A Welcoming Culture Begins with You!

I’m a big fan of the 2014 film, The Hundred-Foot Journey. In fact, I’ve watched it several times. The film tells the story of an Indian family who flees their homeland and settles in a small town in France, setting up a restaurant 100 feet across from a traditional French cuisine restaurant. What ensues next is a culinary and ideological battle between the two cultures, as the Indian family faces discrimination and hatred from the local townspeople. However, after the French employees try to burn down the competing restaurant in an attempted hate crime, the conservative French owner realizes her own role in inciting violence and bias, and commits to making amends.

She helps clean up the Indian restaurant, and even employs the Indian son who is a burgeoning chef of immense potential. After he eventually rises to fame in the Paris restaurant scene, he returns to the small town where the two restaurants begin a collaborative partnership, and connect through intercultural exchange.

In my opinion, the movie is an inspiring story about the value of belonging, and how each and every one of us plays a role in creating cultures of inclusion. It’s a demonstration of what hatred can do, but an even more compelling demonstration of the healing love can achieve in its wake.

So how does this apply to the workplace? As caring leaders, we can all learn from the film’s message of personal responsibility in welcoming others.

Take for example the French restaurant owner, who had to overcome her own biases against the Indian family. She had to work through her own feelings of fear and doubt, and lack of information about their culture. But as she sees her impact on the people around her, she reconciles with her power and uses it for good, ultimately helping to change public perception.

Her journey can describe many of us who strive to be allies to others, and act as a case study of what to do when confronting our own judgments. 

If you as a leader recognize that others value your opinion, take advantage of that power to combat stigma and bias. Organizational morals are established from the top down, so start with yourself if you aim to change the culture of your workplace. 

If you can visibly signal that you prioritize inclusion, belonging, and open-mindedness, others will follow suit and engage in productive introspection.

To be clear, The Hundred-Foot Journey is after all still a movie, and not every interaction between disparate groups will be as picture-perfect as the film might have you believe. 

But, we still need to wrestle with our individual roles in systems of bias at work:

How do we, as individuals, create welcoming environments? 

Are there other champions of inclusion in our workplace that we can team up with? 

How do we consciously choose to rise above hatred and lead from a place of love instead? 

How can we use our privilege to change the minds of those that look and think like we do? 

These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves, even if we’re unsure of how to answer them. 

The caring leader makes an effort to reflect on their own preconceived notions, deconstruct them, and think in a judgment-free manner moving forward. If we can find the common ground between us, I believe we’ll discover that even less than 100 feet separate our individual journeys.

Aligning With Your Aspirational Leadership Identity

As humans, most of us are naturally inclined to dream big. We’re always searching for a bigger house, a better job, a greater salary—we’re constantly thinking about the next step in our personal or professional lives. Oftentimes, these aspirations can motivate us to work harder and smarter to achieve them, but I find that the majority of us are confused about how to make that jump from the present state of things to the more idealized future.

Our leadership identities are no different—we all want to be better, more effective leaders in the workplace, capable of inspiring anyone and everyone. With that in mind, it’s crucial you regularly ask yourself the following question: who do I want to be, who am I currently, and how do I close that gap?

In a past article, I spoke about the importance of aligning organizational values to avoid miscommunication and organizational incongruence. But that’s on the structural level; what I’m referring to now is on the micro, or individual level. Is there congruence between who you think you are and how you’re actually perceived by others? Do your leadership actions parallel your leadership philosophy? What steps can you take to align your present self with your future, more enhanced self?

When I work out in my house, I usually exercise in front of a window. The other day, I noticed myself fixating on my reflection, and how I could see two versions of myself represented. On the one hand, I saw the Heather I currently am. On the other hand, I saw the Heather I strive to be: she’s more content, healthier, and a little more in shape. I wondered what types of choices I could make to move myself closer to that idealized sense of self. Working out was a step in the right direction, but I realized I needed to go deeper than that.

