Mental Fitness for Business Analysts

Do you ever feel like you are holding yourself back from your full potential in your career and relationships?

The concept of mental fitness is all about our ability to deal with life’s challenges big and small, with positive emotions (like empathy, compassion, creativity, curiosity) instead of a negative emotions (like fear, anxiety, shame, and stress). And the end result of being mentally fit is being able to achieve our goals more easily.

I felt this topic was so important to the business analysis community, that I invited Michael Glazer, a Certified Leadership Coach to talk about the specific mental fitness challenges business analysts are most likely to face, and how to address them.

 

Laura Brandenburg: Hello. I’m Laura Brandenburg here today with Michael Glazer. Hi, Michael.

Michael Glazer: Hi Laura.

Laura Brandenburg: Great to have you here.

Michael Glazer: I’m so excited to be here with you.

Laura Brandenburg: Yes. Yes. Thank you. I’m really excited to talk about mental fitness today. Just for those who don’t know you, you are a certified leadership coach and consultant. You’ve worked with leaders at really top companies across the globe. I find it fascinating that you’re in Tokyo and that you speak both English and Japanese. So I feel like you have a lot to bring to this conversation.

Michael Glazer: Thanks.

What is Mental Fitness

Laura Brandenburg: Obviously, our community is business analysis professionals and in a corporate space and you help people in professional spaces with mental fitness. And so we wanted to talk a little bit more about that. It seems really ripe for that. You just shared a little bit about what mental fitness is and why we should be concerned about it.

Michael Glazer: Sure. So, essentially mental fitness is our ability to deal with life’s challenges, big and small, with a positive mindset instead of a negative mindset. And when we’re able to do that, three really good things happen. One, it gives us the ability to reach peak performance. It gives us the ability to increase our wellbeing, our peace of mind. And, then, the third thing it does is it gives us the ability to create and maintain high quality relationships.

Laura Brandenburg: Which are all important.

Michael Glazer: Yeah. I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t either want those or doesn’t want a little bit more of those.

Laura Brandenburg: Yes. It’s interesting, as I was reflecting on this idea of fitness, because the first comparison I made in my head was to mental toughness, but it’s really, I think from a metaphorical perspective, toughness is that I can handle anything. And fitness feels more like I’m agile and I have strength. I have these multiplicity of abilities to handle, maybe, life’s challenges, as opposed to just, I can tough it out. Is that a good metaphor to be thinking about what this is like in the real world?

Michael Glazer: In ways, yes.  I’d say to add some contrast to what you’re talking about. When we say, “Meeting life’s challenges with a positive instead of a negative mindset,” negative mindset means that we’re operating from negative emotions or negative self-talk that are governed by things like fear, anxiety, shame, stress, and anger.

And so instead of that, mental fitness helps us tap into powers like empathy, compassion, creativity, curiosity, big picture thinking, purpose and clear-headed laser-focused action. That’s really the difference that we’re talking about.

Laura Brandenburg: I could just feel myself calming down as you’re talking about that. Body response.

Michael Glazer: Yeah. Yeah.

Why is Mental Fitness Important for Business Analysts

Laura Brandenburg: So our community, which you know a little bit about, because I was on your podcast too, but we’re business analysts. And so we tend to be very analytical people. We also have a strong business acumen. So we have, really, a dual perspective on a software business change project. I think on the positive side, this can look like really understanding the problem that needs to be solved. Getting everyone on the same page, really understanding the needs at a very detailed level and getting to the requirements. But like everything, there’s that shadow side too, which is maybe where that negative side can come out. We can be perceived as overly critical or hypervigilant about an outcome and care more about things than sometimes anybody else does. Or we can feel that way.

We might want to feel like we need to make everyone happy on a project or also just being a stickler for the details. That can be a little bit, maybe we can get worried about being overly detailed, but also, then, worried about if we miss a detail.

So what, from an emotional or, sorry, a mental fitness perspective, what would be some of the challenges somebody like that might deal with?

