On Fear

Dear fellow Hoyas,

Over two decades ago, I was diagnosed with cancer.  I was in my 20s at the time, and I would like to share with you how I have learned to deal with uncertainty.

Uncertainty as we all know produces fear.  A common reason for this fear is the tendency we have in the absence of certainty to imagine worst-possible scenarios.  For me, fear shows up in two ways.  One is concrete, and the other is general.  Concrete fear is helpful.  I recognize it because it moves me to act productively.  Over the years, it has motivated me to eat well and keep my doctors’ appointments.  More recently, fear has moved me to stay on top of the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to prepare my family for social distancing, and if necessary, sheltering in place.

General fear, on the other hand, feels more like I’m circling the drain.  It produces lots of spinning, but no helpful (and sometimes unhelpful) moves.  When I notice it, I know now to address it using one of the following approaches.

The first is to pay attention to my thoughts.  If I am imagining worst-case scenarios, for example, I try to remind myself of all the times I have worried and nothing bad has happened.  My great-uncle used to say that people are terribly one-sided.  We suffer in anticipation of bad outcomes, yet we rarely celebrate in anticipation of good ones, even when the odds are similar.

When questioning my fears doesn’t work, I shift to acceptance.  I experience feelings as having both a mental and a physical component.  When I am afraid, for example, I get a knot in my stomach.  If I stop what I am doing and focus all of my attention on the physical sensation (rather than the subject of my fear), the sensation passes.  Typically, it grows and then fades in less than a minute as long as I don’t try to interrupt or control it.

Lastly, when these strategies don’t work, I turn to distraction.  Centuries ago, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote about our natural capacity for distraction.  We’re really good at it, and in times like these, we may as well use it to our benefit.  If you have work, then work.  If you’ve been putting off learning a hobby, use the extra time now to develop it.  If neither of these appeals to you, do something that feels more generative.  My distraction these days is to enjoy funny videos sent by my family in Spain.  They are finding ways to laugh and that is a salve.

If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is that we are all going through this together.  We don’t have to wonder why somebody is having a hard day, and instead of reacting, we can respond with understanding and care.

May you be well,

Yolanda Ruisánchez Gruendel (L’95)

T.I.A.R.A.: 5 Points to Keep Your Cool — GUAA Career Coaching Partner, Theresa Garcia

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Many of my mid-career coaching clients identify a desire to show up in business meetings more powerfully and confident, while quickly establishing warmth and authenticity.  They are often the youngest leader in the room.  They know their content cold and their expertise is unquestioned.

Just as they stand to speak, close the sale, or question the viability of a proposed action, something terrible happens. They may go week in the knees, feel their heart racing or break out in a sweat.  Their mouth may inexplicably go dry, and they report that momentarily, they forgot what they were going to say.  What happened?  They were caught in an emotional hijack.

When asked, “what can I do in the moment to regain my composure and stay focused?” My counsel is to “put on your T.I.A.R.A.”.

The T.I.A.R.A. framework represents five actions to regulate emotions to regulate the brain’s immediate, unconscious, protective response to a perceived “social threat” – like public disapproval and rejection (Eisenberger, Lieberman & Williams 2003).  The 5-point framework includes:

  1. Take an alternative approach
  2. Improve the situation
  3. Attention- selectively focus
  4. Reappraise the situation
  5. Adopt a positive expression

Take an alternative approach
The simplest action to regulate emotion is to not take the anxiety-ridden approach in the first place. What approach would feel more comfortable, cause less stress and better utilize your skills and strengths? Applying your strengths successfully results in increased confidence which releases brain chemicals including serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine. These chemicals influence the feeling of safety, calmness, and happiness which keep you centered.

Improve the situation
To reduce anxiety, you can improve the situation by taking actions like arriving at the meeting room in advance to get a lay of the land, testing the sound and projection equipment, and placing an extra bottle of water strategically near your selected seat. Prior to giving a presentation, you can learn something about the other participants and call on them by name. This encourages greater interest and participation.

