Get Out of Your Own Way: Be a Leader


This week we are really happy to have Dr. Sharon Melnick  talking about how to “Get Out of Your Own Way,” plus a variety of other tools and strategies and programs that she has. Sharon is a psychologist and coach. She is dedicated to helping talented and successful people get out of their own way. She’s been informed by 10 years of research at the Harvard Medical School and has trained in cutting edge stress resilience techniques. She’s an authority in helping business professionals move to the next level and feel secure about themselves in insecure times.

She is also a dynamic trainer, and executive coach for business people in varying functional and sales roles and she has a strong track record of successful engagement with a variety of organizations: Deloitte & Touche, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Korn Ferry International, Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, and many others.

She has taught her effective techniques at the School of Management at Boston College and many Fortune 500 companies and non-profits. Her training is from Yale University, UC Berkeley and also The Institute of Management Studies.

Sharon has a lot of information on videos about procrastination, stress, and friction in relationships. She has a strong background in working with individuals in business for themselves or a part of a small business who seek to do things they know they should be doing to grow their business. She also works with business professionals who are ready to be more effective and influential. Also, business professionals who are hitting the wall and they are seeking new approaches, individuals who want to take charge of their stresses that interfere with their health, happiness and financial security, and her involvement in efforts to increase the empowerment of women and business people in general.

She has been on a variety of boards; Foundation for Social Change, NAFE in New York, and Yale Women.

Dr. Relly Nadler: One of the things, Sharon, that we always start off with so people know a little bit about your influences as a leader is who are some of the key people that influence your work and then we’ll get more into exactly what that work is.

Dr. Sharon Melnick: Absolutely. Well, I would have to say it would be people like Stephen Covey, David Allen, maybe more recently Teresa Amabile. These are people who have provided thought leadership to help us understand that to be an effective leader and a performer, you really need to have two skills. It’s really about what you bring; like what you bring in terms of your skills and knowledge. It’s also about how you bring it. Right? So it’s like what the work is but it’s really about how you manage yourself; the way that you think, react, behave. For example, you might have very valuable knowledge but maybe you don’t have the confidence to speak up in that meeting. Maybe you need to respond to a fast turnaround on a report but you have thoughts crashing your mind—you’re overwhelmed and you can’t get yourself to concentrate.

I think that these are thought leaders who have really helped us to appreciate that you have to be able to manage yourself effectively in order to manage the work. I’m sure that we are all seeing these days that those people who are confident and able to stay focused in their thoughts and take action and control the way that they react to people under stressful conditions are the leaders and performers who are thriving in organizations. People who still need to develop these self-management skills, they are really worried about job security; they are waiting for success to come to them and I think they are not doing as well in these times.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: When you talk about all of these people, obviously, who are influencers and people who do a lot of work in the energy world; what kind of takeaways specifically, have you embraced Sharon, that make your brand of what you do so different?

Dr. Sharon Melnick: You know I think it often comes down to those 60,000 thoughts a day that we have. I think that it’s so overwhelming these days, people are so overloaded and there is such complexity. What I find is the helpful paradigm for people is to really focus on your 50% in any interaction. I think that people tend to have a sense of the things that are out of control and nothing really feels in my control—your thoughts, your reactions, how you communicate, how you behave, how you manage your energy—when I give trainings on this topic it can last hours and hours just going over the skills that you can control. That’s sort of suggesting that I think the ability to manage yourself has really become a core competency in addition to knowledge and skills that you have to have to carry out the work.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I know that’s one of the key areas that there is in emotional intelligence; what’s called self awareness but also the self management. I know you are probably as well versed in that as Cathy and I. So what I’m really interested in is just kind of getting some more information around that. Tell me; I’m intrigued by your 10 years of research at Harvard, and like I said at the top of the show that we like to be very evidenced based, I’m curious about what kind of research it was, what did you do, and then maybe that will lead into how you are packaging that and bringing that to people today.

