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In 2011, South Sudan became a new nation with lots of hope and fanfare. Since then, the climate has deteriorated into a humanitarian crisis. Some of the underlying causes include divisions between the many tribes that make up the fledgling nation.

These issues aren’t geographically contained, affecting Sudanese diaspora communities in cities like Alexandria, Egypt. With an invitation from 2 prominent Egyptian leaders who wanted to help alleviate tensions simmering around tribal divisions in Alexandria’s South Sudanese community, we offered training on conflict resolution to help these communities address the underlying issues of conflict before they grew and became more problematic.

The 2-day training with 30 participants was built around the ideas of emotional intelligence and social identity. While it is imperative to honestly and constructively deal with wrongs the other party has committed, effective conflict resolution begins with an honest assessment of both parties’ contribution to the conflict.

As part of the program, participants developed a deeper self-awareness to help them identify their core values. They also identified strengths, weaknesses, and trigger points that have high potential to cause conflict. Attendees also explored communication models, stressing the need to relay and receive information in an environment conducive to building peace.

The training was also designed to give participants a chance to get to know other tribes and individuals in these groups. This emphasizes the importance of building strong relationships as opposed to simply reacting to problems after they happen. These relationships are a necessary step to build an atmosphere of peace before problems erupt. In order to bridge differences, negative stereotypes have to be overcome so that individuals and tribes can address each other based on who they are and not necessarily what they have done.

The group stated that the training shook them from their complacency and motivated them to take the initiative to be peace builders. They agreed that this was just a beginning and that a follow up time together in 2-3 months was needed to move forward the process of reconciliation in the South Sudanese community in Alexandria.

Ultimately, the hope is that the same power that sometimes contributes to societal violence can be garnered to move societies as a whole toward reconciliation and peace. While this training is just a beginning, the hope is that it could be replicated not just among the larger South Sudanese community in Egypt, but in the new nation itself, too.

Read more about our research on conflict resolution.

The post CCL Offers South Sudan Conflict-Resolution Training appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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Have you ever noticed how some people in your organization seem better than others at getting traction for their ideas?  Sometimes you might find yourself questioning the relevance and brilliance of their ideas compared with your own — yet there they go! What it is they’re doing that makes the difference? What magic sauce have they found? What higher powers have they tapped?

These are things I’ve wondered about through a lifetime of study, exploration, and practice. 

The work of many authors has shed light on these questions, but the work of Stanford professor Dr. Robert Burgelman — including his book Inside Corporate Innovation: Strategy, Structure, and Managerial Skills — has probably had the most impact on my thinking and practice.

Burgelman studied innovation successes and failures in a large U.S.-based technology company over a 6-year period. By adapting and applying his model to study innovation attempts at companies that I’ve worked with, I was able to see what practices enabled or prevented innovation. I looked at innovation at each level of an organization and throughout its trajectory as people moved it — or attempted to move it — from a raw idea or collection of ideas into a valued innovation. This work has informed CCL’s own work on leadership practices that support innovation at each level of leadership from individual employees all the way up to the C-suite.

Innovation is very much about connecting ideas with ideas, ideas with people, and people with people. As innovator Bob Rosenfeld puts it, organizations don’t innovate — people do. Thus, successfully steering your own idea through an organization or helping others do the same is a political process requiring you to connect with and influence key stakeholders at each phase of the process.

When approaching innovation, reflect on these 8 components:

  1. Research: If you’re about to engage in bringing an Idea into action, be sure to talk with a savvy innovator — someone you regard as having successfully championed a new product, tool, program, or service, especially if they’re within your organization. Ask them what made the difference. If they had to do it over, what they would do differently?
  2. Passion: Gauge your own passion around the idea. Are you prepared to go the extra mile with it? Are you prepared to use your own energy, time, and resources to get the idea off the ground?
  3. Ego: Are you really committed to your idea? How much are you prepared to sacrifice, including letting others shape and run with the idea? How much is your own ego wrapped up in the idea? How might that enable or get in the way of its movement forward?
  4. Collaboration: Looking at your network within and external to the organization — including clients, vendors, and professional associates — who do you feel safe sharing your idea with and getting their support? Might you need to expand your network to engage someone more influential in the organization? Who is politically well connected that you can form a relationship and share the idea with? Who might be peers in other parts of the organization, with whom you can form an alliance or team? What is in it for anyone whose support you seek? What can you and your idea do for them?
  5. Connection: What connections can you make with existing projects? What other emerging innovations can you connect with or ride the coattails of? Where in the organization’s strategy and portfolio might your idea fit? Who “owns” the relevant component of the strategy or portfolio? Can you approach them directly? If not, can someone else make the necessary connections?
  6. Relevance: If there is no fit with the current strategy or portfolio, are you aware of anything that’s going on in the world that might provide an early sign of an emerging zeitgeist, encouraging the need for the innovation you have in mind? How might you use this knowledge to energize the potential innovation and influence a shift in the organization’s strategy to accommodate it?
  7. Benefit: The innovation you have in mind has to demonstrate that it’s a solution to a challenge or need. What are your early thoughts about what that need might be? What evidence do you have for that? Who might you feel safe sharing your idea with that can help you articulate the need and the benefits of your solution?
  8. Legacy: Looking way, way ahead if this innovation becomes a roaring success, what will be its legacy to the organization and the world — even if the innovation is not a success in its own right?

