The Change Your Mindset Podcast

Welcome to the Change Your Mindset podcast, hosted by Peter Margaritis, CPA, AKA The Accidental Accountant. Peter is a speaker, expert in applied improvisation and author of the book 'Improv Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. Peter's new book, Taking the Numb Our of Numbers: Explaining & Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity will be published in June 2018.

S4E8. Financial Leadership

Why is it that CFOs so often struggle to be understood?

First, CFOs speak in the foreign language of accounting. If they are not able to translate accounting jargon into English, then the people they work for will not understand the significance of what they are saying. Second, accounting has an image problem for non-accountants. It’s an image full of pages of mind-numbing numbers that make no sense, leading to ‘listener shut-down’ and creating a phenomenon that, in turn, leads to lack of accounting acumen within your organization.

What is the antidote to this mind-numbing issue? Leadership.

The best and most effective leaders have a good working knowledge of the company’s financial health, and their decision-making process is established in the financial truths of the organization. Armed with this accounting acumen, the effective leader can influence decision-making by conveying the tactical connection between the mission statement and the financial statements. 

To have a better understanding of the company’s financial health is to achieve a healthy business acumen. Business acumen is built on a foundation of accounting acumen, plus financial acumen, and every leader should strive for this excellence.

I hear stories all the time from CFO’s about how the sales team needs to grow their business by 25%, and yet, in the process, lose 15% in profits. In my interview with Ken “Mr. Biz” Wentworth, he calls this phenonium ‘the silent killer’ to all businesses. The silent killer of a business is not understanding the fundamentals of accounting and finance. We need this understanding and knowledge to make more informed, smarter, and more profitable decisions. If you understand accounting, you can understand finance. If you understand finance, you can understand your business.

We need to teach accounting and finance to non-financial leaders in a different way. We are not trying to turn them into accountants, but rather into leaders with financial acumen. We want to help them gain access to critical knowledge in a manner that removes the complexity of accounting/financial jargon and teaches in plain English.

When you switch the accounting and financial light bulb on and include it as part of leadership development, your leaders will make better business decisions because their business acumen has been fully achieved.

If you would like to learn more about the Color Accounting process, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

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S4E7. Choose Respect Over Drama with Lauren Schieffer

Do you want to dump the drama, increase production, and lift morale? Do you want to have more engaged employees or members? How well do you handle conflict within your organization? Are you and your team having respectful communication with each other?

Lauren Schieffer can address all of those questions and more. She’s the daughter of an Air Force officer, and she grew up being uprooted and relocated every couple of years. This experience imbued her with profound independence and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The lessons she learned from growing up have helped her make smart decisions and overcome adversity with humility and a sense of humor.

Lauren has navigated just about every aspect of corporate America in her varied career. From trucking to achieving top-tier Sales Director status for a global direct-sales cosmetics firm, to managing a nonprofit foundation. In her speaking career, she’s presented across the world to multiple organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies to improve their communication effectiveness and reduce unnecessary conflict. Organizations and associations that hire Lauren find that their employees treat each other better, communicate more effectively — and respectfully, spend less time dealing with drama, and have a more unified focus.

As a leader, how do you disrupt the drama within your team or peer group? The best solution is always going to be prevention. If we are creating workspaces that do not lend themselves to drama, we can go a long way in preventing drama.

When you are in a leadership position, you cannot be conflict-avoidant. If you cannot prevent it, you have to face it head-on. If a leader isn’t confident in handling conflict, they leave that burden on their employees — and the outcome is going to be far worse than if management got involved.

If there was one thing you could apply every day, it would be to wake up and solidify two things for yourself: That you have value because you exist, and are therefore worthy of merit. And two, make a choice to treat people with respect regardless of what they think, say, or do. This does not diminish your value as a human being, it solidifies it. If everyone would embody these two things, the world would be a better place.

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S4E6. Six Stress Busters That Work

What makes us happy? Happiness could be walking on the beach, spending time with friends and family, traveling, attending a sporting event, meeting colleagues at a conference, or going out to your favorite restaurant. And what makes us the opposite of happy? Stress!

Stress is part of our everyday lives, and it can come from so many sources: the daily frustrations of life, our jobs, our relationships, or just the ubiquitous challenges of living through a global pandemic.

