Click on the icons below to subscribe.
Guest: Rekha Skantharaja, the CEO of Tangram Insurance Services and a member of YPO.
Episode in a Tweet: Strong leaders draw on their feelings and experiences to “arrive ready” when faced with adversity.
Quick Background: As the calendar flips over to 2021, COVID-19 vaccines are starting to roll out across the U.S. It’s looking more and more likely that life and business might start to feel normal again by the second half of next year.
So … What’s next?
Even if we are able to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror soon, experienced CEOs know that the next major roadblock is just around the corner. Is your business ready to pivot and accelerate through a coming disruption? Is your culture strong enough to absorb a sudden personnel change? Will you be able to lead your company effectively if a personal problem puts new demands on your time and emotional well-being?
On today’s show, Rekha Skantharaja describes how she has learned to “arrive ready” for any challenge. She also talks about how being open about her personal challenges has helped her to develop into a more inspiring and relatable leader.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Keys to “Arriving Ready” from Rekha Skantharaja
1. Train to win.
“I think about the CEO arriving ready like an athlete,” Rekha says. “She spends time training as an athlete to be ready for anything in the game. And if you think about this game being life, we have to train our minds to arrive ready. That means living in the zone, knowing that the ball is going to be thrown to us anywhere on this court. It will be continuous, it will come at different speeds, it will come at different angles, it will change name, form, and intensity, but it will come. And our only answer to that isn’t to change the rules. The answer is to become a better athlete.”
An essential part of that “CEO training” is to learn how to recognize and manage your stress responses. When you can remove yourself from potentially overwhelming situations before your emotions get the better of you, it’s much easier to make rational decisions — or better yet, find opportunity beneath the surface of a crisis.
However, don’t confuse managing stress with cutting yourself off from your feelings and experiences. Reflecting on how this challenge is affecting you and how you’ve managed similar challenges in the past can help you formulate an action plan that will move you and your company forward.
“We need to build our understanding of the purpose of adversity,” Rekha says. “We need to identify and deconstruct the stories we tell ourselves, allow the emotions that are part of the human experience to come through without knocking us out, and work through what’s in front of us step by step to get to the other side. Train your mind to arrive in that moment calmly, with a plan, knowing that you have gotten through things before and you will get through this as well.”
2. Identify and break patterns.
When you’re thinking about why your business operates the way it does, one of the worst answers you can arrive at is: “We’ve always done things this way.” Companies that revert to default — especially in a crisis — are the ones that never break any new ground, never broaden their customer base, never make tough decisions about underperforming employees or failing pet projects.
Your leadership skills probably have some default settings as well. Maybe you get angry too quickly. Maybe you get too defensive when someone on your leadership team raises valid concerns about a plan. Maybe you let shiny new toys scatter your focus. Maybe you let these frustrations bleed over into disagreements with your spouse, and vice-versa.
Rekha believes that leaders need to apply the same rigorous analysis they use to identify destructive business patterns to find harmful patterns in their own habits and thinking. She says, “I think it comes down to sheer will and effort to make a shift — not a change that is short-lived or temporary, but a sustained effort over time to transcend patterns, to rewire the brain. I think a lot of us get to a tipping point where we have been on a hamster wheel of happiness, sadness, highs, lows. And by my late 20s, I had kind of had it. The only thing that I could shift was the way in which I showed up, the way in which my mind was ready to deal with adversity.”
3. Step outside the business.
One thing that the coaches here at CEO Coaching International have in common is that they’re passionate about more than business. Jim Weaver is a pilot. David Sobel loves live music and taekwondo. Jason Reid schedules time for guitar, archery, and sculpting.
The best leaders know that setting aside this time for yourself isn’t indulgent. Finding the right mix of reflection and recreation is essential to managing stress, assessing challenging situations, and preparing yourself to meet those challenges.
Rekha says, “There are practices that I’ve been able to put into place that have built my ability to notice things in my mind more quickly, notice them as they arise, be more focused and concentrated on spotting things. Things like meditation, mantras, reading. Really being very intentional about the influences I’m putting into my brain and realizing that the way that I think, the way that I act, the way that I speak is a reflection of the things that I’m exposing myself to on a daily basis.”
As for me, when I clock out I usually hit the gym to train for my next triathlon, visit one of my favorite local vineyards with my wife, take my boat out for a spin, or sit down with a book and some business periodicals, keeping my eyes and mind open for the next BIG thing. I also have a strict “no drama” rule when it comes to my personal and professional associations. Like Rekha, I believe it’s important to put yourself in situations that are going to bring out the best in you. That could be something as simple as dedicating time every day to listen to a podcast that develops your mind, or something as painful as ending a negative relationship.
4. Show employees the real you.
The pressure to present yourself as “perfect” has never been greater. Social media’s endless loops of likes and reshares encourage people to smooth over the rough patches and keep posting the smiles. In the pandemic, this has had the bizarre effect of making some folks who weren’t happily baking bread or learning the guitar feel like they were doing lockdown wrong.
Likewise, many CEOs spent too much of the past year showing a brave face. Yes, your employees need a strong leader steering the ship. But they also want to feel like they’re working for a person who understands what they’re going through during this unprecedented personal and professional upheaval. They don’t want to work for a perfect Instagram-ready CEO. They want to follow someone who understands that real leadership is as much about being vulnerable as it is about making decisions.
“I think this pandemic has given me an incredible opportunity to show up in the way that I’ve aspired to,” Rekha says. “It hasn’t been perfect. But I think if you talked to my team about the last 11 months, I have really endeavored to show them all of me: the dark and the light, the peaks, the valleys, the happy and the sad. I fully believe that in times of adversity or crisis there is an incredible opportunity to actually be the leader that you know you can be in deed, in action. You have to lead from the front with naked honesty and genuine curiosity. You need to model that and you need to be brave. I fully believe that being a leader shouldn’t be safe. It should demand vigilant self-reflection, awareness, and higher consciousness around yourself and others. If you ask extraordinary things of your team and your company, which I do, it has to start with extraordinary leadership from you.”
1. It’s OK to feel. Closing yourself off from your emotions only magnifies stress and makes it harder to topple BIG challenges.
2. Get out of the office. Your hobbies, self-care routines, and relationships round you as a person and develop your perspective as a leader.
3. Don’t try to be perfect. No one is. Pretending to be will only make you look inauthentic to employees and customers.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 600 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 40 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 59% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com