Be Self-Aware. Practice Self Care. Lift Others.

Be Self-Aware. Practice Self Care. Lift Others.

Smart Style Leadership encourages leaders, both fresh and skilled, to connect to themselves in order to truly connect with others.

It’s my belief that without this basic form of self-love, the connection and acceptance of ourselves, we aren’t able to lead those around us effectively or authentically.

SSL’s values are simple.

Self-awareness invites us to step back, and observe. It requires honest reflection, action, and is the first step to growth and connection. Unless we can understand our own motives, triggers, strengths and weaknesses, we run the risk of developing disingenuous relationships, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Self-awareness is our ability to notice and monitor our inner-world – our thoughts, feelings, emotions – but also how others are receiving us.

Self-awareness is vital in leadership because it is the first step to change. With awareness comes the ability to consider different choices, and different choices will present opportunities for a different outcomes.

Self awareness can look like taking responsibility and apologising, setting a boundary and committing to it, being present, challenging your thoughts and actions, reflecting, pausing before responding, acknowledging and celebrating your wins, asking for help, getting an outside opinion, making changes, working harder, or learning something new.

Being able to dig deep, connect to yourself and be aware of who you are brings you the chance to truly care for yourself.

Self-care is trusting yourself, protecting yourself, and tending to yourself. Put on your oxygen mask before helping another person with theirs. Keep filling up your cup and let the overspill fill up others. Know and accept yourself so you can care for yourself fully.

Self care can look like hot baths, scented candles, face masks, but it can also look like paying that bill, eating the salad, shutting your phone off, going to sleep, cleaning your room, calling your mom, sitting in silence, getting up early, or sleeping in later. It can be as simple as speaking kindly to yourself. It will look different every day and for everyone, and this is why self-awareness is important to help you navigate what is it that you truly need – not what your ego tells you – not what your friends, boss or mom tells you – but what, based on honest reflection and loving awareness, is going to be the best for you.

Live well, lead well means caring for ourselves so we can care for others. It means connecting to ourselves so we can connect to others. It means fighting for ourselves so we can fight for others. The reason we do this is to shine the light for others. Whether you are a manager looking to engage your team, or a student wanting to show up more for those around you, leadership is a lifestyle, and lifting others is the reason why we do.

Lifting others can look like showing gratitude, offering to help, giving a compliment, giving your time, being useful, making it about them, removing yourself from the narrative, asking what they need, holding a safe space, listening, encouraging,or supporting others.

We willingly and relentlessly practice helping and guiding others. This is how we stay humble, stay present, and keep learning. This part may scare you, but leadership wouldn’t exist without the people around you. It’s really about them, and once you’re self-aware, and practicing self-care, you will be strong enough to lift others too.

And this is how we lead x

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I’m Courtney, and I write about leadership. I love connecting with like minded people, so please reach out and let me know what you’re working on or how I might be able to help. You can also say hi in the comments below ❤

Growth Mindset + Friday Fails

Growth Mindset + Friday Fails

Theorist, Carole Dwek, developed the concept of a growth mindset. Since then, popular ted talks and industry thought leaders have highlighted the importance for individuals, teams, and businesses to practice and develop a “growth mindset” in order to flourish long term. 

If this is the first time you’ve heard of this concept, there are two definitions you’ll want to grasp first – that of a fixed mindset, and a growth mindset.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.”

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,”

While you can dive deep into the topic and find debates on when a fixed mindset may be more favourable than growth, or analyse the worrying, emerging trend of the False Growth Mindset, it’s safe to say that developing a growth mindset in yourself, and your team is a useful strategy to achieve ceaseless opportunities to develop. 

After reading and learning more about the growth mindset, I wanted to find a way to embed this more in my own team at work. I created a practice called Friday Fails:

Once per week, create a forum for your team to openly discuss a mistake they made, or something that went wrong for them throughout the week. Keep the focus on their mistakes, what they learned from it, or what they will do differently next time.
The benefits of developing this sort of practice with your team:
  • This will allow your teams to learn from each other’s mistakes (if one person has made that mistake, chances are others will too). 
  • This will encourage your teams to be open and honest with each other and management. It will discourage them to feel ashamed of getting something wrong, and will encourage them to learn from the mistakes they have made. 
  • This will allow you to pay closer attention to what is happening in your teams. Are the same mistakes being made over and over? If so, is there something that can be changed to prevent this from happening? Maybe more specific training, or a new process is needed to help prevent these problems. 
  • This will help build rapport and trust within your teams. In my experience, when we openly share our vulnerabilities with each other, it creates room for honesty, openness and a deeper connection. 

