Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Living the Martyr Lifestyle

I have decided that in 2009 I will be featuring other authors on my blog. It keeps the ideas fresh and it is always good to see the synergies from one sector of business to another. Since 2008 is nearly behind us, I decided to start featuring other authors now. Since this time of year we are bombarded with requests from non profits, I decided to get a perspective from a leader in the non profit sector.

This post is by Elisa M. Ortiz. She joined the staff of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA) in April 2007 with a background in advocacy, organizing, and grassroots movement building. As the Coordinator of Outreach & Special Initiatives, she leads the work of the Nonprofit Congress initiative, expands the base of people involved in it, and coordinates planning for Nonprofit Congress annual meetings.

In particular, she focuses on leadership and organizational effectiveness, having co-authored one of NCNA's signature publications, Work With Me: Intergenerational Conversations for Nonprofit Leadership.

Living the Martyr Lifestyle, by Elisa Ortiz

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many of us in the nonprofit sector tend to gravitate toward the martyr lifestyle. We work long hours, we worry about work when we’re not there, sometimes, we even dream about it (http://monster.typepad.com/monsterblog/2005/08/dreaming_about_.html). To some extent, I think that it’s perfectly natural for us to be like this. You don’t work in a nonprofit if you’re not a passionate, caring individual. Sometimes though, that passion carries us too far.

In America, perhaps more than other countries, our identity is often tied to the work we do (http://www.imdiversity.com/Villages/Asian/business_finance/lam_work_identity_culture.asp). I don’t know about you, but when I meet someone, the second question I’m almost always asked is ‘where do you work?’. It helps us define ourselves and helps others define us too. Unfortunately, that’s not always a good thing.

From an internal perspective, we can often ‘live’ our jobs way too much. I speak from experience as someone who has worked jobs where my very existence, my ego, my self-esteem seemed to hinge on the work I was doing. I cared so much about my job that I stopped caring about myself. I was ill, unhappy, and had virtually no outlet since all my friends were at work.

From the external perspective, other people might think we’re nuts. Unless of course, all your friends work in nonprofits (as virtually all of mine do). If all of your friends do work in nonprofits, you probably don’t see them, because you’re all working too much. If you know people who don’t work in nonprofits, well, you might never see them either. And, you might be getting questions like “If you’re not getting paid by the hour, why the heck are you working 60+ hours a week?!?”. Umm…

It took me a few years to figure this out and I have a couple of tips and suggestions for those of you who might be newer to the sector, or who might still be martyring themselves to their jobs.

· First, you don’t have to be a superwoman [http://fromthepipeline.blogspot.com/2008/01/im-not-your-superwoman-creating-not-so.html] (or a superman for that matter). YOU ARE ONLY HUMAN. Sorry to tell you this, but no matter how much you work, you’ll never be able to single-handedly eliminate poverty, animal abuse, homelessness, etc. To think you can is foolish at best and egomaniacal at worst.
· Do what you can in a day and then go home. You’ll be better for it in the morning. I can’t emphasize that enough actually. I’ve always found putting in a hard 8 to 9 hours and then heading home to rest is much more productive than an exhausted 12 hours followed almost immediately by 12 more.
· Try to have fun with or at your job. Whether it’s taking some time to eat lunch with your coworkers or heading out for happy hour afterward, it can definitely improve things. I mean, you work with these people at least 40 hours a week, you might as well get to know them personally.
· Use your vacation and sick time. Hopefully you’ve got some paid time off. USE IT. Again, it does no one any good for you to be horribly ill and dragging yourself into the office. In fact, its worse: you can’t do much because you’re sick and you infect everyone else in the office. Here at NCNA [http://www.councilofnonprofits.org], we have 6 people. If one of us brings in a cold, we all get it. Do your coworkers a favor and stay home. Or take a vacation. Even if you can’t afford some big trip, at least take a week to go camping or go to the beach or even stay home and do nothing. Do you remember summer vacations from school? Long days with precisely nothing to do? Wasn’t it amazing? Recreate that at home!
· Let it go. I’m going to let you in on a little secret here: I seriously love my job. I’m passionate about the nonprofit sector and the opportunities to unite us into a more powerful voice. But when I go home, I let it go. I don’t worry about the work still on my desk. There will always be more work to do. You can’t eliminate it or reduce the load by worrying about it when you’re not there, so stop trying.
· After all of this, if you’re still martyring and can’t see a way out, maybe its time to look at where you’re working. The environment can be just as bad as your internal triggers.

Does anyone have additional things to add to the list?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Are you a "Taker" or a "Giver?"

If you are like most people, when answering this question you probably would say "I'm a giver, not a taker."

These terms are so engrained in our minds to be synonymous with bad and good, that it is hard to envision any situation where "giving" isn't always good or "taking" isn't always bad. In other words, regardless of the situation, it's bad to "take" and it's good to "give"

Well, not exactly.

The paradox of leadership means that it often requires more taking than giving. When we take, we actually allow others to give. Leadership is about receiving what others have to give and contribute, without exerting our will over them or the situation.

Our society and culture are so focused with giving at all costs that we forget to receive, or worst yet, we equate receiving with "taking," which in other words means that it is "not good."

Being able to receive is a compassionate and gracious act.

When I go for my morning runs, I often see a mentally and physically disabled young woman out walking with her caretaker. She has two different caretakers that alternate working with her and they each have two very different styles. One of the caretakers frequently has her arms around her tightly and is seemingly guiding her every step. The other is walking two to three steps ahead of her and will frequently circle back to her.

On the surface, one might "judge" these caretakers and say that the first is the "giving" one and therefore the better caretaker. The second one is perhaps not as giving, and therefore not as good.