By taking the time to consider these elements of innovation at the beginning, you’ll be in a much stronger position to push for your idea and help navigate through the next steps. Before long, your colleagues will be looking to you for advice on how to shepherd something through the innovation process.

Ready to get off the sidelines? Read more about how to approach new ideas.

The post Raising Your Innovation Game: Advice to Would-Be Innovators appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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This is the third and final part of our series on freelancing and the gig economy, exploring the 3 major challenges to consider if you’re going to be successful working independently.

Freelancers often view the independent work they do as less like a career and more like a calling.  Whether they’re seeking flexibility, adventure, freedom, or even some degree of fame and fortune, answering this call was the first step to putting themselves on a path to greater fulfillment and success.

But for all it has to offer, this path is often a long one and definitely has its challenges. In talking with freelancers about their pursuits, 3 distinct challenges emerged:

  1. Offering a unique value proposition. Talent and passion for what you do are only the beginning. Long-term success as a freelancer requires mastery of the things they didn’t teach you in school.
  2. Charting your own career path. When you’re a freelancer, there’s no HR department or built-in support staff. You have to figure that out for yourself.
  3. Developing a network and a community. Being independent shouldn’t mean doing it all on your own. Savvy freelancers foster a diverse community to tap into for guidance, support, inspiration, and opportunity.

Let’s focus on the third challenge. Despite an avalanche of pieces about the importance of networking for freelancers, most observations and advice remains too surface level. I analyzed more than a dozen articles on the topic, and networking came up far and away the most frequently as a skill that freelancers need to master. Talk to freelancers and they’ll mention networking as a key skill they’ve tried to develop in order to grow and sustain their business. But in their own words, another term comes up as often, if not more: community.

When you shift your focus from the idea of building a network to fostering community, new possibilities emerge. Freelancers repeated called out community as a key source of career mentoring, guidance, and support.

Community can also serve as a source of creative inspiration. Many freelancers are idea-driven people seeking to innovate. CCL understands innovation as the process of connecting ideas to ideas, ideas to people and, eventually, people to people. Translation: It’s not a one-person endeavor. You’ve got to get out and connect.

One freelancer put it this way: “It can get lonely doing this type of work — you want to play with things and get ideas and inspiration from others — otherwise you can get in a bubble and get stale. Let’s face it; my next great innovation isn’t going to come from talking to the kitchen wall.”

Quick tip: You can foster a sense of community with others and still have some room for a little healthy competition. So go out and size up your fellow freelance competitors and be honest with yourself.

Your network is a valuable source of potential partners and collaborators. Find the right people to partner with while still maintaining your independence, and they can help you accomplish more and help you spend more time doing what you really want to be doing. One freelancer captured it this way: “There’s a lot you can’t accomplish just on your own. Fashion designers work like this. Musicians too. You can’t play all the instruments on your record. My ambitions are bigger than what I can create with my own 2 hands — achieving my dreams will involve leading others to help me do that.”

Quick tip: Make a list of all the things you are accountable for doing to run your business successfully. From putting together proposals to creating deliverables to ordering office supplies. Mark each of those items that you are currently solely responsible for doing. Then take a second look at your list and bucket each item according to things you would ideally like to do yourself, things you’d like to partner with others to get done, and things you’d like to outsource.

It seems that one of the keys to being on your own is to actually never be truly alone. Community fills that void. Continually invest in being a part of a diverse community of colleagues, family, friends, and others and it will give back to you in terms of guidance, support, inspiration, and opportunity.

 

For those of you who aren’t currently freelancing but are giving it some serious consideration, hopefully this gives you perspective on the realities of this type of work and the differences from what you might have experienced thus far in your career. If you’d like to dive deeper on that topic, please attend this complimentary webinar on Jan. 18, sponsored by MBO Partners.

The post Freelance Success: How to Create Community appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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Tis the season to be jolly!

At least, that’s what they say. But for many of us, the holiday season can feel more like the season of stress, long lines, and count-downs. Whether we’re worried about meeting deadlines or in-laws, many of us muddle through the holidays and return to work wondering where the time went.

While some of the events to come over the next few weeks are inevitable, there’s a helpful technique you can use to help maximize your joy this holiday season — it’s called savoring.

Savoring is the scientific term for deliberately enhancing and prolonging your positive moods, experiences, and emotions. You’ve probably done it before. Perhaps you closed your eyes to help you appreciate a moving symphony performance; or stared in awe at your infant’s smile, trying to make sure you remembered every aspect of that moment. It’s important to note that savoring is not a mood or emotion itself, but rather a way of approaching positive emotions. For instance, you could savor feeling awe, interest, delight, love, pride, amusement, or contentment.

Consciously savoring the good things in life is important, because neuroscience research suggests that our brains have a negativity bias. Negative things tend to stand out in our minds, while positive things tend to be easily dismissed or forgotten. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, given that remembering mistakes and bad experiences (like eating a poisonous fruit or being attacked by a wildcat) was important for survival.

