not only bore the listeners, they can make you look as though you are trying too hard to impress. 

Instead, focus on sticking to the point and support it with facts.

5. HAVE THE BALLS TO ADMIT YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER

The secret to thinking on your feet is looking intelligent and competent, even when you don’t have the answer.

If you don’t know the answer, say so. Don’t risk your reputation by trying to make something up. You risk looking foolish and that will lower your confidence, both in your own eyes and in the eyes of the others in the room.

What tips do you have for thinking on your feet when under pressure?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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5 Ways A Strong Mind Can Boost Your Confidence

January 11th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

FBI Firearms instructors train new agents to shoot correctly. This means sight alignment, trigger control, and breath control. Focus on the sights, not the target. The target should be blurry.

Resilient - jumping bridge

Four times a year agents re-qualify with their weapon on the range. The only time I handled my gun was at firearms training because I worked counterintelligence—we don’t usually shoot foreign spies!

I was not feeling confident as I joined a mock arrest team with raised paint guns. I went through the back door and into the kitchen. Right, clear. Left, clear. Overhead, clear. 

Firearms instructors were hiding out in the abandoned house. To be shot with a paint gun was better than the real thing, but still, I didn’t feel comfortable.

That feeling got worse when a paint gun fired as I went through a doorway. I looked at a team member, a guy from the Organized Crime squad. We were better shots than the instructor so he went down with Pepto Bismo pink splattered on his chest.

I’m pretty sure it came from my colleague’s gun. I couldn’t wait to get back to the safety of my office in the city.

Like many others, I preferred to stick to a comfortable environment because 1) it was familiar, and 2) I was at my best at what I did. At that time, reaching the top meant investigating the activities of foreign intelligence officers, and as a goal-oriented person, there was great feeling of accomplishment.

The problem with reaching our goal by making it to the top is that we don’t go to the next level.

Why? Because going to the next level means we’ll be starting at the bottom again. It’s uncomfortable—we’re out of our comfort zone and we’ll have to work harder to be the best.

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

Here are 5 ways a strong mind can boost your confidence:

1. Strong Minds Don’t Neglect The Amazing People Around Them

They are motivated by people who are smarter, brighter, and more experienced. 

Strong minds know these are the people who will give them a reason to push themselves harder.

Ultimately, they will also be better.

Look for opportunities to be surrounded by people who are performing at the next level. This is the environment in which you will grow and learn. You will challenge yourself and emerge stronger and more confident in your abilities.

2. Strong Minds Don’t Need To Always Be Right

They are willing to do things that they are not quite prepared to do.

They know that is how they grow—not playing it safe until they are 100% sure they will be a success. When they’re not sure they can do something, and they push through those moments, they have a breakthrough.

Lack of confidence is the most common reason people avoid taking the next step in their career. They are afraid of failing, but even if you fall flat on your face, you are still moving forward. 

Strong minds abandon the need for perfection. It’s more important to grow and learn about yourself in the process.

3. Strong Minds Don’t Hide From New Life Experiences

They embrace the rapid iteration of trial and error.

As children, we were naturally creative; trial-and-error is how we played. Back then, we were confident in our ability to play.

As adults, we are no longer as confident of our ability to problem solve so we avoid the challenges that come with taking it to the next level.

If you have the confidence and courage to try new strategies, each iteration will bring you closer to finding a solution or making a connection. This produces a feel-good neurological response as the rush of adrenaline hits our system. Adrenaline is a hormone that motivates us and makes us more confident in our abilities.

4. Strong Minds Strengthen Their Good Attitude Muscle

They know that success is not skill or talent; it is an attitude.

Research by Carol Dweck has found that often the brightest people are not the most successful ones. Some of the brightest people avoid challenges, dislike working hard, and wilt in the face of difficulty.

Confidence grows out of being a go-getter, thriving on challenges, persisting when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than expected.

5. Strong Minds Know That Finding The Lesson Is Key

They aren’t afraid to try new hobbies or place themselves in situations where there is a high likelihood of failure.

One of the best ways to build your confidence 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.  

You will have accomplished something just by trying. Whether you like it or not, you have learned something and can take confidence in the fact that you pushed yourself.

If you fail, or have a setback, you will know how it feels. Notice how you respond and take the time to learn from both the experience and your response. The more you understand how you respond to situations where you experience failure, you better you can craft the reaction you want.