But, the face of the young woman tells it all. She is looking downward and cringing as she walks with the smothering and giving caretaker. Yet, she is wide-eyed and visibly excited when walking on her own... steps behind the other.

The negative side of "giving" is that we can easily mask our want to control others and demand our own way, under the auspices of giving or helping others. When the real giving is in the taking or receiving of others, regardless of the outcome.

So, this holiday season, while at work and at home as you are leading others, get into the real spirit of giving and allow yourself to take and receive the gifts of others. Give space to those around you. Take in what they have to offer you. Step aside and let others be wide-eyed and excited as they bring forth their best to give you.


This is the spirit of true giving and leading.

So let me know, are you a taker or a giver?

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What’s your Leadership Bailout Plan?

What’s your Leadership Bailout Plan?

The financial markets are crashing. Big named banks are folding. Bailout and stimulus plans abound. Today, it’s more important than ever for effective leaders to show their ability to lead their teams through tough times.

No question about it, we are facing one of the worst economic situations in history. Today’s financial crisis has been compared to the Great Depression, and the outlook for the near future doesn’t look better. People are losing jobs, and those who haven’t are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What is your “leadership bailout plan” to help motivate and inspire your team through this serious downturn?

In times like this, leaders need to assist others to reassure them that things will get better and to solidify trust. This is not the time to bury your nose in the work and disregard the hallway chats that may seem like unproductive complaining. Leaders need to be change agents and treat this situation as if your company has just been taken over, rallying the troops and moving forward with confidence. The impact of this global economic situation can not be undermined, leaders must become more like coaches and teachers than continuing on like drill sergeants and business-as-usual.

For most over-achieving leaders that are Type A’s, this can be a difficult task. You need to throw out the old adage of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” because this assumes that everyone left standing is grounded enough to persevere forward. Usually this is not the case. Often, the ones left standing are shell-shocked and shaken to the core and have the greatest need for reassurance.

Now if you hear yourself saying things like “they’ll get over it,” “come on, suck it up,” “there’s no time to lose,” you will need to find some patience and compassion to get you through these challenging times. The time you spend on building rapport and reassurance will reap long term benefits. As John C. Maxwell says, “leaders walk slowly through the crowd.” They may get to their goal a bit slower, but they will have their whole team with them when they get there. These are times where you can’t afford to get to your goal alone; you need to bring every single person on your team along with you.

During times of economic upheaval, it takes time to rebuild trust within your organization. Trust will improve the speed in which results can be achieved over the long haul.
Leaders can reassure their teams and rebuild trust with transparency and vulnerability.

Transparency Rule #1:
Repeat your strategy for growth (and repeat it often). Show how, even with the changing tides, your strategy is still relevant and will get the results you and your team need. People want to succeed and bailout plans require leaders to instill confidence and trust in the plan.

Transparency Rule #2:
Hear your team’s concerns. What are the barriers and concerns holding them back? Are they right? Are there areas where the strategy and approach is not realistic? Hold back judgments about their concerns. Listen and consider their input before reacting or changing anything.

Transparency Rule #3:
Go deeper, if needed. Isolate individual needs and concerns that may be impacting the overall team. Be curious about the troubles impacting people. You don’t know what may be taking up energy in their lives…perhaps a spouse has lost a job, or an elderly parent is putting additional financial pressure on their family. Listening and caring, without solving, is usually all that is needed to get someone back on track more energized than before.

Transparency Rule #4:
Separate facts from fiction or hearsay. When times get tough, there is a lot of speculation. People create and retell stories based on interpretation and perspective. Now is the time to nip this in the bud and get the real facts out before rumors get out of hand.

Transparency Rule #5:
Own up to the bad news. Treating people as adults with frankness and respect is critical during tough times. If there is another shoe to drop, be frank and let people know what is forthcoming. Provide as much information that is possible and keep communication coming on a regular basis. Transparency of communication will help ensure trust and minimize further speculation.

While you are being transparent with the realities of the business, it is a good practice to do it in an authentic way. Authentic leaders are real and are able to build trust in a greater way than those who aren’t perceived as authentic. Be in touch with your vulnerability to ensure that you are speaking authentically. Use these three ideas to help you be more vulnerable with your teams.

Vulnerability Idea #1:
Share your views and concerns. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. Showing teams your humane side is an important skill for gaining connection and trust with your team.

Vulnerability Idea #2:
Tell a story. Stories help people retain messages. Stories also reveal different parts of us. Tough times require better connections with others.

Vulnerability Idea #3:
Share a time when you felt concern about the future. Having a leader admit to difficult times can be reassuring to others. Highlighting your learning can help others relate to their own challenges.

These tough economic times are frightening for us all, and even the most effective leaders are feeling uncertain about the future. The key to getting through this challenging period is to demonstrate compassion, vulnerability and transparency and by reassuring your team that things will get better.

Do you speak Mumbo Jumbo?

Since stepping aside from the daily corporate world, I now have the objective distance to see things in a new light. This objective distance helps me to assist others that may be too close to things in order to get a good perspective. I find that this new light, combined with my practical experience, helps me to coach people effectively. I am grateful for this.

One of the observations this new objectivity has allowed me to see is the extensive use of corporate "speak" or what I term as "mumbo jumbo" language. It is not that I wasn't aware of the use of "mumbo jumbo" during my more than twenty years of corporate tenure, I was. But, what I failed to see before was the impact "mumbo jumbo" language has on organizations, people, and leadership.

A few weeks ago while traveling to Dallas for a speaking engagement, I overhead a business man in the Houston airport speaking about the timing of "due diligence," the need for more "right-sizing" and the importance of "informational cascading," all in one conversation! I wondered why he would choose to speak this way. Was it because he wanted to be understood more effectively? Probably not. Was it because he was trying to impress the person he was speaking with and to make himself feel like he was in-the-know? Probably.

