We were in Mikki William’s speaker school. The room was filled with accomplished professionals from a variety of businesses, each there for their unique reasons. One was Barbara. Tall and striking, Barbara’s goal was to overcome her anxiety about speaking. On day two, each of us were to stand in front of the room and tell a story using the techniques Mikki taught us. It was Barbara’s turn. She demurred. “No,” she said. “I’m not comfortable and my heart is pounding. Besides, I don’t have a story to tell.”
“Oh yes you do!” we all replied. “You can do this!” And she did.
Nervously, Barbara stood in front of a room full of accomplished business people and told her story. Her story? It was about her anxiety around speaking this morning. First, she had asked her husband what story to tell. “Tell them about your trip to Panama and what happened there,” he said. She didn’t think that story was appropriate. She asked her best friend, “You should definitely tell them about Ecuador. They’ll love that one!” No. She didn’t like that one either. She mused about telling us her experience dog sledding. None seemed like the best story. Instead, she told us a story about not having a story. It was masterful. By the time she finished, we were engaged, laughing, and on our feet. And, she taught us about bravery.
As insightful leaders, you will face situations that make you feel uncomfortable and unsure. In those moments:
- Gather support from others. Talk about the challenge to people that you trust, just as Barbara sought input from those close to her. Whether she took their suggestions or not, talking generates ideas in your own mind. It helps you see perspectives that you may not otherwise notice. Those discussions give you time to reflect. Depending on your situation, you may not wish to talk to those within your organization. Use your network of peers as a safe place to engage in dialog about new and unsettling challenges. Mikki works with Vistage which provides this type of environment for senior staff and executives.
- Own the discomfort. Barbara never tried to hide her discomfort. She owned it. Studies in neuroscience show that acknowledging fear and uncertainty help calm the threat response in the brain more effectively than denying the unease. I recommend talking to yourself about the discomfort. “What is it about this situation that makes me feel uncomfortable?” “Why am I hesitating?” Unravel your feelings by probing and naming them. As my friend says, “Name it to tame it.”
- Step into it anyway. Take a deep breath, decide on your first step and take it. There’s nothing like action to quell uncertainty. I have a quote on my wall that says, “Fear fades in the face of action.” Each step forward creates more and more certainty. Maybe the situation will go great and maybe it won’t. In either case, you grow and learn for the next time. Because, as an insightful leader, there will always be a next time.
Mikki’s speaker school was an excellent learning environment for speaking, business and, unexpectedly, bravery. Thank you to Barbara for modeling bravery in action. I don’t know about you, but I want to hear about dog sledding!
Copyright: shalamov / 123RF Stock Photo