But now, constantly ruminating over what went wrong probably does more harm than good. According to our former board member and positivity expert Barbara Fredrickson, people who see more positive than negative things in their lives tend to be more happy, successful, and resilient.

Considering this, it’s perhaps not surprising that savoring — or being good at taking in good things — is linked to increased well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and decreased depression. In fact, some research suggests that savoring may be the secret behind why money doesn’t often buy happiness. As people become wealthier, they stop savoring the little things; so while their wealth increases, their savoring doesn’t, and neither does their happiness.

Savoring is also uniquely tied to stress. People who are under a lot of stress tend to have a hard time savoring things. But when stress is lifted, savoring seems to automatically kick in. Think of how good it feels to enjoy a quiet morning after a big deadline, or to get to a nice hotel room after a rough day of travel. Neuroscience research shows that sustained activation of a region of your brain called the ventral striatum is related to both savoring and lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), suggesting the possibility that one might help suppress the other.     

Ready to try this positivity booster yourself? Here are 4 strategies that science suggests can help you savor your last days of the year:

Bask in Positive Experiences

Perhaps the most well-known savoring strategy is to simply bask in positive experiences when they come along. Much like the practice of mindfulness, this type of savoring involves being present in the current moment and aware of sensory information. But unlike mindfulness, which emphasizes detached observation, in-the-moment savoring involves actively seeking out and soaking in the positive emotions.

This comes more easily when you regarding where, when, and what you are going to savor. For instance, if you plan to savor your family holiday dinner, you might notice more of the little quirks that you love about your relatives, feel more grateful for your time together, and be less perturbed by a snide comment or a dry turkey.

Try it out: Try selecting a few specific moments or events over the next week that you plan to savor. Maybe it’s watching loved ones unwrap gifts, or savoring the taste of your favorite holiday food, or being fully present when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Whatever the occasion, remember to take in the enjoyable sensory, emotional, and relational aspects of the experience and hold on to them for as long as you can.

Wear Your Joy on Your Sleeve

Another way to elevate your positive experiences is through your non-verbal behaviors and expressions. We typically think of our physical reactions as simply the result of our emotions (for example, we smile because we feel happy). However, science suggests the chain reaction goes both ways — smiling actually makes us feel happier, while hunching our shoulders and crossing our arms can make us feel more upset.

Try it out: This holiday season, try intentionally laughing, smiling, hugging, exchanging high fives, jumping for joy, and doing the happy dance to amplify your happy moments.  

Engage in Positive Mental Time Travel

Even if you aren’t experiencing something positive in the present moment, you can still practice savoring. We all have the ability to “time travel” within our minds to a more positive moment — whether it’s sometime in the past or in our anticipated future. Studies show that vividly reminiscing over positive experiences and eagerly anticipating future joyful occasions can boost your happiness levels, both in the moment and over time.

Try it out: Think about a time when you felt so happy you thought you would burst. Remember how you felt in that moment (Giddy? Grateful? Excited?). Replay the event in your mind as if you were reliving it. Remember what you were thinking, seeing, doing. Recall who else was there and why that moment was so special. Alternatively, you could take a moment to think about what aspect of the upcoming week you are most excited about. Really immerse yourself in the vision of the positive things that could happen.

Share Your Joy with Others

While the first 3 savoring strategies can be done solo, this last one requires connecting with other people. Research suggests that communicating, sharing, and celebrating positive events with others are great ways to further amplify and savor the good things in your life. This strategy works best when you share with someone you are close to, and when that someone is likely to mirror back your positive emotions. This creates an upward spiral of positivity. In fact, some research suggests involving others in your savoring can not only increase the positive impact of events, but also boost your mental and physical resilience.

Try it out: Do some savoring with others this holiday season by taking the time to connect with people who are important to you. Get hot chocolate with a valued colleague, or put aside work to spend quality time with a family member you don’t get to see often. Use the opportunity to share what is going well in your world, reminisce over a good experience you both shared, or let them know how grateful you are to have them in your life.

Of course, all new habits take some practice, so don’t be frustrated if you forget to use these strategies, or if you don’t feel positive results right away. Just keep them in your back pocket and try them again later. With time and practice, these savoring strategies will help bring joy to your world and a happy new year.

Want to dig deeper? Sign up for our webinar on Understanding the Value of Positive Emotions.

The post How to Maximize Your Joy and Savor the Holidays appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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Karen Kaplan didn’t even know how to type when she was hired as a receptionist at the Hill Holliday advertising agency. How in the world did she rise to the position of CEO?

She learned. From that very first position she learned her role and set herself to maximizing that function. According to an article in Forbes, Kaplan’s task as a receptionist was to facilitate communication, and that job put her in contact with every one of her co-workers, at every level of the company. She seized the opportunities in that exposure and those interactions, and worked to exceed expectations.

From receptionist, Kaplan moved to a secretarial position. Although she was also under-qualified for that job, she set to learning its essential function and mastering it. She “kept every business card she ever received,” according to Business Insider. When her tasks exceeded her experience, Kaplan put in weekend hours to keep up. And once again, she mastered the role and eventually exceeded people’s expectations as a secretary, too.