For a moment, I pictured him as my 4 and a half year old daughter who for the last several weeks has been blurting out newly acquired and popular words from school like "fart," "idiot," "jerk," etc. Kids do it all the time, they pick up on the "cool" words and then in their attempt to be like the big kids, they use those words at home to get a reaction and on the playground to be accepted.

Yes, we are all social animals that want to be accepted into the crowd. Yet, as leaders and professionals, our main objective should be to connect with people and to be understood, not to be accepted as part of the in-the-know crowd. As leaders, we are expected to be self-confident and not searching for ways to fit in. Leaders have much to lose when they jump on the "mumbo jumbo" language train. First and foremost, they lose trust and credibility.

Becoming a leader is a lifelong journey that is very personal and requires a tremendous amount of introspection. Authenticity and being true to oneself is at the foundation of being an effective leader. When you choose to use corporate speak or "mumbo jumbo" language on a consistent basis, what it says to others is that you are like a robot: you don't have original thoughts, you don’t have original ideas and you can't be trusted because you are not real. People follow people, not scripted robots. “Mumbo jumbo” language raises our "B.S." red flag. Its impact is the opposite of the intended one.

As a writer and a speaker, I certainly know the importance of words. However, as a mom of a 4 and a half year old, I understand the implications of words and the impact they have on behavior. Clean and direct language always works best. Whether you have to deliver bad news, good news or anything in between, skip the "mumbo jumbo" language and you will be several steps ahead in becoming a more effective leader that others trust.

Management without Fear

I was recently posting a tweet on Twitter and engaged in a quick dialog with a dynamic entrepreneur Tracy Rummel (owner of The Brandsoup Agency LLC). She asked me to post her article, "Management without Fear" on my blog, which I agreed to do. Her article does use the term "management," which as a leadership expert, is a term that I define to be quite the opposite of leadership. Management, in my definition is about the non personal aspects of the business. I don't think that people need to be managed. I do believe that people need to be led. I often cringe when people use these two tems interchangably, but I know it is a common mistake. I hope that leaders of people can distinguish the behaviors needed for one versus the other. My book, The Connected and Committed Leader is geared towards helping people redefine what leadership is. It is NOT management. Regardless of this, Tracy's article posted below offers some tips on how to take manage around the economic pressures and lead people towards achieving results.

If you are interested in posting an article, please send me a tweet (ConnectedLeader) or email at laura@laura-lopez.com.

Management without Fear by Tracy Rummel, owner of The Bransoup Agency LLC

In this economic climate it's easy for an organization to dissolve into a reactive environment. Without a strong vision for the company, management and employees can get distracted by the bad news from Wall Street, for other companies' failure and general bad news that seems to surround us these days.

It is well documented that companies that invest in downtimes emerge first, fastest and strongest when the economy begins to recover. It is essential that management remain steadfast in providing a strong vision and clear direction to employees during this time. With employees becoming restless and fearful during this time of bad news at every turn, what can management do to keep everyone focused and create a healthy work environment that encourages innovation, dedication and ultimately yes, success? Here are a few tips:

1. Manage to facts, not perception. Keep a solid benchmark in front of employees about the health of the company, its clients and use key measurements to ensure everyone knows where they are today.

2. When dealing with concerns from employees, help them determine whether it's material or non-material. In other words, is this a concern that really impacts the success of the company? If so, then address it with a plan mapped out to resolve it. If it's not material, in other words it's not relevant to the success of the company, then find out what the source may be and just keep it to the facts. I have found that in times of uncertainty and stress, employees can begin to react out of fear and worry about what their colleagues are doing—management should do what it can to keep employees focused on their own job and keeping their eye on the ball.

3. Frequently do an "environment check." Is there "noise" in the system? What are the internal conversations—again, are they material to the success of the company or are they simply distracting? It's important for managment to keep their finger on the pulse of the organization.

4. Keep things clear. One certain way to help alleviate fears is to clearly define what success looks like. Does every employee in the organization know quite clearly what success looks like for them, and then how that translates to the success of the company? Take the time to do this; it will be well worth it.

You Can’t Have It All (All At Once)

We live in a society that is impulsive and filled with the need for immediate gratification. With a computer mouse click or two, you can have a new product at your doorstep tomorrow. We live in an optimistic culture where we believe that anything is possible. While, for the most part, this belief has a tremendous upside, it also has a dramatic downside. When you believe you can have it all, you are never satisfied with what you have. And when you’re dissatisfied with what you have today, you can't bring your best for an even better tomorrow.

You may admire someone who seemingly "has it all." You look at your boss and aspire to be in that job. You see your neighbor's brand new Porsche and you hope that one day you could afford one too. You kiss your child goodbye, as you scurry to catch a plane, but on your drive through the neighborhood, you see another parent walking their child to school and you wish you could, too. Your co-worker has another date with someone promising, and you can't seem to meet anyone that's right. You met someone who has the career you wish you had, but you stayed home with the kids instead.

At any point in life, you can find yourself wishing for something that isn't in your grasp at that time. You end up focusing more on what you don't have, often forgetting to enjoy what you do have. You’re so focused on the job you aspire to get, that you aren't even doing the job you actually have. As a result, you undermine your performance.
You can have it all, with time and a long-term strategic view, but you might not have it all at once.

When I became a corporate executive after consistently working hard for more than 15 years, I was fulfilled professionally, but not personally. I was single and didn't have a family of my own. I had certainly met a professional goal, but at the time, I believed it was at the great expense of a personal one. This belief hindered the joy that I felt about my professional accomplishment. It also made me resentful that I didn't really "have it all", so it didn't allow me to perform at my best level.

