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Ready to Lead: The Secret To Finding Your Inner Executive

Bestselling author and leadership coach Emily Bennington on taking back control over your life and career

Emily Bennington is the author of Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination and the founder of AWAKE EXEC™ Conscious Career Design. She recently launched the first Ready To Lead: Mindful Wisdom @ Work program, an interactive online course that serves as a roadmap to the mindset required for high-level career success. Emily’s website was recently named to the Forbes list of “100 Best Websites for Women”.

What challenges might there be for women who want to become effective leaders? Are there tools or tips to navigating the professional ladder in a so-called “man’s world”?
To me, gender is really a non-issue – the question is whether you can perform in your role or not. Do you speak the language of business? Do you have leadership presence? Are you accountable? Do others trust, like, and respect you? These are all core competencies of success and the good news is that they are all gender neutral.

For women who have a more direct personality or communication style, they may be perceived as too aggressive or dominant in the work place. How might they overcome any negative stereotypes?
I think it’s a good idea to set expectations by being open and honest about your communication style. Let your team know by saying something like, “I know I can be direct, but I want to keep the dialogue open so if you ever think I’m being too aggressive, tell me and I promise I will listen.” To a degree, it’s helpful for us to recognize we have some responsibility for the way other people receive the information we give and I think it’s very important to know that good messages can be lost in poor delivery. The filter I like to use is the acronym THINK, which means filtering your language by whether it’s True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind. If what you’re saying comes out on the other side of that, then you’re communicating at a leadership level.

Also, I think it’s important to recognize that we tend to communicate poorly when we’re angry or frustrated – so one of the tools used in mindful communication is to notice our triggers and give them space. For example, the speed of technology today has conditioned us to believe that we have to respond to something immediately. Not only is this not true, it’s not wise if you’re in a state of high emotion. What mindfulness does is give you the tools to create speed bumps in your day where you become aware of how your thoughts are driving your behavior – and once you become aware of the power of your thoughts, you begin to take more ownership of them.

Speaking of mindfulness, how do we balance the cultural message that we must always be multi-tasking and “leaning in” with this goal of becoming women who work smarter, live harder, and strive towards a place where profits co-exist with well-being?
The first step to mindful leadership is uncovering your personal core values. This is not only a fascinating exercise in self-reflection, but it also becomes a framework for future decision-making. In other words, if you value freedom, you’re not going to work for a company that expects you to take on 80-hour work weeks. Likewise, if you value character, that’s going to affect everything about how you treat other people. We talk a lot in business about the company’s core values but we don’t spend enough time figuring out what WE stand for. So then the question becomes, who do you want to be and how can you take actions in alignment with that? For me, that’s how you lean in.

It sounds like if someone is pressured at work to do more/be more and find themselves stretched too thin, this would be an opportunity to tap into their core values and ask “is this the kind of person I want to be and career and environment I want to be in?”
Absolutely! I believe everything should be considered with your core values in mind, but that certainly goes for major life decisions.

I think part of the mindfulness process is also just giving your feelings a name, right?
Yes, and permission to feel them. We spend so much time running from our emotions when it’s much easier in the long run to actually face them head on. I like to say that emotions are just energy in motion. We have a tendency to want to attach a bunch of baggage to it or stuff it inside when that’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing. This is where mindfulness is really helpful because – once again – it forces us to really examine our own behavior. One example here would be holding grudges. They don’t always want to hear it, but I tell my clients to stop judging people for behaviors they displayed yesterday and start treating them for who they are today. If we all stopped bringing our baggage from the past in to the present, I promise our teams would be stronger, our happiness would be greater, and our bottom lines would be better. We hold on to so much stuff for no reason – seriously, just let it go. You may not be able to convince someone else to change their behavior, but at least you won’t surrender your peace of mind to them.

Would the next step be decoding one’s own triggers?
Decoding your triggers is a great step for avoiding conflict in the first place. Most of us are not aware of what sets us off, but when we do know, we can plan for it. For example, one of my own triggers is that I can get overwhelmed fairly easy, which makes me anxious and short with the people I love. So, when I know I’ve got an avalanche of work to do, I create boundaries with my family in order to have space to focus. We have young kids so this could mean that I trade time with my husband where I have the morning to work and he has the afternoon to golf – just this type of simple awareness and proactive planning enables us to sidestep the possibility of getting triggered in the moment when we are more likely to react versus respond.

What have you learned through the process of developing the Ready To Lead: Mindful Wisdom @ Work program that you feel is most important for becoming a successful leader?
Self awareness – for sure. We spend a lot of time talking about emotional intelligence and being high-level communicators in how we deal with other people. That’s awesome and I’m obviously a big fan, but we also need room in the conversation for emotional responsibility. Time and time again, the most successful executives are the ones who take responsibility for their experience of their experience, meaning they take responsibility for their mindset which allows them to function in healthy ways – even if they’re surrounded by dysfunction.

Looking back, is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out on this journey?
Everything I just told you! (laughs). I didn’t learn about the power of mindfulness from academic studies, I learned by bumping into walls. But I’m grateful for the hard lessons now because they taught me that so much of what happens on the outside is out of our control – so we might as well take ownership of what’s going on inside.

For more information on Emily Bennington and Mindful Wisdom @ Work program visit www.emilybennington.com.