Then she did it again with her next role. And again. Whatever role Kaplan accepted, she took control of it and went beyond expectations. She likes to say that she has had the same string of jobs as many other people, but she had them all at the same company.

Eventually, Kaplan’s relentless pursuit of mastery put her at the top. She’s now the CEO of Hill Holliday, and her experience with the entire organization lends her a unique strategic acumen. It’s a story so tidy it sounds like a vintage Horatio Alger story, but Kaplan wasn’t carried from the receptionist’s desk to the CEO’s office by vague “determination” or “grit.” The practical pursuit of competence, followed by the daily effort to exceed her role, brought her astounding success.

Karen Kaplan stands out as an extraordinary example of a leader with well-honed business and professional knowledge. You can’t do without that know-how if you want to serve as a leader in your organization. A lot goes into mastering that knowledge, and in particular, mastering the specific function for which you’re responsible. That was Karen Kaplan’s secret to success. Whatever role she faced, she made it her own and then she made it more — she exceeded expectations.

What goes into taking command of a specific business function? First, you have to quickly grasp the purpose and processes of the function. Then you should learn how results are produced in that arena — the mechanics of the work.

Once you’re comfortable with that aspect, take a broader view. Ask yourself how the work and results of that function integrate with the rest of your organization’s operations. And don’t forget the numbers: mastery over a business function includes the ability to comfortably analyze data — specifically financial results — that benchmark performance.

Finally, you want to achieve the ability to put all that knowledge into context, to think strategically about your function’s place and your organization’s place amid the changing industry and economy. Educate yourself to gain a practical understanding of global markets and trends, as well as their effects.

Many times, leaders gain the experience they need from different jobs in different companies. They use those experiences to become smart about the organizations and their role in them, as well as how both intersect with markets and economic performance.

But some leaders, like Karen Kaplan, put together a portfolio of experiences while working at the same place. Whichever path you find yourself on, pursue opportunities that will help you become a generalist with strong managerial skill.

Seek out challenges that will give you those experiences and step into them. For example:

  • You can join with a colleague to solve a problem that affects both of your groups.
  • You can take on a project that demands coordination across several groups in your organization.
  • You can share the knowledge you have about your work with others across the organization to establish general understanding of the relationship among workgroups and functions.
  • Create a flowchart of how the organization works — how decisions are made, how results are produced, how information and ideas are communicated.
  • Take an assignment that forces you to critically review your organization’s product lines and find where it might create new product ideas.
  • Make a list of items that you have heard and seen recently that you know need to be addressed in order to grow the business — everything from newspaper articles to blog posts to research reports to poll numbers.
  • Take an assignment that brings you into contact with customers and frontline employees.

You can also provoke your development with guided questions, such as:

  • What does the person 2 levels above you need to know to do their job?
  • What books, journals, magazines, videos, and other media can help you get smarter about your function and role?
  • Who do you see as a role model for the business and professional knowledge you want to possess?

Karen Kaplan’s tale is just one many stories of leadership in action that you will find in Compass: Your Guide to Leadership Development and Coaching. These inspiring examples remind us that leadership takes many forms and succeeds in all kinds of ways. If you want to develop expertise in how organizations operate and how individual and group contributions fuel their operations, stories like these can help mark the path forward. 

The post How to Climb to the Top of Your Company’s Ladder appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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At some point in your life, you’ve likely experience an upsetting situation that provoked anxiety.

We’ve all been there! Maybe you received an email from your boss saying, “We need to talk.” You quickly began to dread the meeting. Thoughts of what might be wrong, or how you might explain yourself, flooded your mind.

When it was finally time to meet, your body’s anxiety reaction was in full swing. Perhaps first you noticed a drop in your stomach. Then, once you sat down at your boss’ desk, your heart started beating more quickly and your hands began to sweat.

As these symptoms continued, you noticed your breathing become more rapid and shallow—it felt hard to breathe. Your mind raced through possible ways to calm yourself, and you remembered the well-intentioned saying, “Take a deep breath!” In line with this advice, you began to inhale deeply…

But, wait! How helpful is this advice? Most people have been told at some point that taking deep breaths can have a calming effect, but is this really true? The short answer is, “No.” To understand why taking a deep breath might actually be counterproductive, we must first understand the fundamentals of the human breathing process.

The Physics of Breathing

Breathing is automatic — that is, most of the time we breathe without being fully aware of it. Breathing is controlled by our body’s autonomic nervous system. This system is made up of 2 divisions:

  • the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response
  • the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which relaxes the body after stimulation

These 2 systems nicely parallel the breathing process. When we inhale, our diaphragm moves down and the volume in our thoracic cavity increases as our lungs fill with air; as they fill, they also begin to compress the walls of the heart, which in turn restricts blood flow going into and out of the heart. To compensate for this restriction, our heart rate increases (SNS). When we exhale, our diaphragm moves up and the volume in our thoracic cavity decreases as our lungs empty the air inside them, and our heart rate decreases (PNS).