At that time, I believed that I deserved to have it all, all at once. I didn't fully understand that every benefit has its cost. When we choose something, we invariably pass on something else. We really can't have it all…at least, not all at once.A female executive once said to me, "get clear on the choices you make, because every choice has its share of sacrifices.” How right she was.
In Marshall Goldsmith's New York Times bestseller, “What Got You Here Won't Get You There," he explains that successful people see a direct correlation between all of their actions to their successes and even their failures. In other words, people create their own success; it isn't because of luck or happenstance.

I found his insights to be particularly interesting because highly-driven, action-oriented leaders believe that they can create their own success, no matter what. They believe they can have it all, when they want it, all the time. They have a commanding leadership style and a tremendous confidence in their ability to "make it happen". The downside to this confidence is that there is little understanding of the relationship between cost and benefit. The illusion of "having it all" is a slippery slope that can sour quickly.

If you’re struggling to make things work in both your career and family life, realize you can't do both to the max at the same time. You just can't demonstrate successful leadership in both your work and home lives simultaneously. You can be a great mom or dad today and a great business professional tomorrow. Something always has to give.

When you’re in a particular role, give it your fullest. Don't lament on what you aren't doing. If it is for a day at a time, or even an hour at a time, focus on what you’re doing, and don’t get preoccupied with anything else.

If you are putting something on hiatus while you are deeply focused on attaining another goal, accept your choice and its corresponding trade-off. You will get to another phase in life, where another choice will take you down another road to achieve another goal.

What are you waiting for? Be a participant and take action!

My husband and I were driving back home after a wonderful dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago. As we rode along highway 59, a car sped quickly past us and as it did, it changed lanes. In a matter of seconds, the car lost control, hit the embankment, flipped over and hit the embankment again. It was as if a horrible movie was playing in front of me in slow motion.

Thankfully my husband kept a steady hand on the wheel and kept the careening car in front of us and out of harm's way as it slowed. No other cars were hit by this car that rolled out of control. We were fine.

I immediately called 911. Yet my husband's reaction was "Don't worry about calling, there were other witnesses that will call.

I called anyway.

I tell you this story, not to make myself the hero and my husband the bad guy, but to point out that it is easy to be a bystander as opposed to a participant. There have been countless times in my life when I also chose to be a bystander and "not get involved."

I see how this happens so much in business life. We may see injustice, or we may see things we wish we could change, but we don't do anything. We chose to be a bystander and complain without jumping in to either create a solution or facilitate one. Leaders participate in solutions, regardless of their role. When you take action and participate, it feels good. It feels good because you have taken a stance to make a difference, however small or even regardless of the outcome. Nothing is more dis empowering than being a bystander. Participation is empowerment.

I don't know if my call was the only call to 911 that night or the 50th call. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that I took the action to call. I chose to be a leader and a participant. I felt good about that. I was empowered.

Take some action today and see how it makes you feel.

Are You a Hollow Tree in the Corporate Jungle?

What can Hurricane Ike teach you about getting stuck in a job rut?

My family and my business is based in Houston. Hurricane Ike came through this past weekend and rattled and rolled our city and our lives. It will be hard to forget the devastation that occurred to our neighboring coastal cities.

When we awoke Saturday morning, we found our home intact, but several small trees and a fence between our home and our neighbor's house had fallen. We were very fortunate.

As the rain started to subside, many of us ventured outside to see if others were in need around us and to survey the damage in our neighborhood. Many trees were down and some had destroyed homes.

Wham, bam, thank you m'am (mother nature)!

As the days passed and I continued to see more of our neighboring streets, I noticed more and more trees down. What surprised me about many of the trees I observed, was that they were hollow and had shallow roots.

Yet, days earlier who would have suspected that these apparently strong and functioning trees were like shells; hollow on the inside?

In this example, Mother Nature's actions are a great metaphor for what often happens in the Corporate Jungle. You see, Mother Nature understands the need for pruning to promote growth. She has a way of weeding out the debris that can be stifling and impeding growth.

Are you a Hollow Tree in the Corporate Jungle?

Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, authors of "Boom! 7 Choices forBlowing the Doors off Business-as-Usual" refer to this phenomena as "Dead People Working". Like the seemingly strong, functioning tree-when it falls, it is obvious that there was nothing inside holding it intact to the earth. Nope....it was just taking up space in the Corporate Jungle.

You see, the Corporate Jungle, like Mother Nature, understands that pruning can promote growth. I am not trying to sound callous, but if you are a Hollow Tree in the Corporate Jungle, it might just be time to re-root yourself somewhere else, or Corporate Mother Nature will do it for you.

Re-rooting yourself requires finding your passion again. You see Hollow Trees are just "hanging out" because the sunshine and water is good where they are, because they feel safe, but they aren't producing fruit, flowers or seeds any longer.

If your life blood isn't pumping and your roots are growing shallow; you've lost the passion for where and what you are doing. Do yourself and others the favor and re-root yourself, or others will do it for you!

I was re-rooted, initially unwillingly, by others. I was starting to become a Hollow Tree. When my job scope began to change and my company wanted me to pursue other opportunities in Atlanta....well what do you think? It was time to go.

Hollow Trees in nature don't hang on to deadness; no they just fall when Mother Nature pushes them. Well, people like you and I, we love to hold on to deadness, holding on to stuff that isn't working for us any longer in our lives. That could be a relationship, a job, a habit. We get stuck in a rut.

Don't be a Hollow Tree in the Corporate Jungle or anywhere else for that matter. Find your passion, your life blood and grow deep roots. It will be good for you and for everyone else around you. It will promote growth in you and in everything you do.

