Feeling Stuck? Do this to get unstuck.

Before Alice got to Wonderland, she had to fall.”


Feeling stuck is either a systemic or emotional issue.

Feeling stuck is a common challenge for professionals. The first step to getting unstuck is to recognize that we are stuck, and then identify why the most likely reasons are for being stuck in the first place. Then, it’s time to get perspective.

This is an important component of the process so that you don’t spin your wheels needlessly on solutions that are not addressing the root problem.

Often, you have to work from the inside out to get unstuck.

How do you identify when you are feeling stuck?

This starts with figuring out what does being stuck look like for you? Are you doing the same thing over and over again (mouse on a treadmill) or not making progress on your projects? Do you find yourself procrastinating all the time? Are you stuck in analysis paralysis? Do you find yourself scrolling through Instagram and Youtube just to avoid tackling that writing project?

What does being stuck feel like for you?

It is different for everyone, but it could look like this:

  • You are busy all the time, sans progress;
  • You feel insecure in your work;
  • You lack motivation & inspiration;
  • You don’t want to share;
  • You want to destroy it all, you think none of it has merit and you want to start all over again;
  • You don’t trust your own instincts – you don’t trust yourself.

Why do you feel stuck?

You must recognize that feeling stuck is not a result of your intherent flaws or deficiencies. Usually, feeling stuck stems from one of the following situations:

1. You don’t have a clear vision.

This usually happens when you haven’t taken the time at the beginning of a project to be intentional about a vision, develop a clear, rich concept, and set a strategy to implement that vision and concept.

2. You have too many, or too few priorities/demands.

It could be just that you have developed a long list of to-do’s rather than an clear list of priorities. This means that a hierarchical list of activities hasn’t been developed which means you will struggle to synthesize what’s important vs. what’s urgent. It can also mean you end up trying to solve for the wrong problem at the wrong time and losing sight of the bigger picture. You then get stuck.

3. You have an internal conflict/contradiction.

This can relate to a lack of clear vision, but it can also be separate and more existential. For example, you might have a contradiction between what your heart is telling you to do, and what your mind is telling you. This might manifest as a difference between what you would like to explore authentically, versus what you think you should be doing. Or, there might be a contradiction between what you would like to explore & the direction your peers are pushing you.

What can you do when you feel stuck?

Here is the short answer. Tough love doesn’t work but something else does: Perspective.

The trick to getting unstuck is (re) gaining perspective.

So how do you (re) gain perspetive?

1. Revisit your vision:

  • It’s always important to be clear on your vision before you start any project – now is the time to go back and define why you are doing this project, what you want to get out of it, and what delivering your dream project would look like.

2. Do the things that make you feel like you:

  • Its hard to do great work when you aren’t at your best. But also, when we feel most ourselves, we are most relaxed, and that openness often yields new ideas and insights. So doing the things that make you feel like you can be an almost effortless way to kickstart that project again.

3. Disrupt yourself:

  • Change your environment: add music, go outside, work from a cafe.
  • Do something else: engage in your favorite hobby, read a book, go to a gallery.
  • Slow down: take a break, have a nap, step away from the project for 24 hours if you can.

4. Check in on your self-belief & creative confidence:

  • Re-read feedback you’ve previously received or ask a bunch of friends for feedback about you. This works a treat. You’ll be surprised at how people see you.
  • Revisit old projects you believe were successful, and look at what you did to make them so.
  • Write or read back over your personal, private affirmations.
  • Identify where you are looking for external validation, and where that is limiting you. Look for your own interanl mechanisms of validation.

5. Give the project a framework:

  • Break it down into steps, write them down, then take one step at a time.
  • Talk to a friend – explaining your work will help you understand it better. Get feedback.
  • Do a simple journaling or worksheet exercise answering fundamental and critical questions about the project. This will help you gain perspective.

6. And if none of those fit, get radical:

  1. Change scale – zoom in or out
  2. Change media – if you’ve been using the computer, sketch, if you’ve been sketching, journal.
  3. Brainstorm openly with a friend, your mastermind group or social network.
  4. Try different mind hacks to kick start your process over again.
  5. Give up. I’m serious. Sometimes when you’re stuck, it helps to surrender to being stuck.

A final word…

So when you next feel stuck (because there will be a next time) step back, zoom out and try to first identify the feeling, understand where it might be coming from, and then work from the inside out to get yourself unstuck.

…and let me know if it works.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2022 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

When it comes to getting a job and keeping a job, which is more critical, your skill set or your mindset?

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m Possible!'”

– Audrey Hepburn

First, let’s get on the same page about definitions since jargon often gets in the way when we’re seeking clarity. Skills are your capabilities. They are what you have learned to do. Mindset is about belief systems. You develop your skill set, but you choose your mindset.

Your mindset is the lens through which you see and navigate the world based on what you think and believe.

A skill is an ability you learn. The workplace jargon is a competence or core competence that you have developed often to an accepted standard. Remember your performance review? That’s all about your skills.

And here is a fundamental truth: You can have a rich skill set and a poor mindset and find yourself stuck. However, if you have a strong mindset, you can continually develop your skill set. 

But that’s not where the story ends.

Mindset Matters.

Consider this. When it comes to creative thinking, innovation, creating something from scratch, intuition, dealing with setbacks, change, challenges and adversity, having the right mindset is the key. Your mindset and ability to deal with adversity plays an enormous part in how you cope with any of these scenarios. If your mindset is defeatist, you will struggle.