But stress isn’t always bad – it can motivate us into action. And even in those situations that might initially seem like the negative kind of stress, you have the power to turn it into something positive. And I have found that having an improvisor’s mindset can help you take on the stress that comes with your job, family, and just the day-to-day responsibilities of life.

COMMUNICATION

Some of the greatest comedies revolve around communication – or the lack thereof. With classics like Birdcage, Caddyshack, and Airplane, these movies are full of comedic sequences based on confusion. This confusion turns into the frustration that the characters feel and express, causing us to laugh as an audience. Why? Because we know better, and it’s funny when you’re not the one experiencing it! The problem is confusion, and lack of communication exists in our lives and our work every day. Adapting to the new normal of Zoom meetings, virtual learning, and a large remote workforce adds to the confusion. And when we’re the ones experiencing it, it’s not that funny.

Paying attention to improving our communication skills can reduce our stress and the stress of others. When people feel disrespected or discounted, stress intensifies. When they feel unheard, they shut down or respond with cynicism, distrust, or anger — and the situation becomes exponentially worse. Effective communication validates and motivates.

AWARENESS

Being aware of your environment can help you control your involvement in whatever situation you are in. When you assess your surroundings, those around you, the actual location, yourself, your team, etc., that awareness will help you develop confidence and overcome the stress. Another way of looking at awareness is to examine how well developed your emotional intelligence is. Emotional intelligence is defined in Oxford Languages as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Being self-aware of our emotions, socially aware of those around us, and having the ability to manage our emotions, helps build relationships and ease our levels of stress.

Awareness is the bridge between communication and adaptability. Awareness goes hand in hand with being a better listener and communicator, which results in adapting to situations quicker and more effectively.

Do you know what else can help you be more aware and stress-free? Being prepared. The more you understand the environment and variables in the environment you may be going into, or are frequently in, the more comfortable you’ll be focusing on what is happening at the moment. Without preparation, you’re more concerned about your anxieties – including not being prepared! You can’t foresee the unexpected, but you can be ready for it with preparation and the confidence it brings – allowing you to be more aware of changing dynamics.

ADAPTABILITY

Adaptability is improv. Many things in life can be stressful, but we can “go with the flow.” It takes flexibility and confidence to address change head-on – and let’s face it, things are always changing.

There’s a game I give audiences in my seminars to exercise adaptability

  • I begin by asking three volunteers to sit up front and face the audience.
  • Together, these people are Dr. Know-It-All, and can answer any question — but just one word at a time.
  • Inevitably, each volunteer has formed some plan – or agenda – in their mind for how they want to answer. However, when the player before them doesn’t say something that fits their agenda, they get flustered and have to scramble for a response.

That’s what happens in life – we come up with scripts or ideas before the person has even finished or started. Why? We don’t want to look dumb. And yet, we don’t respond appropriately with our scripted responses because we’re not really paying attention to the person and therefore unable to adapt based on what was said. When you start to focus, you can adapt and reduce your stress at the same time.

ATTITUDE

There is a vast difference between “I will do the best I can” and “This is going to fail.” If you adopt a better attitude — one that doesn’t broadcast defeat — you might find that you are doing pretty well. No matter your stress source, your success at overcoming stress depends on your ability to perceive things positively. You either can see your situation as a challenge and make the most of it, or you can succumb to it and let the stress win.

One of the most significant ways to achieve the kind of attitude that will yield success is learning to shift your perspective from “yes, but…” to “yes, and…”. “But” stops a thought in its tracks and introduces something else. “And” connects an additional idea to be considered jointly. Even if you don’t ultimately agree on what’s being proposed, you’re at least allowing for the possibility of something happening — thereby showing respect and support for your associate.

It works when talking to your inner critic as well! Doing this small yet significant shift in language promotes positive attitudes from all and encourages an atmosphere of acceptance and possibilities, not rejection and defeat. As a result, the workplace culture thrives.

CALM IN CHAOS

“Don’t panic.” If you ever hear someone say that it’s almost a trigger to go ahead and start panicking. You don’t have to, though – it certainly won’t help you. When you’re staring chaos in the face, you must refuse to tell yourself that you can’t do it. The fact is, you can – and awareness, adaptability, communication, all the improvisational techniques, help you operate clearly without panicking. You’ll always know you can figure a way out.

A big part of staying calm in chaotic moments is learning to manage your inner critic. We’re all familiar with it, the voice that tells you you’re not good enough, not smart enough, that you shouldn’t be here. What can you do?