Some other useful tips you can help create a “growth mindset” culture within your team:

  • Do not reprimand your team for bringing a mistake to your attention. While performance management may still need to take place, depending on the mistake, you should always encourage your team to be honest about their mistakes vs. trying to cover them up. 
  • Start by evaluating your own mindset. You can start by answering these questions, as they may give you a bit of insight into your own attitude and mindset around mistakes, learning, and growth: How do you approach change? How do you approach learning? Do you believe people are capable of growing, adapting and changing? Do you feel comfortable admitting when you’ve done something wrong? Are you open to criticism of your methods and processes? How do you encourage your team to learn? Do you demand perfection from your team? How do you handle mistakes? 
  • Continue to reflect and develop your own self-awareness to ensure you’re not falling in the “false growth” mindset trap. Be honest about whether the progress you’re praising is getting the results that are needed. Telling your employees, for example, that they can progress into a new role is not as helpful as showing them how they can progress with honest, direct feedback, and development opportunities.

While there is still much research needed on developing this mindset within the workplace, the findings so far suggest that at a minimum, growth-mindset firms have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture. 

If you have any tips or practices for developing a growth mindset in your team, please share your ideas below.

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Stop giving your peace away.

Stop giving your peace away.

There’s one thing that is always going to come with work life, and that’s having to interact with people who will try to take your peace. Conversations with these people may feel exhausting. Knowing you have to speak to them and work with them may fill you with dread. Even a text or email from them can feel like an attack – they aren’t in the room with you, but somehow, they still manage to affect you. Your mind is the battlefield and they’ve got missiles. They take up your time, physically, mentally, and spiritually. How do you protect yourself from this?

Have you ever found yourself in the shower, defending yourself in an argument that hasn’t taken place yet? Or cooking dinner, but in your head, you’re going over a situation that happened yesterday? Have you ever reacted to someone in a way that haunted you later, because you know it was out of anger? That’s your peace being taken away from you, and it used to happen to me all the time. Whether it was a direct report with an attitude, a manager with a conflicting agenda, or a customer seeking justification, I was giving my peace out in spades. 

The first thing I had to do was understand that the way to keep my peace has nothing to do with the people who are stealing it. 

This can be hard to come to grips with. You are probably justifying how difficult it is in your head right now, running through why they’re so difficult to work with. You probably have specific examples of times they were too stubborn, or manipulative. I know how difficult it can be, but the reality is, you are giving them the power they need in order to affect you in the way that they do, which means you are giving them more power than they actually have. It’s like a deflated balloon – it exists – but it only gets bigger if you put air into it. Recognise that every thought, word, or action that is directed towards this person is giving them air to become bigger in your life. It’s YOUR breath that’s giving them life, not theirs.  

Stop projecting.

It’s also time to confront the fact that you can’t predict the future. You can’t predict what this person will say, do, or feel tomorrow. As obvious as that may sound, it’s funny how often we still get caught up doing exactly that. Let’s say you find out a piece of information that may affect this person, so now you spend the rest of the day constructing situations in your head about what this person will say, how this person will react to this news, what might happen based on this reaction, etc. How much time have you now spent worrying about something that A. doesn’t exist (this situation you have imagined only lives in your head) and B. you can’t do anything about anyways (we can’t control other people’s reactions). By assuming you can, you’re giving more of your energy, more of your peace, into the balloon and allowing it to get bigger.

Keep your yard clean.

For analogy purposes, your yard (or garden for my english folks) is made up of your words and actions. Feelings stemming from resentment and fear are likely to rise often with this person, but if you act on them, it will only come back to haunt you later. When you need to speak to this person, check that what you’re saying is in line with the following: is it kind, is it necessary and is it true? Anything that is not in line with these fundamentals would be the product of your ego getting in the way. Our ego tends to create situations for us that seem satisfying in the now, but will hurt our character in the long run.

“If someone treats you rudely, and you respond with rudeness, you have not done anything but prove to them that they are justified in their actions. Instead, today, let’s seek to be better than the things that disappoint or hurt us. Let’s try to be the example we’d like others to follow.”

Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic 

This idea will cause us to pause before we react. It’s not always easy, but it always pays off. Living with conscious intention means you’re aware of what you’re doing when you’re doing it, and you’re doing it on purpose. If you’ve ever found yourself firing off an email with a tone you regretted later, or word vomiting because you felt overwhelmed, you would benefit from learning to pause and then checking if what you have to say is kind, necessary, and true (KNT). When we are living in regret of something that we said or did, that’s more energy, more breath, more peace we’re giving away.  

Let go of your expectations. They are the root of all your heartaches. 