If you are serious about innovation and growth, then it is critical that the focus be on those who demonstrate the natural mindset to think creatively and disruptively.

So what about skills?

Mindsets vs. Skill Sets.

Skills are obviously very important. You always want to make sure that the person you are hiring can perform the job. But mindset is a different animal. You are more likely to get or keep a job because of your mindsets rather than skills alone.

Your skills might get your foot in the door but even if you only have the bare necessities for the job, you might still get the job by demonstrating that you are a willing and fast learner – that you have a growth mindset. You can’t teach people to want to improve themselves. That’s why having the right mindset in an interview, gives you an advantage over your competition.

That’s why if you were to ask most employers what they would value most – someone having the right skills or someone having the right mindset – I bet most would answer mindset.

Employers are hiring for mindsets and training for skill.

But in many cases we say we want mindset but only screen for skill set.

So are skills less important?

Skills are the means by which we cultivate mindsets. 

What have we learned so far? We’ve learned that mindsets are more of an innate part of us, whereas skills are not necessarily fundamental to our human experience.

But if we look at skills, or clusters of skills such as Communication Skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, presenting) or Social Skills (cooperation, responsibility, respect, conflict management) or Self-Management Skills (self-regulation, organization, time management, personal behavior) or Thinking Skills (analysis, synthesis, comprehension, metacognition) and so on, we see that many of these skills are crucial parts of the human experience, that could well be thought of as a mindset. We see that these skills are needed to cultivate the right mindsets of appreciation, empathy, enthusiasm, integrity, tolerance, optimism, objectivity, positivity, abundance and so on.  

A final word…

In the final analysis therefore, I would argue that the debate between mindset and skill set is a misguided one. You need both to succeed. The question is where you as an individual need to place the emphasis based on your own self understanding.

I believe that only if we make room for and honor the necessity for both, mindset and skill set, will we create a culture of empathy, understanding, and abundance.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2021 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

To Manage Difficult People, First Learn to Manage Yourself

August 27 , 2021 •  6 minute read by Saeed

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– Viktor E. Frank

If you Google ‘How to Manage Difficult People’ you’ll get about 2 billion results!

By contrast, if you Google ‘How to Manage Yourself’, you’ll get just over 1 million results.

As a coach I help people with both sides of this coin regularly and I can tell you that the return on investment is much greater when you focus on yourself.

Your success in work and life depends upon how you manage yourself and your emotions, your inner resources, your impulses and your abilities. In short, your success depends upon your self-mastery. Moreover, self-regulation or self-management is the second of the three key areas of personal skills that make up emotional intelligence.

Why focus on yourself?

That’s simple. Learning techniques and gaining tools to de-escalate a difficult situation is valuable. Customer service reps and other front line workers are often taught verbal de-escalation and how to defuse difficult situations in which a patient, family member, or even another employee is angry and out of control. This has value.

However, it also has limitations. Namely, one response does not fit all. Although these techniques have been proven effective in de-escalating some tough situations, every person is unique and may respond differently. Every event has multiple variables that even the most skilled negotiator may not be able to control.

Self-control, on the other hand, is entirely up to you. Self-control is NOT masking or hiding your emotions but recognizing and expressing them appropriately. This is about taking responsibility for your own actions, and ensuring that what you do matches with your personal values.

1.      Pause and get curious

The first and most important component in any process that includes the self; i.e., self-control, self-regulation, self-management or self-discipline is self-awareness. As your first act, get curious about yourself. I find that, if I take a deep breath and ask a question of myself, it gives me enough space to make a choice about how I want to respond—rather than reacting with a knee-jerk response. It allows me to get curious about my initial reactions, feel into my emotions, and make better decisions. How does my current mood influence how I am feeling about the other person? What values are being stepped on? What traits in others bother me? Why?

2.      Consider the story you are telling yourself 

In the absence of information, we fill in the blanks with details of our own. Do you remember the last time you were proven wrong about something you absolutely believed was true? Perhaps you are feeling rejected after you haven’t received a response to your email; you believe it is because you are not that important. Before you make these attributions, ask yourself: what other explanations might be possible? In the example of the email, what else could be going on with them that would stop them from reaching out to you? Could they be busy or sick? Are they a well-intentioned person who often forgets to follow through on commitments? 

3.      Look for positive intentions

Human beings naturally attribute more weight to negative emotions than positive ones. This is known as negativity bias. As a result, your knee-jerk reaction may be to assume negative intent. Positive intent is simply about giving people the benefit of the doubt. It means choosing to assume that your colleague’s behavior (and impact) is not the same as their intent and that they are working to the best of their ability with the resources and information they have. At its core, positive intent is believing that we’re all doing the best we can. Practicing positive intent is as much a muscle memory habit as it is a mindset. It means assuming that the person actually means well, rather than rushing to judgment. To assume positive intent is not always the easiest change one can make, but by doing so, you create the conditions for a win-win resolution.