In short: it is actually our exhale (not our inhale) that’s linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps our body relax.

Overbreathing

Now that we’ve described the breathing process, let’s take a look at the recommendation to “take a deep breath.”  If you do this rapidly, it can lead to overbreathing, which can be broadly defined as a breathing pattern that results in breathing out too much carbon dioxide which, in turn, results in less blood flowing to your brain (i.e. hyperventilating). Typically, we begin to overbreathe when we’re in a panicked or stressed state.

People who tell you to “take a deep breath” probably think they are preventing overbreathing by keeping you from hyperventilating. The thing is, taking in a lot of air and holding it in is still overbreathing! You’re still activating your sympathetic nervous system.

The Helpful Way to Breathe

So, what should you do? Although it’s perfectly natural to respond to anxiety and panic with overbreathing, the good news is that we also have the ability to affect our breathing rate. We can change our breathing. This means we can train ourselves to respond to overbreathing with an intentional breathing pattern designed to promote relaxation.

As you sit at your boss’ desk trying to manage your anxiety symptoms, rather than taking a deep breath, focus on activating the PNS (i.e., lower breath and heart rate)—in other words, focus on extending the exhale. Pay attention to your exhale — a little more attention to your exhale can make a difference.

Some researchers recommend a specific ratio of inhalation to exhalation that can be practiced in the moment when wanting to achieve a more relaxed breathing state. For example, Inna Kahzan, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, recommends a 4:6 ratio — 40% of the breath cycle spent on inhalation and 60% of the breath cycle spent on exhalation. With this practice, she recommends “low and slow” diaphragmatic breathing, where you “pay attention to the location of the breath, smooth transition from exhalation to inhalation, long and complete exhalation, without focusing on the depth of the inhalation.”

Though the exact breath count that is most helpful for you may vary based on your natural breathing rate (some people tend to breath at a higher/lower rate than others), a rough estimate of what this ratio would look like is to inhale for a count of 1…2…3…4 and then exhale for a count of 1…2…3…4…5…6, where each count lasts one second.

It’s worth mentioning that the focus on extended exhalation as a way to relax your breathing is not a new concept. In fact, many yoga traditions have extended exhalation as a core part of their practice. For example, some researchers have tested the effects of pranayama yoga breathing, where the inhalation to exhalation ratio is 1:2, in patients with asthma.

Breathing Takes Practice

Take a minute to guide yourself, “Breath in — 1…2…3…4, and breathe out — 1…2…3…4…5…6.” Focus on normal inhalations, neither too short nor too long, and then extend the exhalation. You will begin to notice yourself calming down, which in turn will better enable you to focus on your upcoming challenges. Yet like most things, using breathing to regulate your nervous system takes practice, so it’s important to make extended exhalations a part of your daily routine. Regardless of your emotional state, take time to practice extended exhalations for 2-5 minutes (or until you notice your breathing rate relax) every day. As with any habit, daily practice will strengthen your ability to engage in extended exhalation when in a state of high anxiety, panic, or stress. Finally, encourage your friends and family to adopt a similar breathing practice when in a state of anxiety.

Rather than “Take a deep breath,” adopt the motto “Extend your exhale!”

The post Why You Shouldn’t ‘Take a Deep Breath’ When You’re Stressed appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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This is the second part of our series on freelancing and the gig economy, exploring the 3 major challenges to consider if you’re going to be successful working independently. 

It was about an hour into my conversation with Joshua. He’d been recounting the many diverse chapters of his career working in PR, internet start-ups, international journalism, and ad firms. And now he was sharing the realities of his new day-to-day as a freelance professional pursuing a mix of creative assignments in New York’s bustling advertising and entertainment industries.

Underneath the rapid-fire delivery and the animated gestures that accompanied his tales of the ups and downs and hopes and fears that he was now experiencing, there was also a palpable sense of calm and self-assurance. It was like he’d finally arrived at a destined place in his life and career.

The freedom and independence associated with freelancing played a significant role in Joshua’s decision to go independent. And the same is true for countless other freelancers.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about freelancing is that autonomy — the personal freedom you experience. But being your own boss also has its burdens. A frequent challenge is the high amount of ambiguity you face in many of your critical decisions. One such area of uncertainty is setting a course for your own career and navigating the key decision points of where to head next. This can be especially unnerving for those who’ve spent time in more traditional organizational settings.

It’s similar to the difference between sailing in an enclosed harbor versus the open ocean. In one setting, land is constantly in sight, detailed maps help you avoid obstacles, and beacons and buoys guide the way. In the other, you have nothing but waves and sky in view. As one freelancer explained: “There’s no HR for you to go to for guidance and support. You have to define yourself and your ambitions and be your own advocate.”

It’s impossible to completely dispel the fuzziness and fog of a freelance career. But successful freelancers have found ways to effectively manage the uncertainties. For many, it starts with looking within.

Many successful freelancers demonstrate high self-awareness. They maintain a clear sense of who they are, what they want to accomplish, and why. This keeps them grounded and realistic, and provides an inner compass for their career outlook. Given the dynamic nature of freelance work and their own changing life circumstances, they understand that their self-insights may occasionally need a fresh look.

