I Was the Only Woman in a Group of Male CEOs. Here’s How the Experience Helped My Company

In January of 2018, I reached out to the head of a local CEO group and inquired about joining.

After a one-on-one phone call to learn more about me and my business goals, he invited me to their next session. The group met for a full day each month. Half the day was spent discussing a specific topic, the rest of the time was spent helping each other with individual issues. I quietly observed the morning session. At the lunch break, as we sat around the table together, the group leader asked me to share my story and more about my business so the other members could get to know me better. Then, he asked, “Do you have any questions for us?” I looked at them all, took a deep breath, and said, 

“Can I call out the elephant in the room? I’m the only woman here. You all are clearly very close and this is a private formum where you can be truly honest about what’s going on in your personal and professional lives. So, I have to ask, do you even want me here? Because I would understand if you wouldn’t, given all that’s going on in the world today.”

I realize that was overly direct, but I wanted to see their initial reactions. Some looked down and away, others looked right at me with a blank face, and a few clearly had a twinkle of a smile in their eyes, laughing at the directness of my question. After what seemed like a really long pause (to me!), one said something to the effect of, “Actually, I’d like to have more women in the group. We need your perspective. Both from your HR and recruiting expertise and from the female point of view.” At which point, a few others nodded and agreed. I then asked the follow-up question:

“Why aren’t there any women currently in the group? Have you ever had any?”

This response was a little bit disheartening. They explained there had been two women in the group previously, but both of their businesses had ultimately failed and they had to quit the group. Not the most reassuring response. But, at the same time, entrepreneurship is hard and many businesses do fail. Plus, they were honest and pointed out there had been several male CEOs who had failed and left the group too. Running a company isn’t easy. That’s why you join a CEO group – to help you feel less isolated and to try to reduce the risk of failure by accessing additional persepctives that challenge you to make more informed business decisions. However, it doesn’t guarantee to make you successful.

I went home that night and told my husband I guessed they likely wouldn’t want me and that I could understand why.

And then, something wonderful happened…

I started to get individiual emails from the CEOs in the group. Each one shared why I should join. They were personal and sincere. It made me really happy. Why? I have lots of amazing female colleagues. I’m talking insanely successful professional women who I adore and respect. But, I don’t have many who have bootstrapped their businesses to the size of mine. Which means, they can’t really offer advice or guidance the way other CEOs who are at the same level as me can. The reality is, there are more male CEOs I can relate to at this stage in my business then female ones. I told the group leader this was the one thing I was most drawn to about the group. And for that reason, I joined.

A year later…

Those meetings were instrumental in taking my business to the next level. Company revenues grew by 50 percent. I learned so much. I had smart people to bounce ideas off of. I was introduced to some new resources and key networking contacts. But honestly, the most important thing this group gave me was the confidence to push the business to the next level. These guys made me feel capable. They showed me I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t need to be perfect. This particular group of male CEOs was much more comfortable with competition and failure than I was. Listening to them work through their own business challenges helped me be less emotional and hard on myself. They never treated me like a woman, they treated me like a peer. And for that, I am truly grateful.

So, when I see the statistic that came out this week that says 60 percent of men are avoiding mentoring women due to the #MeToo movement, I am sad.

I want men and women to find a way to work together. This movement wasn’t meant to build a divide between us. It was meant to help us work better together. We have so much to learn from one another. While I wish I had some suggestions to fix it, all I can offer is this story in hopes it inspires men out there to find a way to mentor women who need it. 

Published on: May 22, 2019 by Inc.com

Better to have a GOOD BOSS in a bad company, rather than a BAD BOSS in a good company ! Agree ?

While I was waiting for my INTERVIEW in a reception area, a pizza delivery man, a young guy, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans carried a heavy pack of pizza boxes and water bottles.

 He struggled with the door, I jumped up, but before I could help him, a receptionist let him through.

5 mins later I am sitting in the interview conference room, the pizza delivery man walks in.

He extends his hand for a handshake and says:

“I am Greg Tagaris, Chief Information Officer of DoubleClick. Sorry I am a little late, I was taking food to my guys. They are working without lunch because we have technical problems.