4.      Be congruent

In the most simple terms, being congruent means being honest with yourself so that your nonverbal communication is in alignment with your verbal communication. It is when the inside and outside are one. Too often, people’s mouth will say one thing but their body language will convey a different message. Someone who lives with congruency understands what it is they stand for and acts in direct accordance with that understanding. They are able to convey clearly, honestly, and assertively what they think, why they think it and what they want as a result. The difficulty is we often don’t know our true beliefs and values. We often don’t know what we want. And we often fear rejection if we speak our true mind. It is important to recognize however, that feelings of inherent trust come from someone who is congruent. Congruency is the cornerstone of authenticity.  

5.      Speak from the heart

When you speak from the heart, the conversation becomes less about expressing frustration and more about staying engaged and genuinely connected to the other person. It becomes less about re-acting and more about inter-acting. When you speak from the heart, you place your difficult conversation with a difficult person in a different context. Unless you do this, it’s unlikely that someone who is in conflict with you is going to want to stay engaged. People, in general, are egocentric. They want to know that you get where they are coming from, that you get their perspective. You don’t have to agree necessarily but you do have to understand. Speaking from the heart means being emotionally attuned to yourself and the other. It means being open even if what the other has to say is hard to hear.

A Final Word…

All this is simple enough in theory but in practice it can be a bear. And that’s why you have to practice. Practice is the pre-requisite to mastery. The practice is made all the more difficult because this level of self-awareness alongside taking a clear stand on issues and experiences you are passionate about, and being in congruence, being honest with yourself and speaking from the heart all require a level of vulnerability.  They require courage. Indeed, vulnerability itself is an act of courage because when you allow yourself to be vulnerable; you merge with your authentic self. We tend to avoid vulnerability because it’s uncomfortable and because it triggers fear and self-doubt. But vulnerability does not signify weakness. It signifies strength. Indeed, to live a remarkable life, you must take consistent action in spite of your fears and doubts. That’s the very definition of courage. Your choices define who you are. Your ability to manage yourself, will define your choices.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2021 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Want Success? Study Failure.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

~ Henry Ford

Failure matters. Why? Because failure is like gravity – it’s everywhere. In fact, we spend much, if not most, of our lives creating and dealing with failure.   

“Move fast, and break things!” is fundamental to the Silicon Valley ethos. But do we really learn from our failures?

Behind our exclusive and societally sanctioned worship of success, is an equally paralyzing fear of failure (a.ka.”atychiphobia”). Failure is part of our blame culture. The fear of failure is buoyed by feelings of shame and guilt and unworthiness bringing the opportunity to learn from failure to a grinding halt.  

But history is replete with people who went on to achieve great success, after repeated failure. And despite their vast differences, they all had something in common.

Albert Einstein was considered an epic failure. He did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He did eventually learn to speak and read. Even to do a little math. He won the Nobel Prize in 1921 and created the beginnings of quantum theory.

Thomas Edison was only a mediocre student. His teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything” and he was fired from his first two jobs for being “unproductive.” He failed over 1,000 times trying to invent a commercially-viable electric light bulb. But obviously Edison has had a huge impact on society, or we would all be in the dark. He held over 1,000 at the time of his death.

Stephen King did not start as a wildly successful author. One of his most successful books, Carrie, was rejected by 30 publishers. After so many rejections, King reportedly gave up and threw the manuscript in the garbage. But his wife retrieved it and urged him to not give up. King has sold over 350 million books.

Oprah Winfrey was born into working-class poverty to a single teenaged mother. She was fired from one of her first jobs in TV after the producer declared she was “unfit for television.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He went on to be nominated for 59 Academy Awards and is the great animator of our time.

JK Rowling was divorced with a child to support and on the dole when the idea for the young wizard, the first Harry Potter book came to her. At that point, she considered herself a major failure. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and was suicidal. According to Forbes magazine, Rowling is the first author to become a billionaire.

Henry Ford burned through all the money from his first group of investors without producing a car. In fact, he failed and went broke five times before he eventually succeeded. The Ford Motor Company has been one of the most profitable automotive companies in the world over the years, making him into one of the richest individuals in history.

Robin Williams was voted “Least Likely to Succeed” in high school.

Charlie Chaplin was initially rejected by Hollywood studio chiefs because his pantomime was considered “nonsense.”

Beethoven was told he was “hopeless as a composer.”

Marilyn Monroe was told by the director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency:”You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” 

Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life.

Emily Dickenson published less than a dozen poems during her lifetime but went on to become one of the most famous authors of modern times publishing more than 1,800 poems posthumously.

I could go on but you get the point.

The Bottom Line

So what do all these have in common? What’s important to notice is that each and every one of them had grit, perseverance and the ability to overcome setbacks. Each and every one of them was somehow able to reach deep down inside of themselves and tap into their reserves of self-belief and self-determination.

Fear of failure is a hallmark of a FIXED mindset and often contributes to us staying inside our comfort zones – a.k.a. no-growth-zone. By not fearing failure, you are one step closer to having a GROWTH mindset and living a big life!

Think of success as a license to fail.

Good Luck.

Wait! Before you go…

These articles take several hours to research and write. If you find them valuable, please like, comment, and share with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or if you are interested in individual or group coaching, please visit my Website to learn more.

©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, MA, CPCC

Top 10 Reasons Why 90% of Business Strategies Fail (a.k.a. Poor Execution)

July 13 , 2020 •  5 minute read by Saeed

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.” Steve Jobs

Organizations are as alike and unique as human beings.

