A Systematic Approach to Sustaining High Levels of Performance

Heldman, Mary Lynne

Dr. Relly Nadler:
This week we have Mary Lynne Heldmann. She has over 30 years of experience as a leadership organizational development consultant. She’s an author, and a guest specialist on programs including Oprah Winfrey. She also is co-founder of Future First Consulting Group and is a principle of the Mark Cunningham Group known for the Unique Achieve Program. The focus for this interview is hearing a little bit more about the Achieve Program.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We can really dramatically improve your performance and the leaders around you by just doing a few things. One of those things we are going to talk to Mary Lynne about is performance.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Mary Lynne and I were introduced by a mutual friend and probably well-known to many of our listeners, Marshall Goldsmith. Mary Lynn Heldmann contributed the development of and is certified in The Unique Achieve Program which she going to talk and discuss with us what does. I’m very excited to learn today and I know you will be too. Achieve is an organizational methodology, it is a systematic approach to sustaining high levels of performance and results.

Mary Lynne is experienced in high-level executive coaching, coaching teamwork; she is an executive coach, obviously, and does a lot of executive consulting. She is someone who is very, very well versed in facilitation and education and group dialogue.

Mary Lynne is a regular columnist for Working Mother Magazine. She’s the author of the Valentine book titled, When Words Hurt: How to Keep Criticism From Undermining Your Self Esteem. A significant portion of this book is based on the communication feedback curricula that Mary Lynne developed and taught in numerous Fortune 200 companies. She has coached CEOs, presidents, vice presidents, and director level executives at several Fortune 500 companies; medium and large size enterprises.

A partial client list, and it can go on for pages, so I’m only going to hit the high notes here, are American Express, Avon, Budget Rent-A-Car, Golden Eagle Insurance Company, Inova,  Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, National Westminster Bank, The US Postal Service, Texaco, Verizon, Wyatt Pharmaceuticals, I could go on and on. She’s an amazing, wonderful, executive coach and I know you are going to love her.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Mary Lynne, what we typically like to start off with is to try to get into some of the formative features that may have allowed you to be who you are and bring what you do to organizations. With that, we always like to ask who have been some of the most influential people, thinkers, in your life career and how they may have shaped some of your work today?

Mary Lynne Heldmann: Well, I would say, my father because he had such wonderful integrity, but nobody knows who he is, so I’ll move on from there. Deepak Chopra has really influenced my thinking a great deal. What I really understood at a very deep level after reading quite a lot of Chopra’s work, is the true creative nature that we have as human beings; that we can, in fact, create our future. He talks about bringing it from the unmanifested to the manifest.

So, the first company before Mark Cunningham Group that I co-created was Future First. It really influenced looking and helping people get very clear about the future that they wanted to create and then the steps to take to make that happen. So I would say that he has had a profound effect.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who wrote the classic Mindfulness, has really been very formative for me. It has helped me and helped others quiet our minds and get present and be in the moment. That’s where we need to be to be effective. What we tend to do is we allow our brains and our minds to take us to the past where we had bad experiences or worry about the future, so we aren’t able to really be present and do our best in the present.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Beautiful. Let me ask you this question. Many of our listeners what to know how guests like yourself get their ideas to start a company to begin with. You’ve talked about taking something and manifesting it and being mindful and in the moment, and I’m sure many people would want to understand how to do that. Do you think being an entrepreneur that entrepreneurs are natural leaders and can anybody start a company?

Mary Lynne Heldmann: Well, I think there are some people that choose not to really do things. They don’t want to think about and conceive things, so they are not interested in starting companies. They really do help the people who get them started do what it takes to keep them going. I think people who are creative, extremely innovative; the entrepreneurs, they are the ones who make connections, who build, often from just their experience.

The way that the Achieve Program was designed was that it was designed based on the frustration of an athlete who was training for the Olympics and found that his performance was good on some days and not on others. Based on that experience, he worked very hard to understand performance and he spent many years but he designed the Achieve Program. Much of it hasn’t really been done before, so that’s truly a creative process.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Mary Lynne, can you tell us some of the highlights of your book?