Michael Glazer: It’s interesting that you mentioned things like being a stickler for details or being hyper-vigilant or being, or keeping everybody happy, being a people pleaser. These are three ways that we actually self-sabotage ourselves when we get into these modes. And each one of these three areas has its own mental fitness challenge.

For example, I’ll start with a stickler. When we find ourselves in stickler mode, one of the mental fitness challenges around this is being able to have a level of discernment and awareness so that we make sure that when we’re managing to what stakeholders, I think in a business analyst context, what stakeholders are actually expecting us to deliver as opposed to some kind of internal high standards that we have.

I think this is part of the reasons why this can be a challenge is because when that stickler is when we’re in stickler mode, again, a form of self-sabotage, what we’re hearing in our heads is something that says, “I have to aim for perfection. Perfection is good. Perfection is required. Other people, they’re lazy, they’re sloppy. They’re just not up to the task.” And so, when you’re in stickler mode and you’re looking around and you’re observing, people tend to get frustrated, tend to get angry that they’re not doing things up to our standards, and we’re not doing them right.

What people may not realize is that other people may actually be angry at us when we get ourselves into stickler mode, because they’re thinking, why am I always being criticized? Or if they think, “I’m actually doing what the stakeholders or the sponsors requesting, but still I’m being held to a higher standard. Nothing’s ever good enough.” This can create a sense of resentment. So being able to discern and have that awareness is one of the challenges for the stickler.

The  Mental Fitness Challenges Business Analysts Are Most Likely to Face

Laura Brandenburg: So, that’s a perfect example. In that case, how might somebody who has that stickler mindset or that stickler challenge, how might they deal with that? How might they try to overcome it?

Michael Glazer: One thing that a stickler can do is, and this may sound like common sense for people coming from a business analyst background, is just pause for a second and do an evidence check. Whether it’s going back to the project charter, whether it’s going to a requirements document or something like that, what’s the evidence of what I’m supposed to deliver here? And is there any difference between what I’m seeing in these documents and what I’m actually trying to work towards? One is just having, again, the discernment and the awareness to be able to take the time to do that.

Another thing that somebody in stickler mode might do would be actually share this tendency with teammates and stakeholders. Sometimes I know I get myself into stickler for detail mode. My guess is that if someone made the choice to do that, they’d probably earn trust as a result of making themselves vulnerable around this. They could even take that a step further, I think. They can, for example, invite people to have conversations or give them explicit permission to do, say, a stickler check. If team members get the feeling like, “Uh-oh, the stickler’s in action,” having permission to actually talk about it as opposed to something that they fear may actually create relationship or conflict could be a way to help team and also help performance.

Laura Brandenburg: I love that. And I also feel like a lot of times where this comes up for business analysts, and we talked about this in your podcast. I’ll leave the link to that too, but because the role is ill-defined. So the stickler Is really an expectation that we have about our role that is in conflict with what the stakeholder might have about our role. So just getting that all out on the table can have a lot of positive impact.

Michael Glazer: Yes, exactly.

Laura Brandenburg: How about the people pleaser? I feel like that affects a lot of people, myself included.

Michael Glazer: Yeah. I know. I get myself into people pleaser mode sometimes as well. I think this is common amongst consultants and coaches, actually.

For the people pleaser. I think one of the mental fitness challenges is about developing a really strong sense of self-worth, practicing self-compassion, self-empathy, because for a lot of people, when they get themselves into pleaser mode, again, a form of self-sabotage, they have difficulty saying no, or they say yes, without realizing that they can put reasonable conditions to the support that they’re offering people.

I think for people pleasers what’s going on is they’re being governed, primarily, by feelings or emotions, like fear or anxiety. They want to earn people’s acceptance. And they’re worried that by saying no, it could damage the relationship. They could lose a relationship with somebody who’s important to them.

And so here, one thing that the pleaser can do to practice self-compassion would be something like, imagine yourself talking to a five-year old. If you had a five-year-old who said to you, “I want to advocate for myself.” You wouldn’t crouch down to the five-year-old and point your finger at him or her and say, “How dare you? That’s so selfish.” You’d be out of your mind. You would say, “You’re valuable, of course you matter, your needs matter,” and you would praise them and encourage them to directly express what they need to other people so that their needs can be fulfilled.