I saw you trying to help me, thanks”.

He offered me a job right at the end of the interview, and I accepted, without negotiation.

Greg was one of many good bosses I had a good fortune to work for.

You can tell a good boss very quickly by how they treat other people.

Greg was a good boss in a good company, but I would work for him in any company.

A bad boss can make your job bad even in a very good company – they will micromanage you, blame you, and make your life miserable.

A good boss will stand up for you, will trust you, will listen to you, will make yours a good job even in a weak company.

Do you agree ?

10 Questions Leaders Must Answer When Making Big Decisions

Interesting insight from Speaker, Author and Fellow Vistage Chair Greg Bustin.

Leaders are in the decision-making business. Some of your decisions are bigger than others, and so to be considered successful on your terms as well as the terms of others means you must make more good decisions than bad decisions when the stakes are highest.

What’s your decision-making process? There are 10 questions leaders must answer—either intentionally or intuitively, either alone or collaboratively—when making big decisions.

At the heart of sound decision-making is being crystal clear about what you stand for. Because no matter how much more complex the world seems to become and no matter how much more quickly we race to outrun others, great leaders operate from a set of principles they use daily as filters for making decisions. Your mettle as a leader is not truly tested until your principles have the potential to cost you something. Money. Power. Position. Lives. Reputation. Your beliefs form the bedrock of your character. And your character drives your decision-making.

You also must know very clearly what you want. It’s hard to be committed—especially to an outcome that may stretch your abilities as well as those of your colleagues—if you’re not clear about what you want. And what you don’t want. Goal clarity helps you minimize distractions and gives you confidence to make the necessary—and sometimes difficult—decisions that will allow you and your team to remain focused on your desired outcomes and remember why those outcomes matter. Clarity equips you to overcome obstacles, endure sacrifice and withstand setbacks as you press on toward realizing your dream.

And so the next time you’re facing a big decision, ask and answer these 10 questions:

1. What are the facts?
2. What is our objective?
3. What—precisely—is the problem or set of problems we must solve to achieve our objective?
4. Who should be involved in helping reach a decision?
5. What are all of the possible solutions?
6. Are the possible solutions aligned with my (our) core values? Eliminate those possible solutions that are not.
7. What are the consequences of each of the remaining solutions?
8. What’s the best possible solution?
9. How must we communicate this solution to our stakeholders?
10. Who will do what by when?

As you think about your personal leadership style and how you’ll apply these decision-making guidelines, recall the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “There are many ways of moving forward but only one way of standing still.” So when you postpone a tough decision—when, in effect, you fail to decide—you are actually making a decision to do nothing.

It’s logical when facing a momentous decision to want to gather as many facts as possible, play out as many scenarios as you can devise, test theories, engage in conversations with confidantes and trusted advisors, and spend time alone soul-searching. You owe it to yourself and those you’re leading to be thoughtful about big decisions. But avoid the temptation to postpone a big decision simply because you don’t want to decide. Leadership requires you to make the tough decision and get your team moving.

The word “decide” is derived from Latin decidere, meaning literally “to cut off,” from de- “off” (de-) + caedere “to cut” (-cide). “Decide” shares the same partial origin as the words “homicide,” “pesticide” and “suicide,” which essentially means that to decide is to “cut off” or “kill off” other choices or options in order to choose a course of action. Sometimes you must choose between several bad options. But choose you must.

Failure to act saps time, money and energy. Failure to act can hurt your customers and help your competition. Failure to act confuses and discourages your colleagues. Your colleagues are looking for a commonsense approach where trust, discipline and good old fashioned hard work gets things done. Confident decision-making accompanied by decisive action is a one-two punch that’s important to any leader whose team is eager to contribute to success.

Once you decide, move forward. “Don’t make the same decision twice,” cautions Bill Gates. “Spend time and thought to make a solid decision the first time so that you don’t revisit the issue unnecessarily. If you’re too willing to reopen issues, it interferes not only with your execution but also with your motivation to make a decision in the first place. After all, why bother deciding an issue if it isn’t really decided?” 