This is the kind of introspection caring leaders should be engaging in on a regular basis. It requires examining your personal history, critical incidents in your life, your personality, your communication style, and everything else that impacts how you interact with others, and determining what about those influences is preventing you from doing and being better. I also recommend soliciting feedback from those who look to you for guidance, and learning how you’re perceived from an outside perspective. You can use 360-degree feedback assessments, performance reviews, or even one-on-one conversations with your peers or managers. However you choose to connect with constructive criticism, it’s a pivotal part of aligning with your aspirational leadership identity.

For caring leaders, it is an intentional choice to say, “I want my people to know I care for them, so I’m going to take specific actions to make sure they know.” When we think about who we want to be, it’s easy to get paralyzed with fear, uncertainty, or harmful self-judgment. But making that intentional choice to reflect and recalibrate is a valid and necessary first step towards self-improvement. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and give yourself the space to make internal improvements over time. Whoever you strive to be as a leader, know that one day you will get there, and that you (and perhaps you alone) have the most agency in seizing that future.

How to Eliminate a Victim Mindset

victim mindset

Backstory

 

I worked hard to eliminate my victim mindset. “Victim” is defined as (1): one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent (2): one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment.

Over a year ago, I stepped onto the TEDx stage to share a part of my story of overcoming adversity and a victim mindset. At the time, I remembered seeing what I thought of as “victim” thinking on a large scale. Whenever I turned on the news, the story line was that this person or group of people did this thing, or could not do this thing, because these things happened to them and made it impossible for them to make different and better choices. As such, I was growing disheartened by the growing message that people must accept their circumstances and place limits on themselves as a result.

In my TEDx talk titled, Transforming Adversity into Opportunity, I shared a portion of my story where I was an outcast in my own family, because of my race. Unfortunately, I felt like I wasn’t good enough, worthy, listened to, cared for, or important. While my family experience hurt me deeply, I did not let their perception of me be the end of my story; I refused to use my circumstances as a crutch. You see, while I may have been victimized, I could choose whether I would define myself as victim. 

When I refer to victim in this context, this is not meant to be against victims themselves. Rather, in the behavioral context, I am referring to the ability to think and act counter to any impact of a challenge or threat we are facing. While many of us do have to fight against our very real feelings of being victimized daily, what wins out is what matters.

For most, it is hard to think differently when faced with adversity. The things that are happening to us or around us are very real. Fight as we might to set them aside, we are often stuck, which makes it hard to move forward. Nonetheless, if we are to move forward and overcome the thing that threatens us, we must think and act differently about our circumstances and disavow a victim mindset.

Below are three main strategies I use to change any victim thinking to that of empowerment and action:

1. Put on the armor

 

When I reference “put on the armor”, I don’t mean that we cannot be human and feel the pain of our circumstances. To the contrary, we must recognize what is happening to us, but we must create a sort of “adversity deflector”. Recently, I watched one of my favorite movies, Remember the Titans. In it, Denzel Washington, a black actor, plays as the head coach for a recently integrated high school in the South in the 1960’s. What strikes me most every time I watch it is his ability to recognize how the community negatively perceives him, and his similar focus on putting on the armor, staying centered and, despite it all, moving forward to achieve his vision for the team.

I know that this practice is not easy. Right now, I see my cousin, who has been fighting breast cancer for ten years, hold a smile on her face even after tough days of treatment. I don’t hear her complain. Quite the opposite, I see her walk with her shoulders high and put on the armor of great courage.

She has effectively eliminated any victim mindset.

2. Learn to reframe

 

In my TEDx, I spoke about the process of reframing, which is something I do all the time. The best way to begin this process is to see our circumstances as a gift. For example, what did you learn because of the challenges you faced or are facing? Often, what we learn replaces what we lost, or the pain we experienced.

The real process of re-framing requires, first, that we recognize and even write down our irrational thoughts surrounding the challenge. Then, we must actively and intentionally change the irrational thoughts into rational thoughts. Then, what I do is visualize a “switch” in my head, and I flip it to help me see the positive side and move forward.

If we are to shed a victim mindset, we must reframe our way there.