It is widely known that strategy execution is difficult for many organizations as evidenced by studies that suggest only 13% of companies effectively execute on their strategies. There is clearly a disconnect between the plan outlined by leadership and the on-the-ground strategy execution by employees on the front-line. 

In my individual coaching and consulting work, I have routinely found that many of the challenges both individuals and organizations face can be traced to a lack of what we will call execution discipline.

You can think of execution discipline as both mindset and methodology. If you lack either, your execution will falter. So what are some of the most common barriers to execution you ask?

Let’s take a closer look.

1.      Ambiguity

Author Patrick Lencioni, says, “The enemy of accountability is ambiguity”. Vague/changing requirements lead to poor unfocused execution, missed project deadlines, scope creep and all other manners of mayhem.

Tip to overcome this:  A clear, well-managed scope that is understood by all is the key element to successful projects. Develop project work plans/accountability charts to establish clear ownership and accountability and have regular check ins to evaluate progress and make sure the focus has not changed.

2.      Analysis Paralysis

It’s a common problem. You are studying the problem too long without acting, feeling stuck and not advancing your goals.  A recent Stanford study suggests that over-thinking not only impedes our ability to perform cognitive tasks, but keeps us from reaching our creative potential as well.

Tip to overcome this: Get out of your own head and talk it out with someone else. When paralyzed by a particular decision, reaching out for someone else’s opinion, literally anyone else’s opinion, can help you break through the paralysis.

3.      Communication

If your implementation wheels are stuck in the mud, you might have inefficient communication & information flows – it’s vital to keep everybody informed on the project status at all times. Lack of efficient communication will lead to errors and delays. This may include difficulty of gaining access to information.  In these environments, it often takes too much time to make decisions, is too arduous to get approvals for resources, and is too difficult to navigate the “chain of command.” The lack of access to information and communication can also lead to unnecessary conflicts.

Tip to overcome this: Communicate early and often. Effective communication takes time and effort and commitment from organizational leaders for it to work. It also takes understanding what communication channels are available to you, optimizing those channels and creating new ones where needed.

4.      Follow-Through

The effectiveness of a meeting can be measured in terms of its outcomes. If people don’t follow-through on action plans, tasks and decisions after the meeting ends, then one needs to question the value of having a meeting in the first place.

Tip to overcome this: The leader is the single most important factor in follow-through. It’s your job to be clear at the end of every meeting who is responsible for what and by when. A leader can use these tools and techniques to achieve more effective follow-through after a meeting including written action plans, delegating leads, and establishing clear deadlines (backed by accountability).

5.      Indecisiveness

This is a close cousin of Analysis Paralysis. In today’s world, we have infinite access to information and choices of products. Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice” to describe his findings that increased choice leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction. Einstein bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning.

Tip to overcome this: Intentionally limit the amount of information you consume or the number of choices you have available to you. James Clear has a good approach that he lays out in Atomic Habits which entails controlling your environment for maximum success.

6.      Perfectionism

Voltaire, the French writer, said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” And, of course, there’s Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

Trying to get everything “perfect” = you take longer to produce results. Perfectionism becomes a career limiting behavior as you move up through the ranks. Being a perfectionist when you’re a manager can hold you back even more than if you are an individual contributor as you burn through results and people.

Tip to overcome this: Adjust your standards, make your standards situational and embrace this new axiom: good enough is good enough.

7.      Procrastination

Procrastination is as old as time. The Greek poet Hesiod, writing around 800 B.C., cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.” Procrastination isn’t just a bad habit, it’s a bad habit that with adverse health outcomes. In research settings, people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being.

Tip to overcome this: You’re likely procrastinating the task because you a) don’t know how to do it or b) don’t like doing it. Find something positive or worthwhile about the task itself – dig a little deeper and find some personal meaning in the task and if you don’t know how to do it, boy do I have a website for you: Google. But all joking aside, if you really want a great resource to overcome this check out the work of David Allen. 

8.      Resistance

Do not be surprised by resistance! Resistance is the normal human reaction in times of change but much resistance to change can be avoided if effective change management is applied on the project from the very beginning (i.e. get employee buy-in). Effective stakeholder management is the ability to identify individuals affected by/likely to affect the successful outcome of the project. A skilled project manager will ensure a collaborative working environment where project phases can be analyzed and discussed by all stakeholders.

Tip to overcome this: Isolate the source of resistance by interviewing each team member to see how your employees are responding to the idea of implementing the project.  

9.      Resources

It should hardly be a surprise that if you have inadequate funding/investment/sponsorship for your project, you may not realize its full potential. Internal competition for resources can also be an impediment especially when times are lean.

Tip to overcome this: Often, project leaders fail to understand the level of investment needed in infrastructure, personnel and other resources because they do not have a realistic view of what it’s going to take to see the project through to completion. It is therefore critical to make a realistic assessment before project start, use the resources provided and create a plan to gain the resources needed.

10.  Systems

This includes not only systems to advance the work but systems to measure progress.  The old proverb, “You manage what you measure,” is paramount to strategy execution. Many organizations are still using spreadsheets to track objectives. This can work between a manager and employee, however, these systems do not make it easy to aggregate results or create transparency.

Tip to overcome this: Adopt technology that can provide predictive analytics on goal attainment. Predictive analytics is not an exact science; however it provides a reflection point on how a goal is tracking. The more a goal has visibility the more a goal will be managed.