Laura Lopez is a performance strategist, leadership specialist and branding expert with more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience. Most recently, Laura Lopez was a vice president with The Coca-Cola Company. Laura's book, The Connected and Committed Leader, is available via her Web site at http://www.laura-lopez.com/shop.htm, at your local bookstore or on http://Amazon.com. As the owner of her own business, Laura helps companies and business associations achieve more sustainable business results through the power of leveraging diverse talent with effective leadership and branding. She is available for speeches, workshops and customized programs. Laura can be contacted via her Web site at: http://www.laura-lopez.com

Stressed Out?

Learn how to accept and adapt to your present reality to alleviate stress.

Since childhood, Labor Day has always marked the end of summer fun and the back-to-school and work routine that comes with it.

For adults, the back-to-school routine can be a welcomed change (kids getting out of the house!), but it is often filled with a let’s-get-back-to-work serious note. And, of course, a certain amount of stress.

I recently read a brilliant definition of stress in Ekhart Tolle's much-acclaimed book "The Power of Now". He writes that stress occurs when we are too focused on either the past or the future state, with little regard for the present moment. In other words, when we are stressed out it is usually when we want to be somewhere else other than the present. WOW!

Think about it for a moment. You are stressed out in traffic. Why? Because you don't want to be stuck behind some truck, you would rather be in your living room relaxing. We get stressed out at work because we know we have 30 more things to do by next week. Or, we’re stressed because we should have spoken up in that important meeting last week.

Tolle advocates, and I agree, that if we focus on the moment in front of us and suspend our focus on the past or the future, then we would not be stressed. I have tried this and it works. When I know that I have many things to accomplish, I try to focus my attention on the one thing that I am doing now, as opposed to concentrating on the future things that also need to get done. The present moment is the time we have now for getting things done. Focus your attention here and not on future or past tasks.

This is an important leadership skill to develop.

It reminds me of a story I heard regarding prisoners of war. Apparently, after the Vietnam War, surviving prisoners of war were psychologically analyzed. What researchers learned was that the freed prisoners all shared something in common - their attitudes toward their current reality weren’t pessimistic or optimistic. No, the survivors were realists when dealing with their current reality of being a prisoner of war and the pain, agony and unknown associated with it.

You see, pessimists didn't survive because they focused on the things they should have done and they gave up early, hence their fate. Optimists didn't survive because they believed that things would get better tomorrow and when they didn't, they began to lose hope. Realists took each day as it came and dealt with their present reality. They minimized stress and focused on the present task at hand.

With so much unknown (i.e. organizational changes in strategy or corporate downsizing), being a part of the corporate ranks can make one feel like a prisoner. It is no surprise that leaders are expected to adapt to change and help others manage change for themselves.
Change that is out of our control and involuntary is stressful. We seem to want to hang on to the past, or project a different future. Learning how to accept the present moment helps us alleviate stress.

Athletes demonstrate this well. They don't know what their opponent's next move will be, but they are focused on being able to respond effectively to that moment with little regard for the past or the future. They are alert and able to adapt to change quickly. This is realism in action. This is a successful leadership skill.

Laura Lopez is a performance strategist, leadership specialist and branding expert with more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience. Most recently, Laura Lopez was a vice president with The Coca-Cola Company. Laura's book, The Connected and Committed Leader, is available via her Web site at www.laura-lopez.com, at your local bookstore or on www.Amazon.com. As the owner of her own business, Laura helps companies and business associations achieve more sustainable business results through the power of leveraging diverse talent with effective leadership and branding. She is available for speeches, workshops and customized programs. Laura can be contacted via her Web site at: http://www.laura-lopez.com.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Effective Leadership During A Recession: Tips for Women in the Workplace

The current economic downturn is creating an increasingly stressful work environment, as companies nationwide face corporate downsizing, decreased sales and a reduction in compensation, bonuses and other benefits.

“While this is a difficult time for businesspeople across a wide range of industries, women, in particular, face unique challenges in the workplace during recessionary times,” said Laura Lopez, leadership expert and author of the new book, The Connected and Committed Leader.

According to Lopez, women face the following challenges:
  • Women step out of the workforce for an average of 11 years due to family responsibilities, and are trying to catch-up from those non-income-producing years. Given that women often earn less than their male counterparts, the impact of an economic downturn can set them back further.
  • Despite women's advancements in corporate America, gender stereotypes still exist in the workplace, so women may not get the same promotion or advancement opportunities as men. While companies are starting to make changes to accommodate women's unique needs for flexible schedules – such as job sharing, telecommuting and reduced workweeks – these options are still not widespread.
  • Women have been huge contributors to entrepreneurialism over the past five years, and recessionary times could slow down this growth rate simply because it is more difficult to access start-up capital for business ventures during tough financial times.

“Women have the tendency to retreat during recessionary times, but they should use a counter-intuitive approach to recession-proof their careers and businesses. Push forward instead of pulling back,” said Lopez. “Women, who traditionally focus on tending to the needs of others, often put their own development on hold. It is even more critical during recessionary times to invest in your business and career.”

Lopez offers the following tips for becoming a strong and effective leader:

  • Learn when to let go. Women often struggle with this, as they’re so used to juggling and multi-tasking at home and at work that they often believe they can – and should – do it all. However, this mindset can limit their impact as a leader. An effective leader needs to be able to unleash the potential of others and to guide them to accomplish great things.
  • Create your own brand. In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s critical to differentiate yourself from the crowd by promoting your abilities and demonstrating your distinctions. During recessionary times, when companies might be considering downsizing, it’s particularly important to spotlight your brand and emphasize your value to the team.
  • Know when to say no. Many workers, especially women, make a common mistake – saying yes to everything they’re asked to do, thinking this is an effective way to get ahead. Every time we say yes to something where we are, perhaps, sub-optimal, we diminish our true potential and promise. Being willing to try and handle every task can be detrimental to our long-term success.
  • Build strong relationships. It’s essential to form solid relationships with our bosses, customers, clients and colleagues. Many people, primarily women, become focused on their “to do” list, ignoring the equally important, but less urgent, aspects of business, such as relationship-building. While establishing these relationships can be time-consuming, it’s essential to business success.
  • Be flexible. While women can be very service-oriented, they also can be perceived as un-yielding and rigid when meeting the ever-changing demands of their workplace. Many women are great at executing the details, but become so focused on reaching the “end goal” that they become un-flexible during the process, damaging important relationships with their colleagues and customers.
  • Demonstrate effective leadership skills. Remember that demonstrating effective leadership skills will set you apart from others, which is especially important during challenging economic times.