Attention – selectively focus
What grabs your attention and takes you off point may be an unexpected interruption or reaction, like seeing your boss looking down at his/her phone. By quickly refocusing your attention away from the distraction to someone familiar, or simply concentrating on your breathing will slow your heart rate and reduce anxiety which will provide your brain the necessary moment to regain composure and focus.

Reappraise the situation
Often our fears cause us to tell ourselves a negative story about the situation. In a split-second, we decide whether another is friend or foe, and whether the situation is to be feared or desired. You can regulate your emotions by thinking about the situation in a way that makes you feel less negative or shift the story in your head to one more positive like, “she’s just tired.” Reappraisal is a powerful way to regulate emotion.

Adopt a positive expression

Fake it to make it.  Deciding to adopt a positive outlook and employing one of the emotional regulation techniques described above will help you to get through the emotional hijack.  Most important, do not suppress your emotions.  Suppression increases your negative emotion, increases stress, and puts you on the defensive, which reduces cognitive function. Name it to tame it. Acknowledging the emotion,
reduces its power over you.

Now, adjust your T.I.A.R.A. and get back to business!

(Butler, et al. 2003, Gross & John, 2003)

The Job of a Leader is to Develop Other Leaders by GUAA Career Coaching Partner Larry Center (L’74)

We have all witnessed numerous types of leaders: “hoarders” , “ostriches” and
“farmers.”  It is farmers who ultimately get the real job of leadership
accomplished.

“Hoarders” hoard people in their departments or offices. When they identify
excellent employees or potential leaders, their first question is: “How can I keep
this person here as long as possible?” They focus on their own immediate needs
and want to keep these potential leaders in the their place. Their strategic
question is “how can this help me?”  I remember how I used to see leadership
this way. I wanted to look good, and saw excellent employees as vehicles to
reflect on myself to peers and supervisors.

Hoarders can be good managers; frequently, they know how to delegate well,
they know how to utilize people’s skills, and they know how to get things done.
However, hoarders are usually not interested in developing the skills and
aptitudes of their best employees or in shaping these people to be future leaders.
They tend to view career development by their subordinates as a threat to their
own success, an obstacle to their own personal agenda, or as a hurdle to the
long-term smooth functioning of their domain. Hoarders are not interested in the
career development of staff members. They reason that such growth means they
will move on to other departments within the organization or positions at other
organizations.

“Ostriches” are not smart enough to hoard their people. I remember moments in
my leadership journey when I lacked self-confidence and I functioned in self-
protective mode. I would keep my head in the sand. Ostriches don’t have the
depth of vision to think about the development of their staff. They articulate the
mission of their office and expect all staff members to contribute to the fulfillment
of that mission and the accomplishment of departmental goals and objectives.
Employees exist to serve the department. If they leave, they can be replaced. If
they are interested in professional development or the cultivation of particular
skills, ostriches may not stand in their way. However they will never sit down with
employees and delve into their professional aspirations, asking how they can
assist them in reaching their goals. The development of new leaders among the
staff is simply not an issue on ostriches’ radar screens.

The third group of leaders, the “farmers,” are different. These leaders grow
people. People farmers maintain as a primary objective the development and
success of their team members. In order to fulfill this role, people farmers plant
the right individuals by engaging in a thorough, careful hiring process. They know
that the hiring of any employee is a two-way street. There must be a match not
just for the employer seeking to fill the position, but for the job applicant as well.
Once these team members are hired, the people farmers nurture and cultivate
them. Instead of fearing losing their employees, they actually help them articulate their personal goals and career visions.  Then they develop methods for helping employees work towards those goals. In fact, the people farmers do everything they can to match people’s career aspirations with their job responsibilities, even if it means re-writing job descriptions, as long as such re-writing benefits the entire operation. People farmers know that their role is to put team members in positions to succeed, not to fail.