What big decisions are on your horizon? What options must you “kill off” in order to make your next big decision?

Thinking about starting a business? Ask these 4 questions first

Some people who launch companies end up being wildly successful, but there’s an unpleasant truth: Many fail. Before you risk it all, here’s a quick guide to gauge whether you should go for it, from serial entrepreneur Scott Galloway.

The traits of successful entrepreneurs haven’t changed much in the digital age: You need more builders than branders, and it’s key to have a technologist as part of — or near — the founding team. As a professor, I study businesses, and as an entrepreneur, I’ve launched several. So, I’ve come up with 4 essential questions that you should ask yourself if you’re seriously considering going out on your own:

Question 1: Can you sign the front, and not the back, of checks?

I know people who have all the skills to build great businesses, but they’ll never do so. Why? Because they could never go to work — after putting in 80-hour weeks — and write their own firm a check instead of receiving a check for their efforts.

Unless you’ve previously built firms and shepherded them through to successful exits or you know you have access to seed capital, you’ll need to pay your own company for the right to work your ass off until you can raise money. And most startups never raise the necessary money. Most people can’t wrap their heads around the notion of working without getting paid — and 99+ percent will never risk their own capital for the sheer pleasure of … working.

Question 2: Are you comfortable with public failure?

Most failures are private: you decide law school isn’t for you (because you bombed the LSAT), you decide to spend more time with your kids (you were fired), or you decide to work on “projects” (you can’t get a job).

However, there’s no hiding your own business failure. It’s you, and if you’re so awesome, your business must succeed … right? Wrong. And when it doesn’t, it will feel like elementary school, where the marketplace is a 6th grader laughing at you because you’ve wet your pants … multiplied by 100.

Question 3: Do you like to sell?

The word “entrepreneur” is a synonym for “salesperson.” Selling people to join your firm, selling them to stay at your firm, selling investors, and, oh yeah, selling customers. It doesn’t matter if you’re running the corner store or Pinterest — you’d better be darn good at selling if you plan to start a business.

Selling is calling people who don’t want to hear from you, pretending to like them, getting treated poorly, and then calling them again. I likely won’t start another business because my ego is getting too big to sell. I, incorrectly, believe our collective genius at my current business, L2, should mean that the product sells itself. Sometimes, it does. Entrepreneurship is a sales job with negative commissions until you raise capital, become profitable, or go out of business — whichever comes first.

The good news: If you like to sell and you’re good at it, you’ll always make more money — relative to how hard you work — than any of your colleagues, and they’ll hate you for it.

Question 4: How risk aggressive are you?

Being successful in a big firm isn’t easy, and it requires a unique skill set. You have to play nice with others, suffer injustices and bulls–t at every turn, and be politically savvy to get noticed by key stakeholders and garner executive-level sponsorship. However, if you’re good at working at a big firm, then, on a risk-adjusted basis, you are better off doing just that — and not struggling against the long odds that small firms face. For me, entrepreneurship was a survival mechanism, as I didn’t have the skills to be successful in the greatest platforms for economic success in history: big US companies.

With the endless and well-publicized stories of billionaire college dropouts, we romanticize entrepreneurship. But before you step into the cage of chaos monkeys, ask yourself and some people you trust  the preceding questions about your personality and skills.

Leadership is about coaching. Here’s how to do it well.

You can start with one simple behavior change that will bring a massive impact.

If you’re a leader or a manager, you probably wear a lot of hats. You’re a project manager, delegator, spokesperson, and most importantly, a coach. But the problem is that no one ever tells you how to be an effective coach, or even what that means. Are you supposed to act like a sports coach? A therapist? Perform some bizarre (and arcane) HR ritual?

The answer is none of the above. In fact, it’s about making one tiny change to your behavior, one that will bring a significant impact. Being a coach is about being more curious, and being slow to give advice and take action.

Now, I’m not saying that that coaching never involves giving advice. At times, your job is to provide an answer. If the building’s burning down–for example–you don’t want to have a conversation about how people are feeling about the smell of smoke.