A Final Word…

It is vital to successfully launching a new effort that the leaders understand the strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies of the organization or system in which they operate. Try to anticipate barriers to implementation so that you can develop strategies to minimize their impact or avoid them altogether. Changing how your organization executes strategy may seem like a complicated and challenging change management project, but it can be done relatively quickly and incrementally with immediate results. If you want to know where to start, start at the top. 

Good Luck

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Remote Leadership: 5 Coaching Tips to Tune-Up Your Virtual Teams

July 13 , 2020 •  5 minute read by Saeed

“The enemy of accountability is ambiguity.” ― Patrick Lencioni

The challenges presented by COVID-19 are unprecedented and continue to evolve. The shift from face time management to virtual management and the use of technology to communicate and collaborate means that many organizations are exploring ways to help their employees work productively from home.

However, working from home requires a different kind of leadership for managers charged with leading virtual teams. Without this kind of leadership, engagement and collaboration can suffer – with subsequent falls in performance and productivity. The rules that apply to face-to-face teams do not necessarily apply to virtual teams.

Teams are the building blocks of an organization whether you sell butter or are searching for the next cancer cure. Without a strong and resilient team, getting there will take twice as long.

First, it’s important to recognize that all employees, managers and non-managers are experiencing these changes at the same time, but not in the same way. Individual people will experience this transition in different ways. While you may have some team members who are ready to implement a fully virtual work environment, others may experience the transition as isolating or discombobulating.

Here are 5 tips to help you foster a stronger and more productive team.

Tip #1: Check in Frequently and with Empathy

It is important to gauge where an individual team member might be on this spectrum of change by talking with them about their feelings, concerns, and answering questions. Pay attention to whether the employee is focusing on the future or the past and listen to their reactions in a non-judgmental mode.

Check in frequently with employees and ask for updates (personal and professional). Ask open-ended questions to create dialogue. Be patient, truly listen to answers, and respond directly. Above all else: be a good human being. The way you communicate with others can be more important than what is actually said. Research reveals that employees who have supportive leaders generally contribute more of their time, energy and knowledge. You would not be wrong if you believed that the reverse is also true.

Tip #2: Leverage Systems and Structures  

Organizations are really just collections of interdependent systems, structures, processes and protocols.  In order to create the results we want, we must manage these systems. And results are really just the byproducts of the systems we choose to either manage or ignore. Teams need clearly defined work processes to help keep everyone on track and moving towards established goals (you do have established goals right?) Tools such as SlackDropboxMicrosoft Teams and others all you to create a virtual collaboration ecosystem to get the work done while keeping everyone on the same page.

Tip #3: Revisit Priorities & Establish Clear Goals

Lack of accountability can be an issue for virtual teams, particularly when working cross-functionally. Leaders need to be vigilant about defining and communicating goals in virtual teams to prevent ambiguity – the enemy of accountability.  What are expectations in this new context? Set expectations for completing projects or performing ongoing duties. Put the details in writing to the degree possible. Define work systems and timelines. Goal clarity ensures that everyone understands how their work fits into the overall vision of the enterprise.

Tip #4: Foster Trust through Transparency

It is also important to share information openly and transparently, even when you don’t have all the answers. Vulnerability actually helps foster trust. When trust is enhanced between members, it promotes and improves more effective communication and collaboration. Trust also travels in two directions: Horizontally between team colleagues and vertically between employees and their supervisor. Trust starts with respect and empathy. 

Tip #5: Maintain Motivation and Engagement

To keep a virtual team motivated and engaged, be sure to celebrate successes and milestones regularly. In one successful virtual team I led, we started each meeting with a question to enable team members to continue to develop relationships through learning something new about each other on a regular basis. These are not cheesy icebreakers. “What did you eat for breakfast this morning?” is about as useful as what happens to that breakfast later in the day. Rather, they are thoughtful inquiries that help illuminate how people are coping such as: “What have you seen on the news recently that gives you hope?”

Additionally, it is essential to provide regular feedback on the performance of your virtual team members. Through regular communications and “one-on-ones” with team members, you’ll also have an early warning on issues that are more difficult to see coming on virtual teams. These methods, along with regular check-ins with your team, enables for continued engagement on the project.

A Final Word…

There is plenty of research that demonstrates that dispersed teams can actually outperform groups that are co-located or that people working from home are actually more productive, not less, than their in-office counterparts. To succeed, however, virtual collaboration and team work must be managed in specific ways. Leaders would do well to keep an eye out for new stressors, provide information in a timely fashion, manage conflict proactively, and promote trust and collaboration while providing adequate resources and support.

Good Luck  

Wait! Before you go…

If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

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©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

10 Questions to Test the Quality of Your Leadership in Uncertain Times

March 13 , 2020 •  3 minute read by Saeed

“Communicate everything to your associates the more they know the more they care. Once they care, there is no stopping them.”

-Sam Walton

As an executive coach and consultant, I have worked with hundreds of successful leaders at every level. These leaders are able to successfully foster the growth of their companies, departments and teams. Based on data I’ve collected over the years, I have found that these leaders share some common traits.

Uncertainty did not arrive with COVID-19, the downward spiral of the stock market or with the latest political headlines, though it does feel especially intense at the moment. This uncertainty includes but also extends well beyond current events and it begs the question: will your business or industry look radically different one year from now?