Dr. Sharon Melnick: Sure, absolutely. I guess I have an unconventional entry into this world of leadership development. The research that I did at Harvard Medical School was actually on intergenerational issues. It was about what you bring with you from your own experiences in childhood into your parenting the next generation. What I found from working with parents, particularly who had difficult childhoods, is that they were setting themselves up to repeat those mistakes in the next generation; they were passing that along.

What our research helped us to understand is what exactly goes on for the parents particularly in their thinking and their responding that helped us develop techniques to break that cycle. In the course of working with parents who were—I was up in the Cambridge/Boston area—working at big banks, they worked at professional consulting firms, they were all in the business world; sometimes in business for themselves. At a certain point they all would say the same thing to me. They would say, you know, these approaches that we are talking about, I don’t just do them with my child. I do this with my boss, my direct reports, with my clients, with my assistant, etc.

It really helped me to appreciate that what we were working on was really, again, how they made a relationship with their own self. How they managed their own self. That forms the template for how they were making a relationship with everyone else in their life.

What I would suggest, I know we can have a chance to talk about this more, is that really when it comes to getting in your own way and setting yourself up for these patterns; I think all roads lead to Rome, meaning that ultimately it’s a confidence issue. It’s how you believe in yourself is of course how you are going to see other people. How you, just as you talk about all of the time Relly, are managing your own emotions is what you are going to bring into your relationships with other people.

Then I really just started transferring that skill set to working with people in business. I found that if they would learn the skills in their business life it would transfer to working with their children, so we kind of got a two-for-one.

Dr. Relly Nadler: You know what’s so great for this, is that I heard something really profound by Dan Siegel, which many are familiar with and his work on Mindsight, that if we allow ourselves to be on automatic—not self-managing—that’s going to be the demise of our world. I know Sharon, you will talk later about kind of reactiveness. So not having that choice, it was very powerful when I heard it. That is what it’s going to be, some reaction that could be the demise of our world.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Sharon, we wanted to bring you back to a conversation about how the programs that you are doing with organizations can really make a difference in getting people out of their own way. Can you start there and then we’ll keep streaming along.

Dr. Sharon Melnick: Well, I’ll often talk about this in training in the context of how to accelerate your promotion and so it’s akin to how do you get out of your own way so that you can be noticed for promotion and be effective. Like I was saying, I think that when we talk about getting in your own way, generally speaking it has to do with a confidence related issue. That the behaviors that you do to get in your own way stem from a doubt that you have about your competency, a doubt whether you deserve to be in the position. When you have that doubt about yourself, it sets you up to act in one or both of two very common patterns that I see. The first one is where people put their time, energy and attention into seeking approval from other people. An example is a woman I worked with in a consulting firm, she gave good email. An email came in and she would immediately be all over it, these really long technical details, and it was terrific. People really appreciated her emails. But, what she really wanted was to become a senior leader within the company. So, you could see that she was just trying to get people to think well of her, to approve of her, and it wasn’t getting her towards her goals.

Another example was a guy who was the head of an insurance office and he would spend his time with his DNC revenue generating clients. He would chat on the phone with them, shoot the breeze and they’d get off and say, you are such a great guy. So he would get his feel good. But, was he earning the income that he wanted? No.

A client I worked with within a private equity firm; he would live in fear of what his other teams members would think of the deal that he was bringing. He would kind of second guess what they would want him to say about this deal.

There are just so many examples. What it does is that it has a person put the time and energy and attention onto managing other people’s perceptions of them instead of into really bringing their best value to the work and thinking about what needs to be done. So there’s a kind of seeking approval.

The other pattern that I see is all about just the opposite where people try to prevent disapproval. There is a lot of this going on these days. People might stay indecisive in order to not put a decision out there that could be criticized. People might go to a meeting and have something really valuable to say and not speak up. I work a lot on developing a pipeline of multicultural women leaders and we talk about that issue a lot. How to really have the confidence to speak up in those rooms with senior people.

People stay in their comfort zone; they’ll stay in the level of the weeds, or they will just kind of do tasks as opposed to really thinking strategically and putting themselves out there. A leader, because that’s how the know to get results and get things done, but may not be what is called for in the organization. It’s not giving their best value.

You can listen to the complete interview with Dr. Sharon Melnick, above.


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