The editor appeared in my office, his face drawn.
‘I’ve just had a phone call. We’ve printed wrong information. Either we have to withdraw all copies or there’s going to be an injunction against us.’
At stake? A year’s worth of work in an important annual directory, worth tens of thousands of pounds. Reputation – of our brand, of the editor, and of course mine too.
Here’s what I did.
I hit the phone. I called our legal team. Our distributor, printer and marketing team. Everyone who could be involved, and could contribute to their part of it.
But here’s a confession. I loved it.
The buzz of a crisis, and finding a resolution, bringing together the contributions of a whole group of people. I was deep in flow – the perfect combination of motivation and pressure.
But that was something of a guilty secret until recently.
This summer I’ve been reading The Upside of Stress by the Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal. It explained to me what was going on.
Stress is often presented as provoking a fight-or-flight response in your body – increased adrenaline, energy to the muscles and away from the ‘rational’ thinking part of the brain.
But it turns out that our stress responses are far more complex.
My instinct to pick up the phone was instead driven by what’s known by scientists as a challenge response.
A challenge response provokes a subtly different chemical reaction in the mind and body to the fight-or-flight stress response. It still results in heightened focus, energy, and even feel-good. But there is one crucial additional hormone that I was almost certainly benefiting from: the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a key hormone in bonding, intimacy, and numerous other social interactions, from breast-feeding to empathy. Essentially, it drives connection. When you feel the need for a hug, a conversation, or even a brainstorm on a shared problem, it’s likely to be oxytocin at work.
Why we need people but choose autonomy
Logically, we know how important other people are to our success. Maybe we remind ourselves of Jim Rohr’s quote, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with’. Maybe we talk about the importance of having a great team, or invest hours in formal brainstorming sessions.
And yet our culture discourages us from seeking out other people. We see the boss who declares, ‘come to me with solutions, not problems,’ the public entrepreneur who presents herself as a unique thought leader, the CEO who won’t admit to having a coach or a mastermind group.
Our own brains get confused, too. The idea of delegation can trigger unhelpful chemical responses that leads us to keep far too much on our own plate. And if we fear any kind of humiliation or loss of status by exposing our ‘weakness’, we’ll think twice about asking for support.
We need other people to succeed. And yet we still choose autonomy.
The bottom line is this.
When challenge comes, who do you turn to?
If you have the right people around you, your chances of success are transformed. The right people are those who will uplift you, help you think clearly, who can add knowledge and information, who can make things happen and support you to be the best you can be.
If you don’t, you have only the people who will discourage you. Who trigger anxiety, confusion, guilt or frustration. The people who don’t have the skills, the insight or the desire to help you solve problems, grow, and raise you up to face your challenges. (And yes, they can be your boss or your family).
How you answer this will depend on all sorts of things. Your work situation. Your family life. Your background. Your personality.
But you have the power to create the right network of people to transform any challenge.
2 minutes to show whether your support network is working
List three people you could go to for support, encouragement, advice when you’re facing a challenge. Think about who you know you can rely on; who you know will help you to raise your game to face whatever’s going on.
If you’ve got three, contact at least one of them. Arrange a coffee, lunch, or simply have a short phone call. Do something that builds and nurtures both of you, and strengthens your relationship. Even if there’s nothing in particular you want ‘help’ with now, take the time to value that person.
If you’re struggling to make that list of three, that’s a clear indication that you’re not allowing yourself the benefit of connections.
Look through your address book, emails, Facebook or LinkedIn contacts. Look for people you’ve met or worked with who you like or respect. Then take the first step to strengthen that connection, and to see whether that person is someone you’d like to form a deeper connection with.
Maybe it’s an invitation for coffee, or a short phone call. Maybe it’s asking for their help on a particular problem. Maybe it’s about setting up an exploratory conversation about working together. It’s about starting the process of building and strengthening your network so that when challenge comes, you have people to pick up the phone to.
What happened with my narrow miss with a court summons? Well, we brainstormed. We put together a plan. And over the next 36 hours we sorted it out. (Essentially, it involved careful negotiation, stickers with extra-strong glue and some brilliant logistics handling).
If this has resonated with you, here’s how to move forwards even faster
With three and a half months of working time left in 2015, I’ve opened up some private coaching spaces for the rest of this year.
If you’re like me or many of my clients, this final part of the year is often the busiest. Keeping absolute focus on your top priorities, while looking after your personal energy and motivation, can be a huge challenge.
Private coaching is your chance to work intensively to clarify and focus on the things that are important to you, and to keep moving, no matter what else is happening. It’s about having me in your private network for support and motivation.
Working with a coach is like having a personal trainer for your mind. We work together to develop your inner power, skills and strengths, staying focused on a clear goal. I’ll help you to experience much greater clarity and purpose, as well as open up possibilities that you may well not have even considered. Crucially, we focus on finding and taking the right action. That means that you’ll leave each session being clear and committed in your mind about what you need to do to move forwards with a situation, and exactly how to do it.
The right chemistry is essential for you, and for me when I take on clients. If you think that 3 to 6 months of focused, powerful work together might provide the powerful support that would take you forwards, let’s talk.
Click here to set up a 30-minute Discovery Call, and you’ll go straight to my calendar to choose a time. We’ll talk openly and honestly about why you’re considering coaching and whether I might be able to help you achieve your goals. It’s without any obligation, and allows us both to get to know each other.