Laura Lopez is a leadership specialist and branding expert with more than 20 years of corporate leadership experience. Most recently, Laura Lopez was a vice president with The Coca-Cola Company. Laura's book, The Connected and Committed Leader, is available via her Web site at www.laura-lopez.com, your local bookstore or on www.Amazon.com. As the owner of her own business, Laura helps companies and business associations achieve more sustainable business results through the power of effective leadership and branding. She is available for speeches, workshops and customized programs. Laura can be contacted via her Web site at www.laura-lopez.com.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Are YOU a Foundation of Trust?

There is one question I hear repeatedly when I address corporate audiences: "How can I lead when my boss is a jerk and I don't trust him/her?" The answer I give to audiences may not be popular, but it is truthful.

Trust starts with YOU.

Yes, trust is the foundation of leadership. Yes, trust is essential in business. And, trust starts with you!

Stephen M.R. Covey outlines 5 different layers of trust in his book "The Speed of Trust." The first most critical layer is Self Trust: The principle of Credibility. Covey breaks down the area of Self Trust into 4 categories. The first two are Integrity and Intent (Character based) and the second two are Capabilities and Results (Competency based).

I would like to address the area of Integrity. In my book, "The Connected and Committed Leader"Leadership insight #6 deals with Trust building through consistency, clarity and integrity. Oftentimes, people assume that integrity means honesty, but in reality integrity is about congruency. Personal congruency. Do you walk the talk? Do people see you as someone who consistently acts out your values or beliefs, or do you believe something and act out differently? Do you have the courage to stand up to your boss when you disagree? Do you have the passion to do the right thing even when it isn't the popular thing? Do you sell yourself out time and time again?

When you find yourself wondering why you don't trust someone, begin by looking first at yourself. Are YOU a foundation of trust? It is always easy to blame others, but if every time we thought someone else needed fixing, we tweaked ourselves instead, I believe we would have a whole lot more trust in our workplaces. Don't you?

Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

In one of my seven essential leadership insights I speak about humility and the need for leaders to keep their egos in check.

This perspective comes to life when you look into the success of Southwest Airlines, which Kevin and Jackie Frieberg did in their book "Nuts." Southwest Airlines has a list of core values, as many companies do. The difference is that they really live their values. One value in particular highlights the fact that leaders need to demonstrate humility by keeping their egos in check. This value is "Take your business seriously, but don't take yourself seriously."

If you have ever travelled Southwest Airlines and experienced their joking atmosphere, you can see how this value comes to life in their business.

Why is joking and not taking ourselves too seriously important for leaders?

Leaders need to be seen as human beings, authentic people. People don't follow scripted robots, they follow authentic leaders. When a leader takes him/herself too seriously, there usually is a feeling of rigidity and unapproachability that accompanies it. You can't lead others if there is an emotional distance. Leadership requires an emotional connection and this can't be facilitated through intimidation, fear and rigidity.

I travelled with my family to Europe this summer and we brought a light stroller for my daughter who is 4 along with us. For anyone who has ever travelled with children, you know that these items are usually gate checked. You can leave the stroller on the jetway when you depart and it is picked up on the jetway when you land.

On our way back home on Continental, I had the stroller and was placing it just outside the door. I quickly asked a question to a gentleman who was rushing by me to get on the plane. He was obviously a Continental employee. I quickly asked him, if this was an ok place to leave the stroller since this jetway had multiple doors. He brushed me off and said that he wasn't sure with a bit of a huff. It was obvious that he felt "above" answering this question. As quickly as he entered the plane, I noticed that he was either the pilot or co-pilot.

I was left with the brushed off feeling and I realized that this never would have happened at Southwest Airlines.

In fact, at Southwest Airlines, it has been seen and known that pilots have rolled up their sleeves to help load luggage onto the plane. This activity wasn't "below" them. Why does this all matter?

When we take ourselves too seriously, the ability to guide, inspire and lead others is hindered. The implications of this behavior did not only impact me, a customer. But this behavior impacts everyone working on that flight. Flight attendants and other crew are probably walking on egg shells so not to bruise this co-pilot/pilot's ego. They certainly aren't performing at their best if this is what they are concerned about.

Take your business seriously, but remember not to take yourself too seriously.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Powershift Event

Leading others requires an internal fortitude and clarity about ourselves. We all have that power within ourselves that we can tap in to achieve our goals and aspirations. Often times, we give that power away and we aren't able to motivate and inspire others around us.

PowerShift is a workshop that will provide you with practical ways to get and stay connected to your own power, to remain authentic, and to be energized and inspired in your efforts. I will be part of this great event that is taking place in Houston, Texas in a couple of weeks. Please consider coming!