But the truth is, most of us are advice-giving maniacs. We don’t listen as much as we should. Think about the last time someone talked to you about a complex issue. Did you listen intently? Chances are, after about three sentences, you formed some initial thoughts, and you probably jumped in to voice them.

Start with a simple question

It’s a simple concept to understand, yet it’s difficult to implement. According to a 2015 survey, on average GPs interrupt their patients after 18 seconds. I wouldn’t bet on managers doing much better.

Being curious involves asking questions–and they don’t have to be complicated ones. Start with, “And what else?”

Yes, it’s hardly the probing, introspective coaching question you expect. But it works really well.

It is based on the understanding that the first answer someone gives is never their only answer, and it’s rarely their best. Far too many of us spring into action before we’ve uncovered the truth. We don’t probe a little further to dig beyond their half-baked thought or the first thing that’s come to their minds. “And what else?” allow us to push a little deeper.

This question works so well is that it’s a self-management tool. You know you have an ingrained habit of leaping in with advice, solutions, opinions, and ideas. We all do. “And what else?” is one of the most effective ways of taming your inner advice monster and staying curious a little bit longer.

How to ask the question effectively

This question is powerful because it’s almost always usable. You can generally get more bang for your buck by following up with “And what else?”

Of course, tone matters. You can ask this question from a place of boredom, frustration, disinterest, or disdain, and it’s unlikely to be effective. But when you ask from a place of genuine curiosity, the other person won’t even register that it’s a question. They might not even click that you’ve asked this before.

If you feel like you need to move things forward or end the conversation, ask them, “is there anything else?” This indicates that you’re prepared to end the discussion, but you’re giving room for anything important that they might still want to bring up. It’s an emotionally intelligent way to send a signal that you’re about to close the conversation.

Coaching is an essential leadership behavior. Curiosity is the driving force in being more coach-like. Questions fuel curiosity. If you’re looking for just one question to add right now to your leadership repertoire, “And what else?” might be it. Remember, as a leader or manager, your job is not to have all the answers–but to guide your employees to come up with the right ones.

Suzy Welch: 5 lessons you have to unlearn immediately after college

Many college seniors think they have a good idea of what life after graduation looks like. You have to find a job and wake up early, and you can’t hang out with your friends every night.

But according to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch, it’s easy to underestimate just how different the “real world” really is, and many of the things you learn in college won’t set you up for success at the office.

“College is fantastic place, don’t get me wrong,” Welch tells CNBC Make It. “You make friends, meet new kinds of people, spend a fun semester abroad, explore your interests, obtain some skills.”

“Those are all fine and good,” she says, “but there’s some things you have to unlearn right away to succeed in the real world.”

Here are five lessons you have to leave behind right after commencement:

1. Assignments are always clearly presented

“In college, you get an assignment with very clear parameters,” Welch says.

But in the world of work, very rarely does that happen. Instead, directions on what you need to do are often ambiguous.

“You’re given a task, and it could be bigger or smaller than people expect,” Welch says.

In order to be successful, you have to get comfortable dealing with unclear objectives, and take the initiative to figure out what you should deliver.

Give yourself more time than you need to complete a task, so you have extra time if the project demands more of your time than you expect. Look for past examples, ask a colleague or follow up with your boss for more directions if you’re unclear on what’s expected of you.

2. Life is filled with second chances

“In college, there’s always next semester, or next summer, to reset your life, wipe the slate clean,” Welch says. “But in real life, there is no reset button.”

Being an adult means that you will have people, assignments and situations you wish you could easily change or avoid. Part of growing up, Welch says, is learning to find healthy ways to deal with them.

For example, if you don’t like your job, remind yourself daily of the skills you’re learning. If you have a , figure out how best to deal with them.

“You have to learn to pace yourself for, and operate within, what is basically a long-term game,” Welch says.

If you do make a mistake at work, don’t panic. Own your error, figure out where you went wrong and prove to your team that you can recover from it.