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, upset, and anxious when faced with uncertainty. Uncertainty in an organization has the tendency to create hearsay, amplify political rumblings, and cause water-cooler conversations among employees.

Uncertain times can severely test (and expose) the quality of your leadership. In the early days of a crisis, great leaders cut through the clutter of conflicting data and opinions, identifying the areas that need attention and allocating resources accordingly.

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

Mike Tyson

Great leaders are humble enough to admit they don’t have all the answers. At the same time, they are the rock to which people cling in turbulent times. Through their words and actions, they lift the collective strength and tenacity of the entire organization.

Here are ten questions to test the quality of your leadership in uncertain times:

1.      Do your leaders have the ability to cope with complexity?

2.      Are your leaders giving people more flexibility in dictating their own work schedules?

3.      Are your leaders putting support mechanisms in place and using organizational resources effectively?

4.      Are your leaders communicating often even when they don’t have all the answers?

5.      Do your leaders demonstrate poise and composure to reassure all stakeholders that the ship is not sinking?

6.      Are your leaders open to new information to help better decision making?

7.      Do your leaders have the flexibility to make quick decisions and communicate them clearly?

8.      Does your organization have a culture of openness that encourages ideas and insight from all levels?

9.      Do your leaders foster a culture that inspires people to overcome difficult situations?

10.  Do your leaders engage your employees by empowering them to be part of the solution?

A Final Word

The success or failure of an organization and their people during these uneasy and turbulent times lies in the hands of its leaders. Outdated mindsets create gaps in the workplace that breed stagnation and resentment rather than inspire camaraderie and cooperation.

Great leaders realize that in order to be successful they have to create more leaders at all levels of the organization. A successful leader and effective coach are one in the same. Your people need to become inspired and motivated to help them adjust and continue to be productive employees.

There are positive and proactive steps leaders can take to get their house in order to feel more confident, even when the future is unclear. Telling people what to do is antiquated. You must engage your employees, get their buy-in, tell them what your plan is, explain why you are making the decisions you are making, and always, always, always, support their continued growth and progress towards clearly defined goals.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2020 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

12 Signs You Have a Healthy Company Culture


July 18 , 2019 •  4 minute read • by Saeed

“The role of a creative leader is not to have all the ideas; it’s to create a culture where everyone can have ideas and feel that they’re valued.”

-Ken Robinson

There is a lot of talk these days about employee wellness. Rightly so. But what about the health of your company culture?

It seems like it’s stating the obvious that a positive work culture means greater productivity while a negative work culture can be counterproductive and even toxic.

A large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.

A 2012 workplace culture study conducted by Deloitte found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.

Moreover, 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank having engaged and motivated employees as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success.

What does a healthy culture look like?

Work culture is a combination of employee values, attitudes, expectations, and beliefs blended with the principles of the organization.  To a large extent, the culture shapes employee interaction, productivity, and loyalty to the organization or team.

Below are 12 key indicators of a healthy work culture:

  1. Respect.  Employees are respected for ‘who’ they are; not just ‘what’ they know and they respect their fellow workers and work meaningfully to avoid personality conflicts, gossip, and backbiting.
  2. Creativity.  Employees feel that their work exercises their creativity and imagination. They don’t feel stagnated and feel that the company values innovation and innovative thinking. They are encouraged to ‘think out of the box.’
  3. Strength Based. Employees believe that their personal strengths are utilized, nurtured, and supported. The organization takes the view that building upon employee strengths is the way to optimize performance.
  4. Open Communication.  Employees feel they have the freedom to contribute ideas and alternate views without fear of reprimand. They can weigh in knowing that all their ideas may not be implemented but they are welcomed.
  5. Knowledge Access.  Employees feel empowered if they have access to data and information which flows easily up, down and across the organization.
  6. Encouragement.  Employees feel that they are recognized and encouraged to perform their best. The company puts their money where their mouth is and supports employees to do their best with resources and incentives.
  7. Clarity.  Employees understand the direction their team and organization is headed. The mission, goals, and strategies are clearly articulated and inculcated.
  8. Emphasis on Learning. Employees should feel that they are learning and developing.  They should have access to new training, workshops, mentoring, coaching, and presentations.
  9. Positive Relationships. Employees work better when they feel they have quality, supportive, and energizing relationships with fellow workers. Employees feel that a positive work environment is important and prioritized for the company.
  10. Fairness. Employees feel that their work performance is assessed fairly following a set of standards that are evenly applied. Employees also feel that work promotions and assignments are based on a system of meritocracy vs. a system of favoritism.
  11. Contribution.  Employees must feel that they are making a contribution to the team and that they are justly recognized for their contributions. When contribution is not encouraged or recognized employee engagement suffers.
  12. Engagement. As a cultural norm, the company places emphasis on employee engagement but employees also accept their own responsibility to be engaged and to encourage others to stay engaged.

A Final Word

A healthy workplace environment is good for your company. Period. Company culture is important to the success of the employees because they are more likely to be productive when they enjoy their workplace. The costs of a poor company culture can result in low employee engagement, higher employee turnover, diminished customer service, and a host of other negative impacts on the bottom line. Too many managers micromanage their employees, lack transparency and open communication and don’t emphasize collaboration and team work. They lack direction and clear values.