What: PowerShift
Event: "Powershift 1-Self-Awareness Now"
Speakers: Kim Evans, CEO Secure Vantage Technologies; Tracy Rumme, President, The Brandsoup Agency; Patricia Gras, host PBS "Living Smart"; Joyce Agu, winner of "The Amazing Race"; Alexandra Pruner, CFO Tudor Pickering; Laura Lopez, author The Connected and Committed Leader
When: Tuesday, November 11, 2008, 6:30 -9:00 pm
Where: Houston Technology Center, 410 Pierce Street - Houston, TX
How: RSVP Required. Register today and take advantage of our pre-registration cost of $25. The cost will be $45 at the door. Register today

Questions? Contact Tracy Rummel at 713 294-9888 or email tracy@suite-eleven.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Connected and Committed Leader receives review from The Tall Poppy

The Connected and Committed Leader is written by Laura Lopez, a former vice president of marketing at The Coca-Cola Company. It is a book that argues that leadership style in our large corporations is devoid of heart and true human connection.

I think many of us have had experience with the people in power in large organisations. Who hasn't had to negotiate with the bank or the power company at some stage? You know how lacking in compassion they are, all tied up with regulations and browbeaten by someone even more senior than themselves. As a parent our loyalties are divided between the needs of our families and those of a usually heartless workplace, especially in larger organisations. There is little human connection showing at all.

Laura says that for organisations to remain viable into the future they need to change their attitude towards leadership. She believes that people will need to lead rather than manage though traditional management has been the other way around. She defines a leader as "a person followed voluntarily by others". This conflicts with many management theories, which tend to promote directing and controlling behaviours rather than guiding and encouraging. She argues that these theories are outdated and that because the expectations of this new generation of employees has changed, the skills required to lead them need to be changed too.

To read review, click here...>

Monday, September 1, 2008

Can you become a leader by chance?

I was in Europe a couple of weeks ago as the Olympics started. Headlines ran in Spain saying "Leaders by Chance?" refering to Olympic athletes.

We are quick to answer that question by saying "no...it takes a great deal of practice and dedication to become an olympic athlete." These folks are leaders because they play to their strengths and know how to work and rework this strength to perfection. Chance has little to do with it.

And yet, people step into leadership roles with little focus on perfecting their craft.

I believe that too many people leave their leadership skills up to chance. I know I did at times. You get busy tending to the "work" and you don't see how perfecting the craft of leadership can enhance your ability to get the job done, regardless of the role you are in.

Leadership isn't something outside of the work....it is the work. Just like Olympic athletes see their daily practice as THE game, we have to see that the daily interactions that comprise our work is where leadership happens. Now this is something you would leave up to chance, is it?

Are you perfecting your leadership game? click here to see

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Are you adapting fast enough?

Get the most out of your changing workforce.

Several weeks ago I spent the Fourth of July holiday with my family on the Eastern end of Long Island, New York. As I looked around at people's faces at the local parade, I realized that this was no longer the same place in which I grew up. No matter where you live or where you're from, our melting pot of a society is forever adding to the landscape by blending and mixing a variety of people with different racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

These differences are also apparent in your workplace. Having your workforce effectively reflect your marketplace will also be beneficial to your business. Today, white Americans are the minority in several states such as California, Texas and New York, so beware if your workforce and leadership is lacking diversity.

In addition to the growth evident in the Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities, there are many factors changing the composition of your workforce.

For example, take a look at the globalization of our economy. Gone are the days where American businesses are contained to our borders. Today many companies are outsourcing whole departments like finance, accounting and customer service to places such as India and China. As a leader in such workplaces, you must be culturally sensitive to the global differences both in and outside of our borders.

To read article, click here...>

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Learn how to reach your goals with the help of others

The Connected and Committed LeaderI used to try to do everything myself...until I just couldn't do it anymore!

Even though you may try to juggle many things and try to do everything, it may give you the illusion of accomplishment, but what are you really accomplishing?

In the long-run, it is near-impossible to reach your goals without enlisting the help of others.

But what does it really take to motivate others? Come learn how to get the best out of others, so that you can more effectively reach your goals!

Practical, usable insights that can help you be more effective in leading others to help you get things done in business and in life.

There is still time to sign up! The curriculum is based on my award-winning book.

The Connected and Committed Leader
Where: 2855 Mangum, Houston 77092 (4th floor conference room)
When: August 18, 2008
Time: 8:30am -12:30pm
Tuition: $149.00/per person*

*Tuition includes a copy of my book and accompanying workbook.
Click here for more workshop details and to register.

Hope to see you on Monday, August 18.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bring Your Heart to Work

Leadership in the 21st century is not reserved for “the top dogs.” Skills for managing timelines, projects and deadlines are not the same skills needed for leading people. When leaders micromanage, people under-perform.

In my new book, The Connected and Committed Leader, I explain the importance of bringing our hearts to work. Getting reluctant employees to accept new ideas is not much different than convincing a two-year-old that it’s time for bed. While being an effective leader is not easy, the rationale, insights and experiences offered in my new book will help CEOs, school principals, mid-level managers, teachers, and everyone in every organization to become the best leader they can be.

What does bringing your heart to work mean? Watch this short video to learn more...>

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Are Men More Effective Leaders Than Women?

"Can men relate to The Connected andCommittedLeader insights, or are they strictly for women?"

While I do work with a lot of women, my insights are not exclusively designed for women. However, I find that the more I work with men, the more my research shows they rate lower on the insights on which women rate high, and vice versa.

So, it does beg some questions: Are men more effective leaders than women? Does gender play a role in being an effective leader?

The timeless debate of the sexes never seems to end. There are many stereotypes that ensue: women have better verbal skills, men are better at math, men are physically stronger, but women have better endurance. Some say men are more single-minded and focused, while women are natural multi-taskers. The list goes on and on.

Research has found that some of these beliefs are actually scientifically based. When studying male and female brains, researchers discovered that women have more cross-brain activity and have more highly developed verbal areas. Because a man's brain is less integrated, they tend to be focused on one thing at a time. So, you can start to see how some of these stereotypes might have a grain of truth to them.