You have to change the lines and start programming your brain to use “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but…”. When you do, you develop confidence. You tell yourself, “I can do this,” and the more times you repeat it, the more you will believe it. Here are a few examples of how to incorporate this line of thinking: “Yes, I know I will make mistakes, and they will not hamper me. Yes, I will not be perfect, and that means I can only get better.”

HUMOR

So many workplaces seem devoid of humor. I often ask my audiences, “When was the last time your coworkers burst out into laughter, and it wasn’t at your expense?” The answer depends on your culture and your colleagues. A regular dose of laughter, however, reduces stress, and it’s desirable. A Forbes article by Jacquelyn Smith validates the importance of humor: “A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that leaders’ two most desirable traits were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.”

A regular dose of laughter reduces stress – it is the best medicine. It loosens us up and bolsters the immune system. Stress, on the other hand, can get us sick, causing productivity to plummet. So, start laughing and get your coworkers to chuckle as well.

Whether your stress in life results from a physical condition, a family member, or your workplace demands, so much of your success in overcoming these challenges depends on your ability to perceive things positively. Either you win, or you let the stress win. Choose to beat it with improvisation.

If you want to learn more about how you and your team can manage their stress during uncertain times, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

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S4E5. Illuminating Women’s Financial Wellness with Heather Ettinger

Heather Ettinger is the author of “Lumination: Shining a Light on A Woman’s Journey to Financial Wellness.” As a champion for women and girls for over 30 years, Heather is widely recognized for her dedication to helping women build their financial acumen and wealth, culminating in the founding of Luma Wealth Advisors in 2017. She specializes in helping clients align their resources around their family values to create impact in their communities — shattering old-school beliefs about women and finances in the process. 

Heather wanted to educate and empower women, arming them with the information and confidence they need to be agents of social change. She learned in this process that the way we were teaching women wasn’t working. They do not learn best by being told what to do, but from anecdotes and stories, and by having a framework to think about what money means to them.

Heather begins teaching women by showing them how much power they have. Women make 80% of the purchasing decisions and control the majority of wealth in this country. She also invites women to reflect on their own money history and the different role models or influences on them. Then she brings them to understand their own health and wellness and what gives or takes energy. She would then have you assess these six areas of life: job purpose, relationships, community, health, spirituality, and play. You would then build your own illumination plan on how to move forward.

Her book, “Lumination: Shining a Light on A Woman’s Journey to Financial Wellness.” is a great way to reframe your thought process around finances and learn how to take ownership of that part of your life.

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S4E4. Successful Negotiating in Corporate America

What do you feel when you hear the word “negotiate?” Dread? Anxiety? Excitement? Do you believe that negotiation skills can be taught? Do you agree with this statement: “We negotiate all the time”? Have you ever searched Google asking one or more of these questions: 

  • What skill is the most helpful during a negotiation?
  • How does ego play a role in negotiating?
  • What role does leverage play during negotiations?

Most of us have experienced a negotiation gone bad. However, have you ever been negotiated up? Early in my business, I wanted to work with a specific association because of the painful negotiation their members were experiencing. I knew I had a solution for that pain. In my conversation with them, they asked what my fee was. I replied, what is your budget for this event? The person responded with the speaker budget for the entire year and it was $1,000 above my fee for the event. I wanted the job, so I offered a fee that was 75% less than my normal fee. Then came the awkward pause. After about what seemed like 30 min but more like 30 sec, the person replied with a fee that was 50% more than what I had offered. I got negotiated UP! I learned a valuable lesson that day: Learn how to negotiate better! So from that point forward, I offer my full fee, and if rejected, I work with the other person to find common ground where both parties WIN and walk away with value.

Not every negotiation table has a client on the other end. Sometimes it’s an employee. And when it is, it is often about negotiating to give them a voice in their role within the company and in the business’s direction. These negotiations take success to a whole new level.

What makes some negotiations successful and others dead in the water? Conducting a successful negotiation requires the use of six essential skills—and they are all foundations of Improvisation. These six skills will ensure every negotiation has the potential to end with a positive solution.