3. You’ll be rewarded for effort

“In most college classes, hard work is its own reward,” the bestselling author says. “Even if you’re really bad at the subject, if the teacher sees you studying hard enough, doing the extra credit projects, showing up for office hours, getting a tutor, you will be OK.”

In fact, Welch admits that’s how she earned a B+ in calculus. But when it comes to the professional world, effort alone won’t take you as far.

“In real life, hard work is certainly respected, yes,” Welch says, “but at the end of the day, it’s your results that matter.”

If you stayed at work until 10 p.m. and still didn’t file a report on time, or tried to get into work early but still missed an important phone call, your effort doesn’t really matter.

“If you don’t win the client or you don’t meet the deadline,” Welch says, “you’ve failed.”

4. The more words you use, the better

College essays that are required to be 10 pages or exceed a certain number of words often encourage students to be long-winded.

“You’re rewarded for long essays, and penalized for coming in short,” Welch says. “You’re conditioned to fill out your arguments with examples and references.”

But that couldn’t be further from the truth in the professional world.

“In business, writing long-winded things will impress no one, and irritate a lot of people,” she says. “Get to the point as quickly as possible.”

If you have to present your ideas in front of a group of people, jot down notes on important things you want to highlight. , reread it and edit it so that it isn’t more than one or two paragraphs long.

These efforts to be succinct will help you stand out.

5. Success is all about impressing one person

In college, you often answer to one person — your professor.

“At work, your boss has a boss, and that boss has a boss,” she says, “and then in many situations, your boss and you are part of an organization with owners and multiple shareholders.”

All of these people have a say in how quickly you’re able to succeed. That’s why it’s important in every work situation to treat others with respect and meet or exceed expectations.

“All of them have a say in how you are doing,” Welch says, “and what you should be doing.”

Transitioning to the “real world” may be difficult, but by developing your , honing your abilities and , it can be a whole lot easier.

“You are part of a complex ecosystem,” Welch says. “Look around and get to know it.”

5 innovation lessons from top-performing companies

Never stop improving. High-performing companies are relentlessly focused on improving their performance through innovation, whether that’s aimed at accelerating processes, tightening workflows or clarifying communications. How do they succeed? By creating a culture that encourages exploration and experimentation, facilitates open communication with customers and employees, and drives innovation from both the top-down and bottom-up. At a higher level, the company’s senior team recognizes innovation as a key source of competitive advantage.

Seek out radical innovation on a smaller scale. What makes an innovation “radical” has nothing to do with size and everything to do with impact. Radical innovation is about breaking through perceived limitations to fundamentally change the game. For example, introducing a new product or capability, along with a new message to market, can serve as radical innovation on a smaller scale. Driving disruption can lead to tremendous rewards, but it requires tough decision-making and strong leadership on the part of the CEO.

If something breaks, use innovative thinking to fix it. All companies have to cope with the reality that, at some point, some part of their business is going to break or go wrong. What separates the high-performing companies from the pack is how they react to that challenge. They assess the situation quickly. They pivot rapidly to an innovative solution. They rally teams around the goals of that solution. By contrast, low-performing companies are quick to assign blame. They wait for others to fix the problem. They use outdated solutions to address new challenges.

Picture your worst-case scenario. What would you do if Amazon announced a solution that targeted your customers and made your go-to-market model irrelevant? More likely, what would you do if a competitor acquired a smaller player and boxed you in? What if they launched a new product or hired a superstar from your best region? Prepare for these worst-case scenarios by working through them in advance with your team. Set up a one-day offsite exercise where you proactively address these scenarios and brainstorm innovative solutions.

Leverage the relentless pace of change. Respect the fact that there is no status quo anymore, and that everything changes all the time. As a CEO, the question you must ask yourself is: Do I recognize, anticipate and leverage the current pace of change, or do I wait for a crisis to hit that will force me to innovate under pressure? In either case, innovation is required for survival and growth. Better to choose the former.

Above is an excerpt. For the full Vistage report click the link below.