And so this is the kind of thing that if we learn to practice on our own, could help us set and protect boundaries that not only help our sense of wellbeing and performance, but also help relationships.

I think one of the counterintuitive things here is that oftentimes by saying “no” inappropriate ways, we actually earn more acceptance and respect than by saying “yes,” all the time.

The Benefits of Improving Your Mental Fitness

Laura Brandenburg: Oh, my goodness. I think that’s so true. Especially in a role, like the business analyst is where you can very easily start to take on so many responsibilities and then it weighs you down. Saying “no” to the things that are outside of your scope or to requirements or needs that are really outside the scope of the project, it does position you at a higher level, and that earns credibility, for sure. I’m imagining in your consulting, you’ve done things like this where you’ve had the “no” actually elevate your reputation or credibility.

Michael Glazer: Yeah. Yeah, of course. And actually, even before my consulting work started a decade ago, I was a global functional head at the IT division of Morgan Stanley. And I worked closely with business analysts on a regular basis. One of the things that came up frequently was a sponsor or a stakeholder would ask to add a feature.

That’s pretty common. If you say “yes” to that without having a conversation of, “Well, that’s going to cost a week on the timeline,” that can create problems for the team. Being able to say what our team does is valuable. “We need an extra week to do this right,” is the kind of conversation if it’s done well, I think most reasonable stakeholders, if not all of them, are going to respect.

Another one that comes up in my consulting is the pleaser is afraid to demand what their services are worth. The client’s asking for a discount, the client’s asking to over-service and you want to say “yes” to make them happy. And then you wind up making yourself angry because you didn’t really support yourself or advocate for yourself. I think this is another pattern that’s pretty common.

Laura Brandenburg: I can identify with all of those things at certain points in my career as well. We’ve talked about some of the challenges and how to overcome them. I still feel as if there would be a significant investment to say, “Okay, this is the year I’m going to work on my emotional fitness.” So how would someone know, with everything that might be on their plate or the potential opportunities that they have, that this is an area that’s really going to make a difference in their life or their career? This is their next step to work on this particular area.

Michael Glazer: Sure. Yeah. I think there are two parts to that question, right? There’s the, “What kind of results can I expect,” part of the question and then there’s what’s the time investment? How much time do I have to invest to actually see these results?

Talking about the results first, I’m aware of a body of academic research. It’s about 200 studie that collectively has studied more than 275,000 people. What the results say are that people who have higher levels of mental fitness, not only do they earn more, but they’re more successful in business, in marriage, in health, friendships, creativity as a whole bunch of different aspects of life.

Just to give you a couple of data points that may be relevant for a business analyst, project teams are managed by leaders who have high levels of mental fitness, performed 31% better, on average, than other like teams.

Another relevant data point is that a project manager who has high levels of mental fitness make more accurate and higher quality decisions with less effort than their peers do.

Because I like threes, I’ll add a third one in there, not so related, but for salespeople; salespeople who have high levels of mental fitness, sell 37% more than their counterparts who have low mental fitness. So there’s tons of data to support this.

In terms of time, how much time do you need? The initial, the thing that’s most important here is that people make a commitment to invest some substantial time upfront to build the habits that make this possible. And specifically, they need 15 minutes of practice on a daily basis for six to eight weeks. When I work with clients on this, it’s that 15 minutes a day for six weeks plus between one and two hours a week to learn and discuss the different skills needed for developing mental fitness.

Laura Brandenburg: You said “significant,” and then you said such a small number. That’s nothing.

Michael Glazer: I’m glad to hear you say that. That’s like less than, what, 3% of people’s waking time, but it can sound like a lot to busy professionals.