6 Principles of Improvisation:

  1. Take your ego off the table
  2. Have and show respect for the other party
  3. Be in the moment/Stay focused
  4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants
  5. Adapt to the situation
  6. Yes, And…

These steps truly help everyone one win in a negotiation. One of the biggest impacts the six principles have is to take the emotions off the table. Heated emotions can cause negotiations to shut down. They are more likely to end in a stalemate with wasted efforts. Anthony K. Tjan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, “Time and emotion — these are the two things most often wasted during a negotiation.” And he is right. We tend to react emotionally and negatively to any points of negotiation that oppose our own agenda. And that wastes time and energy. When our goals for negotiation are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, and egos inflate—and we cease to listen. All we hear is our own voice in our head trying to find a way back to what we want.

Skillful Negotiation is Rooted in Improvisation

Tom Yorton was once in the corporate ranks before becoming CEO of Second City Communications, the business solutions division of the world-renowned comedy company, The Second City. He had this to say in a recent Business Innovation Factory article, “But my experience—and in fact, my scars—are from bumping up against the same organizational hurdles that improv is so effective at helping companies get over—challenges that include connecting with customers, engaging employees around change, moving into new

markets, innovating new products and services, working without a script.”

All of the aspects of driving positive change inside the company depend on how well leaders in corporate America can negotiate. That equates to how well business professionals can handle ‘blocking’. ‘Blocking’ are those things that are brought to the table that are unexpected – out of the blue – out of nowhere Blocking like this halts forward momentum and does not neatly fit inside the box of your agenda. And it happens every day.

Daena Giardella teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She spends an entire lesson on teaching how to avoid using the most common block, the “yes, but.” In an NPR article, she points out, “Even though you say, ‘Yes,’ the but says, Yeah, but that’s not really valid because here is the better point.“

Negotiations can quickly come to a grinding halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. It is when emotions get heated and time gets wasted. Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business School Professor and Program on Negotiation (PON) faculty member, wrote the book “The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World.” Michael states in a PON Q&A interview that, “real-world interactions between parties by looking at the uncertainty of negotiations and how to develop a flexible strategy when you have incomplete information. Negotiation cannot be scripted. Your goals may change during the course of negotiation, a little or a lot. Unexpected opportunities and obstacles may pop up. Your across-the-table counterpart may be more or less cooperative than you expected.” 

Too many times we practice a rigid strategy—a script, a plan—prior to going into a negotiation. By doing so, we quit listening to the other party because we are following the linear thought process we created and practiced. We miss out on key opportunities or threats by not being fully present. Michael states in this Q&A, “There’s a misperception that military strategy is very rigid. Yes, there’s a chain of command, but there’s also a military saying: “Plans go out the window with the first contact with the enemy.” In an uncertain situation, you have to think through your best- and worst-case scenarios.” This military strategy can be witnessed back in 2011 when the U.S. Navy SEALs executed the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. “The mission had been meticulously planned; the SEALs trained for it over months and several contingency plans were developed and put into place. When one of the navy’s Black Hawk helicopters crashed within the compound, a very specific kind of improvisation was required if the mission was to succeed.” This is adapting to the change in the strategy in order to achieve a positive outcome. 

Improvising is not winging it or making things up. Improvising is all about over-preparing and developing alternative plans and when you enter the room, you throw the script away, you listen and stay present in the negotiation and adapt in order to achieve success. 

Listen to the other party’s needs. What are they really saying when they block your proposal? Be adaptable by taking your ego off the table. Take a deep breath if you need to and then let the next words that come out of your mouth be “Yes, and…”

A successful negotiation is birthed from being able to rebound, to take the blocks, and build with them. That is how you connect with other people.

Have you ever watched preschoolers play with blocks? They take turns stacking them on top of each other until it gets so high it just topples over—or they like to watch it fall and knock it over on purpose. But the point is that both of them have an agenda. They each want to pick up a block and put it on the tower and each one probably has an idea about what the tower will look like, but they keep building until they can’t build anymore.

We are more likely to succeed in negotiations when both parties can envision a common goal. Improvisation teaches us to set aside our personal agendas and ego and take whatever the other person gives us and go with it. The glue that ties it all together is the principle of “Yes, and…” Successful people all intuitively do this. They just don’t necessarily realize that they are using improvisation in their daily lives.

To succeed in negotiations, we need to drop our agendas long enough to truly listen—and with respect for all involved. It is true for formal negotiations around a conference table and is the way to success in the daily negotiations of life and career—during a chat with the boss or with one’s spouse, or with a child. This is the kind of straight talk we can cultivate that truly will make the biggest difference.

If you would like to learn more about negotiating using improv techniques, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

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