They provide all employees, new and experienced, with the necessary
ingredients to do their jobs well: desired results, guidelines, resources,
accountability measures and consequences. They collaborate with all employees
they supervise on the development of annual goals, including the identification of
skills to be gained or improved upon or the knowledge to be learned. People
farmers talk the talk and walk the walk – they role model what they want to teach
their employees. They also seek help from their employees, admit their own
mistakes, teaching that vulnerability and humility are strengths, and thus
empowering their mentees to contribute and shine. They empower people to own
their issues and to bring forward solutions.

Farmers lead confidently through seasons, patiently feeding, pruning, tying,
untying, planting, waiting, and harvesting. With sufficient nurturing and cultivation, these farmers experience the true joy of leadership: the development of their team members into new leaders. They also know how to let go. They expect to let go. On the day their people are ready to “leave the farm” and take on bigger responsibilities elsewhere, these farmers celebrate with them because they realize that these employees’ successes are their successes as well.

In all my years of leadership experience, I have very few regrets. One major one
is this: I wish I would have listened to my “inner farmer” earlier and followed the
calling. Hoarding people or burying my head in the sand may have helped me at
the time, but these were leadership strategies based upon a lack of self-
awareness and wisdom. For decades now, I have been focused on cultivating
people, and have seen leaders sprout and grow into majestic trees in whose
shade many, including I, I have found new strength and re-discovered the joy of
authentic leadership.

Leadership and the Stanley Cup by GUAA Career Coaching Partner Larry Center (L’74)

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The Washington Capitals celebrate winning the Stanley Cup in the final game against the Golden Knights in the 2017 season.

Like many in the DC area, I reveled in Washington, DC’s first major sports
title in 26 years. My entire family, including my sons Jared and Ben both
former Hoyas now living in New York City, are both huge fans, Jared
worked for Monumental Sports for four years after graduation, including two
years in Sales & Service for the Caps. We were all thrilled for the players,
the staff and the city.

As the Caps proceeded through the playoffs, finally overcoming the
Pittsburgh Penguins, coming from behind in every round, clinching each
series on the road, I kept asking myself one question: Why did THIS team,
with lower pre-season expectations, an acknowledged lesser level of talent,
fewer veterans and more rookies, finally achieve the ultimate prize: the
Stanley Cup? The answer I came to, one which I also heard from several
experts, was this: The 2017-18 Caps may have had less talent as a whole,
but they were a stronger TEAM. The whole was greater than the sum of its
parts. There was true chemistry among the players. They played for
collective achievements, not individual statistics. How did all this happen
when no one expected it?

Great leadership
Great leadership leads to great teamwork and excellent results. Great
leadership comes from the philosophy of the person in charge. The head
coach of the Washington Capitals, Barry Trotz, said this about his
philosophy: “I have a clarity..If you don’t win any awards or anything, I’m
not going to look at you any different. If you’re a good person, you treat
other people right and you live life right, then I’m going to think really highly
of you. If you don’t, I’m not going to think so much of you. And I started
getting that clarity that everybody looks for the wrong in people rather than
the right.”

As I pondered these words from the man his players call “Trotzy,” I
concluded that the Capitals’s coach understands several basic aspects of
great leadership:

  • Leaders must have clarity about their core beliefs
  • Leadership starts with the leader’s character rather than with the leader’s competence
  • Leaders must learn to lead themselves before they can truly lead others
  • Leaders view their teams through the prism of authenticity and how they show up rather than merely how they complete projects or tasks
  • Leaders make sure that their teammates look out for each other and are committed to “play the right way”

How does your leadership look this right now? How many of these leadership traits do you role model for your teammates? Do you possess clarity about your mission, beliefs and priorities? Are you self-aware of how your character shines through every day? Are you building a culture where team members “play the right way?” It’s never too soon to emulate the winning leadership of a Stanley Cup-winning coach.