As more younger generations enter the workplace, the same old management styles may not be as effective as they were in past decades. A positive company culture is a right, not a privilege. In the worst case scenario, toxic environments are toxic to your health. Employees will care for the company they are working for if they know that they are being looked after. Employees are the best asset of every organization, and putting effort into culture wellness can encourage better teamwork, increased productivity and reduce sick leave.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

How to Think Like a CEO: The 10X Impact One Mindset Shift Can Make

July 3 , 2019 •  6 minute read • by Saeed

“A flower does not think to compete with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” 

—Zen Shin

I know. It’s tough to be an employee.

But what if the company was yours? What would you do? How would you behave? What would you think about? What would you start paying attention to? What would keep you up at night?

I was recently invited to speak on leadership at an event. Before the talk, I watched as my clients were working with the venue staff in last minute preparations. They asked for some simple syrup to go with the ice tea. Simple syrup. Simple request.

For the uninitiated, if you’ve never heard of simple syrup (that would be me), allow me to explain. Simple syrup is basically sugar dissolved in water. The solution is heated in a pot to fully dissolve the crystals and then cooled before using and/or storing. It’s actually better than just adding sugar to your ice tea because it dissolves more easily.

Much to their disappointment however, my clients were told there was no simple syrup in the building and there was no time to make any.

During this exchange, I began to notice one of the waiters who was working in the background setting up the room listening intently to the conversation. He suddenly disappeared into the kitchen for what seemed like a long time. After about 20 minutes or so, he emerged with a tray of freshly made simple syrup and a look of serious pride on his face. We were all amazed and naturally pleased. He was all smiles as he described how, well, simple it is to make simple syrup.

I knew I had just watched an act of leadership that would probably go unnoticed. So I made sure it didn’t. During my talk, I told the simple syrup story to the rest of the group who had by now arrived and had no idea that the sweetener for their ice tea was the result of a simple act of leadership. The group applauded his efforts and I am sure it made his day just as he had made ours.

This is the CEO mindset in action – enterprise wide thinking that puts the customer first. The 10x impact one mindset shift can make was on full display that day and its impact still reverberates.

The CEO Mindset

If we could see inside the mind of a successful CEO, we might discover many things. Here are the 10 most important modalities of the CEO mindset + one more that wraps around all others which I will mention in the final word.

  1. They are self-aware. Everything in life starts with self-awareness. Successful CEOs have a highly developed and functioning awareness of themselves, their situation and those of their numerous stakeholders. They are also well aware of their own thinking and how they learn (meta-cognition). Everything, everywhere, at all times starts with self-awareness.
  2. They have vision. Successful CEOs have a vision. They set goals and keep score to track progress always anchored in that vision. It may seem like stating the obvious but unless you know where you are going, it’s hard to get there. But many people, work without a vision or a destination in mind. The result is they go around in circles.
  3. They are focused. Along with a clear vision of where the organization is going, they maintain a keen focus on what is at stake. They harness the attention and focus of the entire organization in the same direction. Leadership is about focusing the entire group’s attention on what’s wildly important. Successful CEOs know this and are good at harnessing attention.
  4. They communicate early and often. They are excellent communicators that seek to understand others by asking probing questions. They listen genuinely for the responses and act on the input they receive. They also know that months or years of good work and team building can be destroyed by a few careless words. Inspirational pep talks have a lifespan of about 30 minutes. They are like showers – you need to take one every day. Cruel words, however, echo for ages. Successful CEOs mind their manners and theirwords.
  5. They value relationships. They seek to build consensus and are relationship builders who can foster cooperation and support when faced with conflict. They don’t burn bridges recognizing that the same people they met on the way up could be the same people they meet on the way down. They leverage their network to achieve their goals but they also know how to give value to the people that surround them. They take care of people first.
  6. They don’t blame. Successful CEOs are able to hold themselves and others accountable without blame. When things go wrong, they face failures and negative events head-on. They take responsibility instead of shifting blame despite the possible consequences. When all is said and done, they own their mistakes, learn from them and move on. No collateral damage.
  7. They think continuous improvement. They continually look to understand, correct and improve and they adjust their thinking based on qualitative and quantitative data they intentionally collect to achieve better results. Critical to this is the confidence that improvement is possible and the understanding that without improvement competitors will triumph. They have a learning mindset and create learning organizations and environments.
  8. They think Return on Investment: They know what their time is worth. They review schedules, meetings, and tasks and consider if they are generating a true return on their time and effort. For those that are not, they might reduce or modify them to get more “return”. Successful CEOs manage and protect their time like a precious commodity. They know their self-worth and exhibit it in all their behaviors.
  9. They see opportunities; not obstacles. They realize that there’s positive power in seeing problems as opportunities. The best CEOs always think in terms of opportunities and have zero tolerance for complaining. It takes practice to adopt a CEO mindset and it’s easy to spot when someone doesn’t have it – that mindset or lack thereof is almost always directly proportional to how much people complain. Successful CEOs see everything as a problem that needs a solution and an opportunity to improve.
  10. They think big. Lastly, successful CEOs think out of the box and think big. Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook would not be the companies they are today with small thinking. You are the best judge of your ability to think big. By exposing yourself to the right people and incrementally challenging yourself both vertically (accepting responsibilities above your position) and laterally (increasing the number of responsibilities within your position), your capacity to “think big” will grow.