Laura Brandenburg: For sure. And I just want to emphasize as well, I feel like mental fitness has been a thread in all the coaching that I’ve received throughout the years. And I’ve shared before how much I invest in my own personal professional development. And these days it’s more on the personal development in that’s where the external results come from. The things like the salary that you might not want, or the title or the salary you do want that you’re not getting or the title that you do want, but are not getting, often, it feels like this external thing, but it’s like the results or the work starts in here. And it has a multiplier effect too. So you start it and then it just, it gets easier as you go. And the momentum tends to build upon itself. At least…

Michael Glazer: No, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. So when we feel like we have to push through and we’re using words like I have to, I should, I must. Typically, we’re being driven by the forces that are responsible for our self-sabotage. When we’re in a mode where it’s generative, where we feel like we’re in a state of ease and flow, things are coming naturally because we’re using the parts of our brain responsible for the kinds of skills I mentioned before, empathy, creativity, curiosity, and so on.

This is where we’re an ease and flow. And it’s much easier to not only achieve success, but to achieve happiness in the process of being successful.

How to Learn More About Mental Fitness

Laura Brandenburg: Yes. Oh, there’s so many more things I could ask you around this, but I know that we’ve got a little bit. So tell me for somebody who does want to dig deeper, because you’ve really, you’ve piqued our interest about what this looks like.

What are some resources that they might explore?

Michael Glazer: Yeah. If you’re going to pick up one, and I’ll just kind of go back to this, this people don’t have a lot of time. If you’re going to pick one source, what I would recommend is a book called Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. It’s a New York Times bestseller. It’s been translated into 20 languages. I think there’s a good chance, no matter where in the world people are tuning in from and what their native language is, they have a pretty good shot of reading it in a familiar enough language.

The other thing that they might also check out is the website also called positiveintelligence.com. If you’re interested in knowing where you self-sabotage and what those patterns are, there’s a free five minute assessment you can take and get the results there.

Laura Brandenburg: You also coach personally on this. If somebody wanted to learn more about what you offer, how would they do that?

Michael Glazer: Three ways you can contact me. One is on LinkedIn. It’s linkedin.com/n/learningpro. You can also find my website, glazercoaching.com or my company website, which is peoplefocusconsulting.com.

Laura Brandenburg: All of those, we’ll hook them up with you around the coast.

Michael Glazer: Yes.

Laura Brandenburg: I know there’s so much more that you could offer around this, but any last takeaways or tips, something that you hope that somebody will take with them from this conversation today?

Michael Glazer: Just to give it a try and to invest in yourself. This has been a game changer for so many people. More than 500,000 people worldwide have gone through this type of mental fitness program. And what I hear most often is people saying. “Wow. This has really worked for me. Now, can you do this with my partner? Now can you do this with my team?” So give it a try.

If you have any questions at all, I promise I will respond to each and every message that I receive. So don’t hesitate. Don’t let your saboteurs get in the way of reaching out and contacting me. Let’s start a conversation and see where it goes.

Laura Brandenburg: All right. Well, thank you so much. I would really encourage anybody who’s interested in learning more, reach out to Michael and find out more. These kinds of investments definitely pay dividends when you’re thinking about your career.

Thank you so much, Michael.

Michael Glazer: Thanks Laura. It’s been great.

About Michael Glazer

Michael Glazer is a Certified Leadership Coach, Organizational Development Consultant, and Facilitator. His client work spans 15 countries across four continents and focuses on helping leaders take care of people while taking care of business.

He is based in Tokyo, speaks English and Japanese, and has worked with leaders at major corporations, including Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, and Mitsubishi. Michael has also guest-lectured at Kyoto University and at the United States Air Force Academy.

Michael is a Japan business specialist. His coaching focuses on helping Western leaders in Japan overcome the workplace challenges they face as foreigners so they can create long-term value in performance and wellbeing for themselves. He has facilitated leadership- and coaching-skills workshops for thousands of Fortune 500 professionals over the past 20 years.

Before becoming a leadership coach and consultant, Michael served as a global functional head in the technology division of Morgan Stanley and was a commercial leader at Dell where he grew a multimillion-dollar business 4X in three years.

Michael earned a BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an MA from the University of Colorado, and an external coaching certificate from Teachers College Columbia University (C3P). He is also a Certified Coach by WBECS, a Certified Trainer by The Ken Blanchard Companies, and an active member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Connect with Michael Glazer on LinkedIn

Discover more about People Focus Consulting (Michael’s consulting company)

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