Frustrated? No One Cares

Guest Post by: Carrie Arnold, GUAA Coaching Partner

Frustration is the wallpaper of life. It is the ‘go-to’ emotional word we all tend to use when we feel less than positive or neutral about something. It encompasses everything. We are frustrated with the number on the scale, heavy traffic, too many emails, how our boss communicates, that one team member who does not contribute, the kids, the dog, the laundry, the neighbors, and then we are frustrated with our frustration.

According to Merriam-Webster, frustration is a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. Words like deep and chronic are pretty intense! Here lies the problem though – no one cares that we are frustrated anymore.

Frustration as our emotional buzzword has lost its impact, and it does not get a listener’s attention. Behind every frustration lies a targeted emotion that can be richly described and better heard. Are we frustrated with our kids or are we chagrined (which means embarrassed or humiliated) because all our good parenting doesn’t seem to stick? Are we frustrated with the traffic or perhaps we merely feel rushed? Are we frustrated with our boss or are we feeling thwarted (which means the feeling of someone preventing us from accomplishing a purpose)?

Behind the word ‘frustration’ is often a disappointing sorrow that some are reluctant to admit. Frustration is an acceptable label that does not make us feel vulnerable, but it is through vulnerability that we learn and grow.

If we want our words to be convincing – we have to start saying things in new ways. By shifting our language, we can get different reactions, different conversations, and maybe different results.

Try an exercise. Instead of saying the four words on the left – replace them with a deeper emotion you are feeling. Need help? Do an internet search for emotional words. There are hundreds available in your native tongue. You can do better than always using the same four words. Replace them with something more profound and notice new awareness, reactions, and results.

I am frustrated. I am too busy and overwhelmed. It is causing me to feel stress. I am ____________. I am too ___________ and _______________. It is causing me to feel _______________.

Tip: Try going all week without using the word Frustration.

Six Rules for Effective Networking

Guest Post by: Sandra Buteau, GUAA Coaching Partner

If you cringe as soon as you hear the word “networking,” you should know that you are not alone. Many of us in the world feel the same way. During the course of my professional career as a leadership and career coach, networking has been a recurring theme discussed in practically every single one of my coaching engagements. No matter where you are in your career, you need to embrace networking to expand your professional reach or move up to the next level.

Last month, as a guest Webinar speaker for the Georgetown Alumni community, I encouraged participants to view networking from a different perspective and consider it as a way of making connections, talking to people, seeking information, and building community by interacting with others. Think about it not only as a great opportunity to hear fresh ideas and open doors to help you progress in your career no matter your profession, but also to develop new friendships whether on a personal or professional level.

Some individuals have a natural talent for interacting with other people in professional and social settings while many others struggle and agonize at the thought of putting themselves out there. The good news is that networking is a skill that anyone can learn if you are committed to it and challenge yourself to go out of your comfort zone from time to time.

To help you navigate the process of making connections effectively, I present to you my 6 Rules for Effective Networking.

1. Bring your true and authentic self to any networking efforts. Do not pretend someone you are not.

2. Instead of being afraid of making connections with strangers, change your frame of mind to view networking as sharing, learning, connecting, having good conversations and interactions with others.

3. To be an effective networker you must first adopt the attitude of a giver. Give every person you meet your undivided attention. Listen carefully and ask open-ended questions seeking to learn as much as you can about the other person to support or offer your help with no expectation that something will be given to you in return.

4. As you are building and maintaining your personal network, focus on quality of the relationships. Networking is not a numbers game. If you are planning to attend an event, avoid committing yourself to meet everyone that you come across. Be prepared to devote time and energy to develop meaningful and long-lasting connections.

5. Think of networking as a two-way street. Effective networking requires “sharing.” Someone helps you out today and you help them out later.

6. Always be prepared to make connections. Be open to starting conversations and speaking to everyone around you. You will be surprised that when you ask someone to tell you their story, amazing connections can develop.

What do you commit to do today to move forward in your networking journey?