3. Focus forward

 

While I do believe that the stories of our past are useful in helping us and others move forward, we need to create new forward-focused stories. The most effective way to focus forward is to write down your goals and desires on paper and place them in front of you. Over twenty years ago, I was a Sales Director with May Kay Cosmetics. One of the strategies they taught was to have affirmation posters that were both visual and descriptive. Fortunately, this helped me stay focused on moving forward and not making excuses. As such, there was very little room for victim thinking.

Another way to keep focusing forward is to surround yourself with people who move that same way through life. Think about it, if you hang around people whom are always looking back, or making excuses, you will be tempted to do the same.

Lastly, it is easier to focus on one step at a time, but while putting one foot in front of the other. Visualize that for a moment. When we focus on the forward movement, there is not time or need to look back. As such, I keep multiple things on my radar and as a part of my plan at a time so that I am focusing on the very next thing.

Conclusion

“Woe-is-me” thinking and acting gets us nowhere. If we want to move forward, have impact and uplift others, we must put on the armor of courage, learn to reframe the irrational and focus forward on what we can influence and change. When we do these things, we empower ourselves to act as victor and not as victim.

If  you are struggling to uncover what you can influence, having a hard time making excuses for moving forward, or need to find your personal power, download my free mini-course and action-planning guide to help you focus-forward.

Click download link below.

How to Use a Crisis to Build Resilience.

Build Resilience

This title might seem off given our current state-of-affairs with COVID-19, but I promise you that we can use this “crisis” to build resilience in ourselves and in those we lead.

Resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”

We have been hearing a lot about resilience lately. Many people want to be known as resilient, but are they willing to put in the work? You might be asking yourself, “What does she mean by ‘putting in the work?’”

I liken becoming more resilient with building more muscle. We cannot tone and strengthen our arms without some sort of strength training. Building muscle basically tears it before it grows. It is some really hard work, and if done right, we sweat a lot and it hurts like hell.

This is how building resilience works. The more adversity we face and challenges we overcome, the more our resilience muscle grows. We should see any obstacle, challenge, crisis, or adversity as an opportunity to build that muscle.

Below are a few ways to use our current circumstances to help build resilience muscle:

1. Don’t Run Away

Our natural inclination is to run away from things that frighten us or challenge the status quo. This is like giving up in the middle of a workout or marathon. We will not get to the end or obtain the results we want unless we finish and hit the lofty goal head-on.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t take precautions to protect ourselves. Instead, do that, and continue to show up and stand firm as a best-selves that day. This act alone helps you build resilience.

2. See the Bright Side

In my TEDx talk, I talk about “reframing.” Reframing is to “frame or express (words or a concept or plan) differently.” It is not a complicated process, but not always easy to do. Basically, we take our current situation along with all the irrational thoughts tied to it and then we make a choice to see it differently and replace those thoughts with more rational ones.

When we reframe, we tend to see the brighter side of almost any situation. If we are to survive any challenge, crisis or adversity, reframing is the biggest tool in our arsenal.

3. Learn from It

The biggest gift of a crisis is the learning that can come from it. If we let this time come and go and he have not been changed, or we have not learned any new behaviors, then we can absolutely call it a crisis.

We build our resilience muscle when we stand in our circumstances, take a breath and learn to be better.

4. Help Someone Else

Recently, on a Linkedin Live, I encountered a gentleman who had lost his wife just a week before him joining my live show. He asked great questions, he interacted with me and others and he taught me a lesson. In his pain and loss, he chose to focus on giving back to others.

I thanked him for his courage and for being a productive member of the viewing audience. I counseled him to take time to grieve, and he just said, “I will do that once I help others first.” Wow! This was a profound learning for me. We build resilience muscle by helping others first.

5. Tell Your Story

There is great healing when we tell our stories. As one of my best friends, Sarah Elkins says, “Your Stories Don’t Define You. How You Tell Them Will.” This is an important point. Many can benefit when you tell your story, and be sure you know which story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.

Our stories can be a powerful force that propel us forward during difficult times, or they can make us fall victim to our past. Tell that more fruitful story to build your resilience muscle and be ready for the next challenge.

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Thank you for reading this article. If you have found it uplifting, please do share it. If you or your organization is looking for a speaker, on-site or virtual, or a workshop facilitator, reach out to me.