A Final Word

There is one final mindset shift that can not be overlooked and encompasses all others. Successful CEOs maintain a positive mental attitude even in the face of adversity. They know that they must set a positive tone for their companies because without the influence of a strong leader, organizations succumb to negative mental inertia. The CEO must always be injecting a positive mental attitude into the enterprise. So should you.

True transformation requires a mindset shift. As organizations begin to grapple with more volatile times, higher demands are placed on everyone to exhibit CEO level leadership – not just those with the title. Not only do we have to do away with the idea of a single leader in charge because our volatile times demand it, but we have to do away with this idea because our own success demands it.

Successful CEOs think differently than individual contributors. It’s a CEO’s thinking, training and instincts that drive their actions and decisions. You don’t need to be a CEO to think like one however – thinking like a CEO is a mindset shift that you can adopt and that will help you become more successful no matter what you do. We can learn to remodel our personal skills and abilities into CEO level competencies if we learn to think like a CEO. If we do, we can make a major change in the way business gets done across the board. The result is that the entire organization benefits.

Think about the good leaders for which you have worked. Aren’t they usually the first ones in the office and the last ones to head home? Aren’t they the people who attack a problem head on, solve it and learn from it? Aren’t they the ones with the positive outlook?

Thinking like a CEO requires a significant mindset shift. How do you do that with something as intangible as mindset or thinking?

It’s as simple as simple syrup.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

Your Communication Style May Be Killing Your Career

June 7 , 2019 •  5 minute read • by Saeed

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

In life many of us are taught that we should always concede, appease or defer to others. Sometimes this is cultural. Sometimes it’s familial.

We are taught that it is selfish to consider our needs above those of others. We are taught not to assert our needs, wants and desires.

And like a bean bag chair, what gets pushed out the other end is either passive or aggressive or passive-aggressive communication and behaviors that are self defeating, and cause more harm to relationships.

I have seen many careers go down in flames in the flash of an eye because the person had not developed assertive communication skills.

Moreover, assertive people tend to have fewer conflicts in their dealings with others, which translates into much less stress in their lives.

First let’s define assertiveness.

Some people mistakenly think they are being “assertive” when in fact they are being aggressive.

Assertiveness is the ability to honestly express your opinions, feelings, attitudes, and rights in a way that respects the rights of others.

Aggressive communication and behavior involves communicating in a demanding, abrasive, or hostile way. It is insensitive to others’ rights, feelings and beliefs. The usual goals of aggression are domination and winning, forcing the other person to lose.

On the other end of the spectrum is passive-aggressive communication. We have all experienced the person who expresses their feelings in an indirect way through passive resistance, rather than by openly confronting an issue. Instead of directly communicating the desires and needs, they resort to sulking; ignoring; complaining; procrastinating; deliberately being late or slow; intentionally dropping the ball; acting in a way that will frustrate others; giving you the silent treatment and ‘acting innocent’ when they have done something to hurt someone.

Assertive communication is important because it helps us avoid:

  • Resentment: I feel anger at others for manipulating, exploiting or taking advantage of me.
  • Frustration: How could I be such a push-over? Why did I let them walk all over me? What’s wrong we me?
  • Anxiety and Avoidance: When we begin to avoid situations or people that we know will make us uncomfortable, we may miss out on fun activities, job opportunities, relationships, and lots of other good stuff.

Some people may believe that they don’t have the right to be assertive. Others fear repercussions of acting assertively and others still just lack the skills to express themselves effectively.

It is extremely important when communicating that you focus on the person’s behavior and not their personality. This is what it looks like in action:

1. Tell the person what you think about their behavior without accusing them.

2. Tell them how you feel when they behave a certain way.

3. Tell them how their behavior affects you and your relationship with them.

4. Tell them what behavior you would prefer them instead.

Assertive communication has three important components:

1. Empathy/validation: It’s important that you first demonstrate that you understand the other person’s feelings. This shows the other person that you’re not trying to pick a fight and it takes the wind out of their sails.

For example: “I know that you have a lot going on and it’s sometimes difficult for you to meet all the demands of your day…”

2. Problem Statement: Using “I” messages, describe your difficulty or dissatisfaction with the situation and why you need something to change.

For example: “…but I feel anxious when you don’t return my emails because I am not sure how to interpret the silence…”

3. Solution Statement: This is a specific request or solution for a specific change in the other person’s behavior you would like to see.

For example: “Moving forward, could we agree that you will just let me know that you received my email with a simple short reply even if you don’t have time to answer my question?”

As you practice this approach, you will become more comfortable with assertively communicating your needs, wants and desires. Remember that voice tone, eye contact, and body posture are important parts of assertive communication.

Make sure your body language matches your words. Your listener will get mixed messages if you are speaking firmly while looking at the floor.

Speak at a normal conversation volume, rather than a shout or whisper, and make sure that you sound firm but not aggressive.

Tell the other person how you feel as honestly as you can, and remember to listen to what they say as well.

A Final Word

The purpose of communication is to share ideas and negotiate relationships. Communicating assertively will not guarantee the other person will change his or her behavior and give you what you want, but it will help you establish limits and boundaries with others. Assertiveness is a skill which requires you to practice in many different situations. You objective should always be to create mutual purpose while you balance what’s best for yourself, others and the relationship.

In the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” The result for both parties is win-win.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.

I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

©2019 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A., CPCC

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