Mary Lynne Heldmann: I would say the highlight of that book is based on the premise that criticism represents a threat to us, so we respond either by retreating or defending ourselves or by attacking. So it’s either flight or fight. That’s an automatic response and it’s based on survival. They key is if we didn’t look at criticism as a threat we wouldn’t have to survive it. The major point of the book, at least in the beginning, is for you to change the way you relate to criticism, change your relationship around criticism. We have a negative relationship to criticism which means we don’t like it. We feel threatened, we are put on the spot. You change that mindset by looking at criticism as something that you can listen to, thank people for, and then use it or not use it. It doesn’t mean if you get a piece of criticism and you don’t agree, you don’t need to follow up and take that criticism and change based on it. What you do want to do is to have an adult to adult conversation and not get into defensiveness or into counterattacking.

If you look at criticism as an opportunity rather than a liability, just that changing the way you interpret criticism in the first place will help you change your response so that you can have an adult to adult conversation and use it when it’s appropriate.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s interesting how we, I call them inner voices, often are our worst own enemy because we say things when we should be our best cheerleaders. So on that note, can you tell us a little bit about the background of Achieve and how what you did in the past relating to this wonderful book, has not evolved into something that is more creative and helpful, probably than you could have imagined.

Mary Lynne Heldmann: Well, what I certainly realized based on the research that I did for the book over a couple of years and observing people, is that when we feel negative, when we feel threatened, we don’t really behave at our best. We don’t perform at our best. So when we are threatened our reaction is often negative. The premise is that the way that we feel has a great deal to do with the way we perform.

Earlier, you were talking about emotional intelligence and the emotional thermostat. The Achieve Program is really based on the cornerstone of Achieve and it was designed by an athlete, my son, who came into the business with me even while he was training for the Olympics, but he was feeling extremely frustrated at times when his performance didn’t match his capacity.

He trained with the best coaches and athletes and the coaches felt that he had the capacity to go to the Olympics. There were times when he went on the field that he would choke up or he would feel frustrated and his performance would suffer. So he got keenly interested in really looking at all of the elements that affect our performance day-to-day and week-to-week, and that’s how Achieve was born.

This is something that was really created over a number of years, born out of frustration, but actually now has been implemented in many, many Fortune 100 companies on all levels. It’s used by individual leaders, by their teams, and then all functions and parts of the organization.

I always like to tell people that if you are feeling frustrated and down, you have to just stick with it because your head will come up and you’ll make more of it, actually, which is what Achieve did. It was designed to optimize performance moment to moment.

I would say that what most people get from this that we work with, is after we have been working with them for anywhere from three to six months in coaching, by and large what they say is I’m getting more done, it’s easier and I feel happier.

Cathy, to your whole program on happiness and performance, we are very much aligned there because when you feel positive, the basis of the program, and we give you tools to be more positive on regular basis, is when you are positive and your performance accelerates by 15-20%. The level of your performance also. What we do is we have about 14 elements in the program that help people to be more unconditionally positive under pressure. So even when the sky is falling, they can remain grounded and confident and clear. That’s a big part of the program.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We want to get into some of the specifics of this because it really ties into some of the EI models around self-management, which is really is this how do we manage and take care of ourselves. You mentioned Deepak Chopra, I remember the first place I saw this, he was the one that said that we have something like 50,000 sentences or thoughts a day which come out in sentences every day. Of those 50,000 somewhere about 90-95% are the exact same thoughts that we had yesterday. So you are really dealing with some very conditioned responses of how we are interpreting the world.

I’m interested in hearing about some of the basic things that we can learn about the Achieve Program because I imagine it hits a lot of the thought processes that are going to allow people to feel more positive about things.

Mary Lynne Heldmann: Well I think the best way to do this is that I could actually show you a tool that we demonstrate to people. Remember what we are looking at is how do you remain unconditionally positive when you are under pressure or when you have perhaps made a mistake or failed, because that’s the moment when you need to be at your best. You know when we work with a group or an individual, people agree, yes my performance is so much better when I’m feeling good verses when I’m feeling bad; when I’m feeling positive verses negative. Positive doesn’t mean happy and smiling, in our language positive means grounded, focused, energized, capable, and confident.

What to find out about the tool and others? You can listen to the complete interview above, without commercials.


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