5 leadership lessons from FDR that inspire reinvention during times of change

When the U.S. stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, shock waves collapsed markets worldwide. Three years later, 15 million Americans were out of work — one out of every three people. Capital investment dropped from $10 billion in 1929 to $1 billion in 1932. Farm income plummeted 60 percent. Worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 15 percent.

The following spring, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States. He took urgent and bold action to save American from ruin. “The country needs — and, unless I mistake its temper — the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” he told the American people. “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

More than 80 years later, the lessons of FDR’s leadership are still relevant for business leaders — especially those leading a company through difficult times. These five leadership lessons from FDR’s presidential campaign, early days in office and tenure as president have stood the test of time.

Leadership lesson 1: Provide an inspiring vision that gets people excited.

During his run for office, FDR campaigned on a “New Deal” for America. While he was short on specifics, his energy, charisma and message of hope resonated. “Happy Days Are Here Again” played at all FDR events. Campaign Manager Jim Farley observed that Roosevelt’s “ability to discuss political issues in short, simple sentences made a powerful impression. There was a touch of destiny about the man.”

Americans thought so too, and elected FDR in a landslide.

Leadership lesson 2: Lead with optimism, no matter how dire the situation may be.

The day before FDR’s inauguration, banks in 32 of the country’s 48 states had closed. Deposits evaporated. Money was useless anyway — there was nothing to buy.

On Saturday, March 4, 1933, gloomy skies matched the nation’s mood at FDR’s inauguration. Yet he radiated optimism. In his address, FDR proclaimed he would speak with “candor,” lead with “vigor,” and act “boldly.” He assured Americans of his “firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As he spoke, sunshine emerged.

Leadership lesson 3: Work collaboratively with your colleagues to develop a plan for change.

While thousands attended inaugural celebrations, FDR invited his cabinet to the White House where Justice Benjamin Cardozo swore them in as a group — a first. Roosevelt had assembled his team in February, a bipartisan mix of conservatives and liberals, including the first female Secretary of Labor. FDR joked the Saturday swearing-in meant they would “receive an extra day’s pay.” It signaled his presidency would start with action, not ceremony.

That night, FDR stayed up past 1 a.m. with longtime aide Louis Howe, discussing the plan that would become known as the “Hundred Days,” a bold experiment in governing that set the bar for new leaders. Henceforth, the first hundred days for executives in all types of institutions would become the symbolic benchmark for measuring their early successes.

Leadership lesson 4: Take bold action and demonstrate courage.

FDR’s approach was informed by three elder statesmen: Antioch College professor Arthur Morgan inspired FDR to think big. Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell encouraged FDR to take and hold the initiative with Congress. Retired Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes told FDR, “You are in a war, Mr. President, and in a war there is only one rule, ‘Form your battalion and fight!’”

On Sunday, March 5, 1933, FDR met with Congressional leaders to enlist their support, and then issued a proclamation closing the country’s banks. The next day he met with U.S. governors to explain his decision. He received a standing ovation.

That Thursday, Congress convened in a 100-day special session. In just seven hours, legislation safeguarding banks and depositors was introduced, passed and signed. FDR’s first days in office set the tone for his presidency and were characterized by speed, confidence and a willingness to try new things. “There are many ways of going forward,” he noted, “but only one way of standing still.”

Leadership lesson 5: Make decisions that benefit the greater good.

During the Hundred Days, FDR introduced — and Congress established — dozens of agencies that stimulated farm programs, initiated conservation programs, outlawed child labor and lifted wages. Timing helped. With war looming, American industry awoke — providing new jobs and what Roosevelt called the “great arsenal of democracy.”

FDR created opportunities to get Americans working and feeling good about themselves. Though crippled by polio and unable to walk since age 39, FDR exhibited the courage, vision and willpower to get America back on her feet.

How not to choke under pressure

The right kind of preparation can keep us from stumbling during stressful situations, says cognitive scientist Sian Leah Beilock

“They choked.”

It’s one of the most humiliating things you can say about a person.Just about all of us have choked at some point in our lives, whether it was during a test, a game, a talk, or a sales call.

