Avoid the Downward Spiral, Become A Female Optimist

by Aman Singh Das | November 12, 2010

  • My Vault

One of the most interesting discussions at the recently-concluded Business for Social Responsibility's (BSR) annual conference was temptingly titled 'Calling all Remarkable Leaders.' Featuring Joanna Barsh, a senior partner with McKinsey & Co., and the tour de force behind the McKinsey Centered Leadership Project, the session while not focused on sustainability or CSR strategy, provided a much needed dose of optimism as well as some key tips on successful leadership.

Barsh, who is also the co-author of How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work & Life, took a packed room of women—and a few men—through what she called the 'Downward Spiral,' or a woman's psychological process when faced with a challenge or worse, a setback at work.

How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work & Life

The downward spiral:

The Scene: You're in a meeting with a major client represented by the CEO. As you present your proposal you see the CEO scrunch his face.

Thought 1: It's okay, you tell yourself. Just keep plowing ahead.

Thought 2: Now he's giving you a passive face.

Thought 3: Uh-oh, you think. He doesn't like my ideas.

Thought 4: I'm not going to make this deal. He doesn't like it.

Thought 5: Oh no, now he's not even making eye contact. This is hopeless.

Thought 6: I'm done. McKinsey is going to fire me.

Thought 7: Great, I'm not only getting fired, I'm just a complete loser.

Thought 8: I'm a horrible person. Not only am I getting fired now; my husband doesn’t love me either.

Thought 9: Forget a job and love; I'm also a lousy mother.

Thought 10: I'm a hopeless, useless human being who doesn’t deserve to live.

Ever had that happen?

As Barsh explained, especially women, experience this at least once if not many times in their professional life. And it's not because they think less of themselves, she said, but because women tend to think more holistically. If one aspect of the day isn't going too well, they tend to enlarge that picture to envelop everything. Hence, the downward spiral.

What can you do to counter this? Barsh offered five steps:

1. Meaning: Find meaning in your work and truly follow your passion. Heard that one before right? According to Barsh, the first step to pursuing your passion is optimism. "Become the quintessential female optimist," she said. Tell yourself that this is not the end of the road, let alone the end of the world. "Tell yourself, this is nothing. I can face this and move on," she added. When coupled with meaningful work, this optimism can work wonders.

2. Engage: Numerous studies have found that employee engagement leads to higher productivity, innovation and better ideas. Barsh had similar advice: When you feel the downward spiral coming on you, engage with colleagues or get on the phone with a family member. "It could just be a random conversation buts it's enough to clear your mind. Besides distraction always gives you a new perspective," she offered.

3. Energize: No, she doesn’t mean working out—although that has known to help as well—but energizing your mind by analytically looking at the positives and the setbacks to the current challenge. Noting that women tend to take adversity more emotionally and negatively, she suggested, "Fire yourself from your job mentally. Come back the next morning as a 'new employee' and you'll see a world of difference in your attitude and perspective."

4. Connect: Connect with a network of friends and family who keep you most happy, joyous and motivated. Barsh suggested taking a step further by recruiting and retaining women who pursue personal growth. "Women who network actively to keep themselves professionally and personally energetic tend to have a higher rate of success," she added.

5. Frame: Connect and reconnect the plan that didn’t work. Involve your colleagues and those who report to you. It's often said that a diverse team has the highest rate of success. "Get the ideas pumping and strategically break apart your framework. Reframe, rejoin, break and reframe again. This will help you step out of the equation and solve a problem objectively rather than making it personal," she offered.

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Next: Edelman releases its Good Purpose study at BSR: Almost half of surveyed consumers say they wouldn’t invest in/promote a company that doesn’t actively support a good cause. What does that mean for a company in a world connected 24/7 through social media?

Filed Under: CSR

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