You may argue that there needs to be a base level of expectation in the working world, and I would agree with you, but what I believe is vital is where these expectations are rooted. For example, you may have a very reasonable expectation that your team needs to be on time, and let’s say that doesn’t happen one day. If this expectation is rooted deep in yourself, it’s likely to really hurt when it’s not lived up to. You will feel frustrated, disappointed, angry, because you’re holding the expectation so close to your heart. However, if you hold this expectation a bit further away from you, detached from you, you won’t be affected when it bursts, and the thing is – it will burst. When it does, what you can control is how you respond to it in a way that addresses the problem, if that’s what you need to do (but also ensuring that you’re keeping your yard clean, and speaking with KNT). 

There’s also the need to let go. Let go of the need to change people. You won’t. Let go of the need to control. You can’t. Let go of this idea that your life should be a certain way and everyone around you should just play their parts, what you’re doing is setting them and yourself up to fail, because they will let you down. 

Some practical tips to help you stop giving your peace away today:

  1. Use an affirmation every time you find yourself projecting:

“I hold onto my peace by staying present in this moment.”

“I cannot and will not try to predict the future. Everything will happen exactly how it should.”

“In this moment, I am (insert the task that you’re currently doing), and my peace belongs to me.” 

  1. Recognise the people that are the opposite of peace stealers – the people who love you and big you up. Make time to connect with these people every day. 
  1. Try to pause and count to three today before each interaction and think about what you’re going to say (remember – KNT). Do this especially with people who you struggle to keep your peace around. At the end of the day, note down what went well, and what didn’t go so well.

Understand that this is not something that will be easy to do all of the time. It takes practice. It takes time. It takes honesty, awareness, and goodwill. When you allow someone to affect you, it’s because you may be gripping too tightly on the idea that you can control them. Let go, and your peace will come back to you. 

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3 Practices To Help You Manage Your Emotions

3 Practices To Help You Manage Your Emotions

Do you feel like you’re constantly spending time and energy in an emotional state you don’t want to be in? Do you take the time to fight these feelings or is there a process in which you acknowledge them? 

When you’re feeling happy emotions, you probably realise that you’re able to perform better. You’re more likely to engage with others, and more likely to choose productive activities. On the other hand, a negative emotion can cause you to withdraw from your team, and lead to procrastination. 

These negative emotions are probably draining your energy, and are then causing friction in your relationships at work. Stress, unexpected demands, and challenges can cause us to slip into these negative emotions daily, sometimes multiple times. Without recognising what triggers them and how to manage our emotions, we can stay in the fight, flight, or freeze reaction for much longer than we want to or is good for us. 

You can’t be in control of what you do not know. This is why becoming aware of your emotions is the first step in managing them. Whether it’s overwhelm, anger, or self- pity, we can spend precious time and energy fighting these emotions, and allowing them to become bigger. Without the ability to recognise our emotional states and how it affects others, we lose the chance to recognise them coming in the future, and change our habitual reactions to them. 

Another reason to be aware of your emotional reactions, and managing them effectively is because of emotional contagion – it’s the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions and related behaviours directly trigger similar emotions and behaviours in other people. This is why it’s hard to be in a good mood if you’re talking to someone who is going through a rough time. It’s also why we’re more likely to get impatient at a bus stop if other people are acting impatiently. If you’re stressed, and aren’t able to recognise, and adapt your attitude quickly, you can “pass” this feeling to your team and co-workers. 

Below are some practical ways you can start to recognise, and manage your emotions.

Deep Abdominal Breathing 

Simple, and effective. The fastest way to signal your brain to turn off the fight or flight response is to take a few deep breaths. The next time you recognise a negative emotion come on, take five minutes to breathe. Inhale for five seconds, exhale for five seconds. It’s free, it’s quick and it’s powerful. 

Fuel Positive Emotions

Another way to push out the negative emotions is to fill our heads up with the positive ones. You can do this multiple ways: a gratitude practice, reciting affirmations, speaking to loved ones, or even exercise are all great ways to conjure up positive emotions. The trick is to choose this practice. It may be easy for us to retreat into fight or flight (biologically, it is our default when feeling threatened), but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. Practice doing the opposite and see how quickly you bounce back. 

Track and Reflect

Keeping a journal and reflecting often on what it was the made us feel reactive is a great way to build awareness of our emotions. Take five minutes before bed to note down the following:

  • What negative emotion did you feel?
  • What brought it on?
  • How long did it last?
  • What effect did it have on others?

The last question may be one of the most important. As managers, or even co-workers, we must realize the impact we have on each other. Most professionals spend more time during the week with their co-workers than they do with their families, and if we want to add value to the workplace, looking at how we manage our emotions is a great place to start.