And, boy, do I know the feeling. Growing up, I was an avid athlete. My main sport was soccer, and I was a goalkeeper, which is both the best and the worst position on the field. All eyes are on you, and with that comes the pressure. I distinctly remember one high-school game in particular. I was playing for the California state team, which is part of the Olympic Development Program. I was having a great game — until I realized that the national coach was standing right behind me. Then everything changed. In a matter of seconds, I went from playing at the top of my ability to the very bottom. I choked under the pressure of feeling those evaluative eyes on me, my team lost, and the national coach walked away.

My experience on the playing field — and in other important facets of my life — pushed me into the field of cognitive science. I wanted to know how we could use our knowledge of the mind and the brain to come up with psychological tools that would help us perform at our best.

I also wanted to find out: Why do we sometimes fail to perform up to our capabilities when the pressure is on? 

It might not be so surprising to you to hear that in stressful situations, we worry — about the situation, the consequences, and what others will think of us.

But what may surprise you is that we often get in our own way precisely because our worries prompt us to concentrate too much. When we’re concerned about performing our best, we may try and control aspects of what we’re doing that are best left on autopilot and outside conscious awareness. As a result, we mess up.

My research team and I have studied this phenomenon of overattention, which we call paralysis by analysis. 

In one study, we asked college soccer players to dribble a soccer ball and to pay attention to an aspect of their performance that they wouldn’t otherwise attend to. Specifically, we asked them to pay attention to what side of their foot was contacting the ball. We found that when we drew their attention to the step-by-step details of what they were doing, their performance was slower and more error-prone. Much of this paralysis by analysis comes down to activity in our prefrontal cortex, the front part of our brain that sits over our eyes. While it usually helps us focus in positive ways, it often gets hooked on the wrong things.

In basketball, the term “unconscious” is used to describe a shooter who just can’t seem to miss a shot. NBA All-Star Tim Duncan has said, “When you have to stop and think, that’s when you mess up.” In dance, the great choreographer, George Balanchine, used to urge his dancers, “Don’t think; just do.” When the pressure’s on, we frequently try and control what we’re doing in a way that leads to worse performance.

So how do we unhook our brains?

We can do something as simple as singing a song or paying attention to one’s pinky toe — as pro golfer Jack Nicklaus was rumored to do. Or, we can find some other mindless activity that can help take our minds off the details of what we’re trying to do.

Another strategy requires closing the gap between training and competition, so we can get used to that feeling of all eyes on us. 

This means practicing under the conditions that we know we’ll be performing under. Whether we’re getting ready for an exam or a talk, we can put ourselves in a simulation of the future stressful situation.

If you’re taking a test, periodically close the book while you’re studying and practice retrieving the answers from memory in a set amount of time. If you’re giving a talk, practice a few times in front of other people. And if you can’t find anyone who will listen, rehearse in front of a video camera or a mirror. Our ability to become accustomed to what it will feel like can make the difference in whether we choke or we thrive.

We can also take steps to rid ourselves of those pesky self-doubts that creep up in pressure-filled situations and lead to paralysis by analysis.

Researchers have discovered that simply writing down our thoughts and worries before the stressful event can help download them from our minds. Journaling or jotting your thoughts on paper or on your phone can make it less likely they’ll pop up and distract you during the moments that count.

Fast-forward from my high school soccer game to my freshman year in college. I was in a chemistry class for science majors, and I did not belong there. Even though I studied for my first midterm exam, I bombed. I got the single worst grade in a class of 400 students. Not was I convinced I shouldn’t be a science major but I thought about dropping out of college altogether.

Instead, I changed what I did. 

Rather than study alone, I studied with a group of friends who’d close their books and compete for the right answers at the end of the study session. We were learning how to practice under stress, closing the gap between training and competition.

When the day for the final exam came, my mind was quiet, and I got one of the highest grades in the entire class. As it turns out, it wasn’t just about learning the material; it was about learning how to overcome my limits when it mattered the most.

Sorry to bother you, but do you say “sorry” too much? What to say instead

When we needlessly apologize, we end up making ourselves small and diminish what we’re trying to express, says sociologist Maja Jovanovic.