Each time, you will build confidence in not only what you’ve accomplished, but how you deal with disappointment, rejection, or failure. What doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger—and more confident.

To build your confidence, you will need swim against your fear of failing as if the quality of life depends on it.

Because it does.

What resonated the most with you?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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

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The Real Reasons You Let Uncertainty Hold You Back

January 4th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

I will never forget the first day I ever shot a gun. I was on the firing line at the FBI Academy and holding a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver. My heart was racing and my palms were sweating—I was filled with uncertainty and worried that I would not shoot well enough to qualify.

rsz_uncertainty_-_frog

Experiencing uncertainty is different than taking a risk. Risk involves a known probability that something will, or will not happen; uncertainty, however, indicates the probabilities are unknown.

Therefore, we cannot predict an outcome.

How many of us have missed tremendous opportunities and experiences because we’ve chosen to walk away when faced with uncertainty?

But avoiding challenges is a form of self-sabotage—it is holding onto self-limiting beliefs about what we can do in life. 

Mental toughness is the ability to break unproductive patterns of behavior. It is managing your emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set you up for success.

Here are three ways you can be mentally tough and not let uncertainty hold you back:

 

1. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO DO NOT THINK LIKE YOU

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you hang around people who encourage you to push your boundaries and try new things.

When we surround ourselves with information that matches our beliefs, we subconsciously limit our exposure to views and opinions that are different from our own. Different views may threaten our comfortable way of thinking by challenging us with new aspirations. 

If you see yourself in a certain way, and that image is bolstered by the people with whom you surround yourself, you will continue to act and behave in ways that is consistent with that image.

Tip:

  • Break away from people who keep you tethered to your self-limiting beliefs.
  • Spend time with people who have different points of view from your own.
  • Learn from their experiences.
  • Embark on a new adventure or destination.
  • Give yourself permission to be uncomfortable–and even fail at first, as you discover new strengths, skills, and talents.

 

2. NEVER CONFUSE MEMORIES WITH FACTS

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you recognize that your recollection of the past is not always accurate.

Our memories are fallible, and yet we often treat them as more reliable than current observation or data.

Our memory does not store information exactly as it’s presented to us. 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.

Tip:

  • Remember that your confirmation bias stores information that is consistent with your own beliefs, values, and self-image. 
  • Recognize that memories do not always provide you with accurate information.
  • Revisit the facts of a memory freighted with self-limiting beliefs so you can gain a more accurate perspective on the event.

 

3. BE CAUTIOUS WITH STEREOTYPES

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you resist the temptation to rely on stereotypes to help you think fast.

Researcher Daniel Kahneman describes how we can think fast by using stereotypes, rules of thumb, and jumping to conclusions. Thinking fast is incredibly efficient, usually accurate, and essential to our survival. Most importantly, it frees up our thinking for other things.

However, thinking fast also creates errors in specific situations. Our brain is so wedded to stereotypes that we rely upon them even when they defy logic—especially when the stereotype is a self-limiting belief about ourselves.

Tip:

  • Recognize that much of the way in which you categorize and sort information is accurate.
  • Evaluate your rules of thumb, however, on a regular basis to ensure that your information is up to date and  non-prejudicial.
  • Be alert for stereotypes that place limits—either on others or yourself.
  • Be aware of potential pitfalls when making snap decisions and judgments.

 

4. NEVER TAKE CONFIDENCE FOR GRANTED

You do not let uncertainty hold you back when you are mindful about the confidence you place in yourself and others.

If you are smart, you will always test the ground before taking a step into the unknown. That is not lack of confidence; that is old-fashioned self-preservation.

One of my favorite stories about a smart leader is a man named Gideon whose story is found in the Bible

Gideon was an agile and innovative thinker who had found a clever way to hide food from hostile invaders by putting his winepress to double use—he turned it into a sunken threshing floor.

When he is visited by God and asked to save Israel from the invaders, he didn’t jump into a task for which he was ill-prepared. He admitted he was feeling inadequate and expressed his doubts.  

Gideon took the time to think about God’s proposal, rather than letting his ego answer for him. Gideon asked for 3 confirmations from God that he was the right man for the job. He received all 3 confirmations and went on to fight, and overthrow, the invaders.

Tip:

  • Self-confidence is humble and not afraid to ask for verification from others—even God!
  • Self-confidence takes the time to assess the situation before jumping in.

What are some of the reasons uncertainty holds you back?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

 

You can follow me on Twitter

Sign up for my FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course

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

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