A freelancer adviser on leadership and talent explained that, “Terms like values, career, success, and purpose all take on new meaning and need to be examined carefully when you are freelancing.” For some, it comes down to re-framing what they once thought and believed. One freelancer reflected that, “I still think of what I’m doing now as a career, but not in the traditional sense.”

Quick tip: Develop a core purpose statement. If you’re not familiar, just search online and you’ll find a number of step-by-step resources. Better yet, check out some of our leadership brand tools.

Introspection will only get you so far. And taken to extremes, it might get you even more lost in the fog. Outside-in approaches are also needed. Savvy freelancers take pride in their independence and self-reliance, but they recognize and accept that they can’t do it all on their own. They put energy into seeking out others and building a strong network. This includes engaging in ongoing dialogue with other freelancers about the career decisions they face and how they’ve approached them. They also place a high premium on having one or more professional mentors who can be counted on as a source of clear feedback and unbiased advice.

A diverse network of professional relationships provides more than support and guidance — it can also be a critical source of inspiration. A freelancer in brand marketing enthused that, “I’ve gotten more creative as a result of interacting with my [professional] community.”

Quick tip: Identify at least 3 people who can be an informal advisory panel to provide you with support and guidance over the course of your freelance career.

Remember, there’s no HR department when you work for yourself, and there’s more ambiguity about what career advancement looks like. You’ll need to define those for yourself, but that doesn’t mean you need to go it alone. Following these tips — including developing a purpose statement and an informal advisory panel — will make it easier to answer some of those daunting, long-term questions.

For those of you who aren’t currently freelancing but are giving it some serious consideration, hopefully this gives you perspective on the realities of this type of work and the differences from what you might have experienced thus far in your career. If you’d like to dive deeper on that topic, please attend this complimentary webinar on Jan. 18, sponsored by MBO Partners.

The post Freelance Success: How to Strategically Chart Your Career Path appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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This is the first part of our forthcoming series on freelancing and the gig economy, exploring the 3 major challenges to consider if you’re going to be successful working independently.

You’ve been hearing it for years: “You have a talent for this,” or “I could use 10 other people with your skill set,” or “Can you teach me how you did that?” Kinda cool, isn’t it? After a while, it sinks in. I’m pretty good at this, others appreciate it, and I like doing it, too. So what am I doing dealing with all the hassles of an office job when I could be out there on my own, doing what I want when I want and, just maybe, making even more? You know what? I think I can crush this!

And now you’re out there and, sure, your making ends meet and the work itself is pretty decent. But it’s not exactly going gangbusters, and the clients and projects you’re really seeking are somehow out of reach. To top it off, you’re no longer vying with colleagues you work side-by-side with every day, but with a virtual sea of other professionals out there doing the same thing you’re doing. And let’s face it — most of them aren’t too shabby.

That’s when it dawns on you: talent and passion aren’t enough to succeed when you’re in business for yourself. They’re necessary, but they’re far from sufficient. When it comes down to it, it’s the things they didn’t teach you in school that often make the difference in achieving sustainable success.

A friend of mine made this observation based on his own life experience. His mother was a professional pianist. She had attended conservatory and learned to play concertos and sonatas with exquisite skill but initially struggled to find steady and satisfying work. “It’s like they taught her everything about being a world-class concert pianist except how to land a gig performing with an orchestra,” he said.

The first step to making sure your talent is recognized and put to its best use is to shift the focus from yourself and take a fresh look at what your client needs. Potential clients aren’t just looking for a skill; they’re looking for a problem to be solved, often an urgent one.

Get beyond the need for a specific something and try to understand what the client is ultimately trying to accomplish and why that’s important. When you can convey your understanding of the real problem and position yourself as someone with the ability to solve it, then you’re getting somewhere. While your expertise might get you noticed, being able to understand a client’s needs and helping to solve a problem will take you to the next level.

Quick tip: Try to identify your client’s primary “pain point.” Listen carefully to not just the “what” of their situation but also the “why” and “how” things might be different for them and their organization if the pain point can be addressed.

Now, back to you. Depending on your field, you might be one of thousands out there vying for many of the same coveted projects or companies. You need to find a way to make yourself stand out. You have to be able to brand yourself and offer a distinct and compelling value proposition. A freelancer with a flair for etymology made this point: “The word talent comes from the Greek word talentos, which translates to “monetary value” — you have to remember that you have to deliver value to the people who invest in you.

So what do you uniquely offer? The answer is yours to determine, but it might be good to not focus in too narrowly on a particular skill or ability. Often value comes not from being able to do one thing better than your competitors, but from being able to do a great number of things quite well. In fact, many successful freelancers will tell you that a varied and dynamic skillset allows them to establish multiple revenue streams, seek more varied opportunities, and provides insurance should any one skill fall out of demand.

Quick tip: Check out Strategyzer or another similar platform and start to play with their value proposition tools. They allow you to distill your observations about what clients really have on their minds and how your services and solutions provide a compelling way to address their needs.