Think about all the times you use the word “sorry” in a typical day. There are the necessary “sorry”s — when you bump into someone, when you need to cancel plans with a friend. But what about the unnecessary “sorry”s? The “sorry, this may be an obvious idea” at a meeting, the “sorry to cause trouble” when rescheduling a haircut, the “sorry, there’s a spill in the dairy aisle” at the supermarket.

Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic believes the “sorry”s we sprinkle through our days hurt us. They make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.

Jovanovic, who teaches at McMaster University and Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, became interested in this topic when she attended a conference four years ago. The four women on a panel were, she says, “experts in their chosen fields. Among them, they had published hundreds of academic articles, dozens of books. All they had to do was introduce themselves. The first woman takes a microphone and she goes, ‘I don’t know what I could possibly add to this discussion’ … The second woman takes the microphone and says, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought they sent the email to the wrong person. I’m just so humbled to be here.’” The third and fourth women did the same thing.

During the 25 panels at that week-long conference, recalls Jovanovic, “not once did I hear a man take that microphone and discount his accomplishments or minimize his experience. Yet every single time a woman took a microphone, an apologetic tone was sure to follow.” She adds, “I found it enraging; I also found it heartbreaking.”

Jovanovic found the outside world not so different: “Apologies have become our habitual way of communicating,” she says. Since then, she’s collected needless apologies from her colleagues and students. One stand-out? “My research assistant said ‘Sorry’ to the pizza delivery guy for his being late to her house,” says Jovanovic. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, we live in a new subdevelopment. I’m so sorry. Did you have trouble finding this place?’”

We can eliminate the “sorry”s from our sentences — and still be considerate. “The next time you bump into someone,” Jovanovic says, “you could say, ‘Go ahead,’ ‘After you’ or ‘Pardon me.’” Similarly, during a meeting, Jovanovic says, “instead of saying, ‘Sorry to interrupt you,’ why not try ‘How about,’ ‘I have an idea,’ ‘I’d like to add’ or ‘Why don’t we try this?’” The idea is to be polite while not minimizing yourself.

The “sorry”s that fill our written interactions also need to be noticed — and banished. For emails, Jovanovic says, “There’s a Google Chrome plug-in called ‘just not sorry’ that will alert you to all the needless apologies.” With texts, she points out, “Every single one of us has responded to a text you got when you weren’t able to respond right away. What did you say? ‘Sorry.’” She says, “Don’t apologize — say, ‘I was working,’ ‘I was reading,’ ‘I was driving, ‘I was trying to put on Spanx.’ Whatever it is, it’s all good. You don’t have to apologize.”

And, in some of the instances when we’d typically throw in a “sorry,” we could just use the two magic words: “thank you.” Jovanovic tells of the moment when she realized the effectiveness of gratitude. She says, “Four of us were at a restaurant for a work meeting, and we’re waiting for number five to arrive … I put my sociological cap on, and I thought, ‘What would he say? How many apologies will he give?’ I could barely stand the anticipation. He arrives at the restaurant, and you know what he says? ‘Hey, thanks for waiting.’ … The rest of us said, “Yeah, you’re welcome,” and we all just opened our menus and ordered. Life went on, and everything was fine.”

Another time when “thank you” can work better than “sorry”? When you’re with a friend and you realize you’ve been doing all the talking. Jovanovic says, “instead of saying, ‘Sorry for complaining’ or ‘Sorry for venting,’ you could just say, ‘Thank you for listening,’ ‘Thank you for being there’ or ‘Thank you for being my friend.’”

Besides removing them from our own communications, we should tell other people when they’re overdoing their “sorry”s, suggests Jovanovic. You can start with your family and friends — and if you’d like, go beyond them. She says, “I have been interrupting these apologies for three years now. I’ll do it everywhere. I’ll do it in the parking lot, I’ll do it to total strangers at the grocery store, in line somewhere. One hundred percent of the time when I interrupt another woman and I say, ‘Why did you just say ‘sorry’ for that?’ she’ll say to me, ‘I don’t know.’”