Being aware of your unique value proposition is the first step. But once you’ve determined your strengths, there is still work to be done, and it may vary for each client. The key is to make an effort up front and constantly revisit and reevaluate how you can be most useful and what sets you apart from the pack. This level of reflection will quickly push you towards the front of the line.

For those of you who aren’t currently freelancing but are giving it some serious consideration, hopefully this gives you perspective on the realities of this type of work and the differences from what you might have experienced thus far in your career. If you’d like to dive deeper on that topic, please attend this complimentary webinar on Jan. 18, sponsored by MBO Partners.

The post Freelance Success: Defining Your Value to Stand Out appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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If you’re like me, you’ve read articles on meditation and mindfulness, or tried things like yoga and “green exercise” in order to reduce your stress levels. Yet even with all of these stress management techniques, we’ve found that leaders aren’t experiencing less stress. Some leaders actually feel more stressed than ever.

We need a better way, and the good news (maybe the best news you’ll see today) is that there’s a rigorously studied, science-based, proven method to help you and leaders like you experience less stress.

For the last 4 years I’ve been sharing the life’s work of an academic named Derek Roger, who‘s been studying stress since the early 1980s. Dr. Roger calls his process “The Challenge of Change,” a process that helps us discover the underlying cause of stress in our lives, and offers a set of practices proven to help people experience less stress.

One of the most important things I learned from this process is that stress is actually rumination about emotional upset. If you’re thinking over and over about events in the past or future and attaching negative emotion to those thoughts, you’re ruminating. The leaders I work with find this to be a powerful idea, because it means that stress is a thought in our heads, and we do it to ourselves. Pressure may be beyond our control, but rumination and stress aren’t.

When we work with leaders to help them become more resilient, we ask them to complete the Challenge of Change Profile, an assessment that helps them understand the habitual behaviors that either protects them from stress or makes them more vulnerable.

In one telling client exchange, my colleague Nick Petrie and I were working with an executive team, walking them through their individual scores on the Challenge of Change Profile. One of the scales measured is a person’s tendency to ruminate about emotionally upsetting events. Because they were a strong team, each person felt comfortable sharing their scores with each other. The CEO, by far, had the highest rumination score on the team.

I remember the CEO looking at everyone else’s score and asking (rather animatedly), “Why doesn’t anyone care as much as I do?” The COO, who had the lowest rumination score on the team said, “I care a lot. I’m just not going to ruminate about it.”

In that short exchange rests one of biggest struggles leaders face. Leaders who are high ruminators do so because they believe ruminating provides some value. They think it means they care, or that they’ll be prepared for the worse. The reality is that stress, what we have identified as rumination, is not the same as caring and preparation. All rumination gives you is a short, miserable, unproductive life.

Stressed out leaders act as if they have 2 jobs. One is the job they are paid to do, and the other is worrying about the job they are paid to do. Some of the clients I work with even give titles to these leaders like, “Chief Ruminating Officer,” “Director of Rumination,” or “Subject Matter Ruminator.” Resilient leaders don’t spend their time doing 2 jobs.

So how do we experience less stress? We need to ruminate less.

One of the best ways to do that is to focus on what’s directly in front of you, and what you can control.

I have a colleague who is a sports psychologist. She was working with a defensive lineman trying to make a pro football team, and she was able to be on the sidelines before he took the field for practice. She asked him, “What are you going to do out there?” His reply was a more colorful version of, “Kick some butt!”

She then started asking him a series of questions like, “What will you be watching for when the offense comes to the line? What will you be listening for from your defensive captain? How will you know when the offense is setting up a screen pass?”

It sounds simple, but she was reminding this player to refocus his attention on the things he could control.

In addition to helping leaders apply these practices, I’ve found they are also helpful when it comes to parenting. A few years ago I was helping my son with his math homework, and it devolved quickly into frustration and rumination. Seeing the pain on my son’s face, and frankly because I was willing to try anything at this point, I asked him to join me in the living room.

I told him we’re going to run in place, and he gave me that look of disdain and annoyance that parents of teenagers know very well. My hope was that running in place would help him stop ruminating and transfer his energy to the present moment. I told him to just give it a try, and while we were running in place I asked him some questions that I hoped were helping us to focus on what we could control.

I asked him what he was feeling, and what would make him feel better. We talked about taking the homework one problem at a time, and we came up with ideas on how to ask for help from his teacher. In this case it worked, and the homework time went much better. I remember thinking, “Damn! This stuff really works!” But I also remember thinking, “Don’t get cocky, what worked today might not work the same way tomorrow.”

There are no quick fixes when it comes to experiencing less stress. But learning to realize when you’re ruminating and focusing on the here and now can go a long way towards making sure you don’t become your company’s “Chief Rumination Officer.”

Interested in hosting your own resilience workshop in your organization or just have some questions about this work? Contact the author for details.

The post How to Stop Being Your Company’s ‘Chief Rumination Officer’ appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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More often than not, in the midst of a leadership development program design discussion with a client, they’ll say something about 70-20-10. “We’d like you to keep in mind the 70-20-10 model of development,” they say. “Have you heard of that?”

By this point, our faculty members are well-versed in gently pointing out that, yes, we have heard of it, because the research for that model was developed here, at CCL, in the very building in which my colleagues and I sit in today.

“Fantastic! We like to base most of our designs around that model!” comes the response. And so it has gone for much of the last 30 years, with 70-20-10 becoming a beacon for how leadership development designs should be arranged.

The theory behind it is as follows: 70% of learning should come from challenging on-the-job assignments; 20% of learning should be gleaned from watching and working with others; and a modest 10% represents formal, in-classroom- or virtually-based learning. Instructional designers often loosely translate that to: “more interaction, less lecture; more pre-and-post-session work and more longitudinal programs in order to ensure learning transfer, fewer day-long seminars filled with soon-to-be-forgotten theoretical concepts.”

Is this a good model for learning? Yes. And more so, it’s widely accepted as the gold standard, a research-based, long-standing model often cited by development professionals, most of whom may not even know about the original research findings that eventually led to it.

Up until 2 months ago, I was one of those development professionals. Then, I had the opportunity to meet with Cindy McCauley, Senior Research Fellow at CCL. Cindy is our leading researcher in the area of experience-driven development, which stems from the work of Bob Eichinger and Mike Lombardo, the famed 70-20-10 creators. I needed some slides on Cindy’s work and while reviewing what she had sent me, I noticed one particular pie chart: “70-20-10” it said at the top of the page, but below, the chart had 5 different areas: “challenging assignments” took up just under 50% of the circle, with roughly 40% split between “other people” and “hardships.” A final 10% was split between “formal coursework” and “personal life.” I was confused.

“What is this?” I asked Cindy, only to have her confirm my suspicions: These were the original results from the CCL research question, “Where do key development learnings come from?” That data found that “hardships” were equally important to “other people,” and that lessons from one’s personal life aided development in an essential way. And yet, I’d never heard of the 50-20-20-5-&-5 model.

Cindy explained: the originators of the model dropped hardships and personal life events because organizations had little control over them. Coursework could be replicated, mentors could be assigned, but who could guarantee hardships? Or more importantly, who would want to? After dropping those 2 pesky categories and doing some simple recalculations, the model shook out at the now-trusty 70-20-10 breakdown.

Consider that this model was developed in the late 1980s. Perhaps looking for or focusing on hardships felt unnecessary. If things were going well for an organization, why manufacture a hardship? And were hardships even something to discuss openly at work? Similarly, work wasn’t likely considered the place to discuss one’s personal life; workplaces were quite a bit more formal, and lines between the personal and professional were more clearly delineated than they often are today.

And in either case, Eichinger and Lombardo weren’t wrong: it could be more of a challenge for employers to try to create these types of experiences for all employees (i.e., manufacture a hardship or ask employees to share leadership lessons learned outside of the office).

Still, you don’t need to think too much about the current business environment to see how different things are today. It’s not unusual for an employee to be friends with their whole department on Facebook. The lines between work and home have blurred significantly, as people bring their emails to bed on their smart phone and as family obligations are split more equally among couples, often requiring more flexible schedules.

In fact, according to several recent studies, millennials report that good work-life balance is one of the most important factors in accepting or continuing with a job or organization. If we don’t help employees to mine their personal experiences for leadership skills, we risk not only losing out on prime learning opportunities, but on disregarding a part of their life that they have identified as being of paramount importance.

As for hardships, I’ve found it impossible to find an organization that doesn’t have a full list at the ready. Layoffs, budget cuts, mergers, acquisitions; anything from C-suite scandals impacting morale and public brand to the stress some workers feel about being required to move or risk losing their position in the company. Companies no longer need to manufacture hardships; these days, they’re pretty much guaranteed.

Ignoring these hardships in favor of focusing solely on challenging assignments or coursework does a significant disservice to employees. Pretending hardships aren’t there doesn’t make them go away. In fact, ironic mental processing holds that asking employees to ignore a stressful hardship, such as rounds of layoffs, pretty much ensures that they won’t be able to focus on anything else.

So where does this leave us, as we approach 2018, trying to make use of this model? The phrase “If it’s not broken…” comes to mind, but the problem isn’t that the model is broken — it’s that it’s incomplete. And the answer to filling that gap has been there all along.

Organizations can address hardships head on and develop learning opportunities around them rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. Who could turn their back on the chance to get 20% of learning lessons from that bucket alone? And they can do something similar with the area of personal life, which would both cater to the confirmed preferences of millennials and honor the extra-professional experiences of all employees.

Viewed through a hiring lens, giving the appropriate credence to lessons gained from one’s personal life might even increase the career opportunities for those with non-linear career paths, like employees who took time off to raise children or care for family members, or excellent job candidates who spent time pursuing an artistic passion or serving in the military before moving into their current line of work.

It is unlikely that I will stop hearing “70-20-10” from my clients any time soon. But my hope is that there is an appetite to modernize the revolutionary work of Eichinger and Lombardo, ironically by returning to CCL’s original research findings. It may have just taken us 30 years to grow into it.

The post The Forgotten Influence of Your Personal Life and Hardships on Leadership appeared first on Center for Creative Leadership.

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