To read article, click here...>

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Seeing Leadership in a Different Light - Five Questions with Laura Lopez

Good leadership is a lot like good manners: It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

Houstonian Laura Lopez has taken a stab, however, at identifying seven essential leadership qualities, including curiosity, consistency and vulnerability. She details them in her new book: The Connected and Committed Leader: Lessons from Home. Results at Work.

Until 2006, Lopez was vice president of marketing for the Minute Maid division of Coca-Cola Co. She rejected a transfer to Atlanta - her husband is in the oil business in Houston - and has become a leadership and branding consultant.

Lopez recently talked with the Chronicle's L.M. Sixel about the do's and don'ts of great leaders, the importance of listening to others and what to do about a bad boss.

To read article, click here...>

Friday, August 8, 2008

Business leadership needs heart

Laura Lopez has a resume that would catch the attention of any corporate headhunter.

But she says her real insights into business leadership trace to her adoption of a baby from Russia.

“As I sat with my daughter for two months, and uncovered what it really was about leadership … I came up with seven essential leadership insights that I was finding as a parent I was implementing,” says Ms. Lopez.

To read feature article, click here...>

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Can Motherhood Prepare You for the Boardroom?

They say that being a parent can stretch you. I believe this to be true. My daughter Leila was a big catalyst in my life. Without my daughter and the lessons she has given me, I wouldn't have written my book, nor become a leadership speaker.

Can being a parent prepare you for the board room? Do lessons from home translate to more effective business results? Yes, and yes again!

With as much discussion people have on work/life balance concerns, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about bridging your two worlds; work and home.

Whether you are a parent, planning to be a parent or passing it all together, the work/life struggle is real for women and men alike.

The article is written with moms in mind, but have no fear men and non-mom women, the idea of borrowing concepts from home and applying them to work still applies to you.

I believe you can blend and borrow from each parts of your life for a customized, unified whole!

To read article, click here...>

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Leadership as a Life Practice for Success

To read the first chapter of The Connected and Committed Leader for free, click here...>

"Laura Lopez draws insightful parallels between parenting and leading people at work, a much needed read for business in this 21st century. The Connected and Committed Leader captures the essence of a soulful approach to leadership."
— LeAnn Thieman, Coauthor, "Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul" and "Chicken Soup for the Caregiver Soul"

“Great book! As Laura writes, leadership is not exclusively for ‘the top dogs’ but for everyone. Her seven insights for leaders are really about being more effective human beings. Let's all start there! This is a thought-provoking work that can help all of us win, and win the right way."
— Don Knauss, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, The Clorox Company

“This is a book for men and women alike. Laura reminds us how important it is to 'bring your heart to work.' Her stories illustrate that leading from your head brings predictable results, but taking the risk and leading with your head and your heart can bring truly transformational results....for you, your team and your business."
— Abigail Rodgers, Vice President, The Coca-Cola Company

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Motherly Instinct Should Be Applied in Business

Motherhood is a tough job. Many see a child's love as the only reward but one former business executive insists there is more. FOX 26's Duarte Geraldino reports how this Houston mother learned motherhood can also gives women the skills to lead and make millions of dollars.

To listen to TV interview, click here...>

Do you earn what you are worth?

Money, money, money....we love it, we want it and yet we hate it.

With tax day behind us, some of us might be rejoicing to get more of it back and yet others are crying over the big check that had to be written.

Are you earning what you are worth? Ever wonder why big companies spend all that money to build brands? Money is the answer. Big brands bring in bigger bucks!

How do you build your brand to earn what you are worth? First, don't follow the pack...and don't make these other common mistakes.

To read full article, click here...>

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The importance of relevance in branding

I just read an article on the Wall Street Journal on the Girl Scouts. They have just hired a Chief Marketing Officer and are going to rebrand a 95 year old brand. Leadership will be at the core of their rebranding efforts, but they are trying to make it relevant to today's tech-saavy teenager. The truth is that the Girl Scouts did not remain current with their target and over the past 10 years has seen declines in membership. They lost relevancy. It brings to mind some important branding lessons:
  1. A brand is never static. Targets evolve and change continuously. A brand must continue to redefine itself in order to remain relevant.
  2. Connection and engagement is at the core of branding. You can't have connection and engagement with your target if you are no longer relevant.
  3. Relevance always requires a mindset that steps out of ourselves and out of our brands. Great brands never believe they are the center, their target is.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Personal Connections

It sometimes amazes me to realize how much we need to know in order to be in business. Whether you are in marketing, general management, IT, or an entrepreneur wearing all hats there are constant changes in our world that have business implications that we need to keep up with.

As a fairly new entrepreneur, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all today and decided to go out for a run to clear my head. Technology and the internet are changing our lives more than we can even fathom at the moment. Fortunately the foundation for leading people are still fairly straight-forward, but the complexities of what technology brings can often complicate it. You know how that email ticks you off because you can't really understand the tone. Or how the telecommuting limits face-to-face time or hallway time where informal communications happen. With our focus on learning and adapting to all the changes, time is short. It is easy to gloss over the connections that matter when we opt not to make that phone call and instead we shoot off an email. I do it too. It is easy.

In leadership, as in sales, the personal connection is key. When in doubt get face to face or atleast pick up the phone. It is amazing how quickly we can put something back on track by making that personal connection.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How do you define Leadership?

Maybe the word leadership or leader conjures up old images of command and control, antiquated and stodgy ways of being. When I speak to businesses (small and large)and associations about leadership, I invariably get a few people saying: "I don't want to be a leader, it's not my deal"...or they say it in their way in so many words.

The reality is that it is a bad word. I think people think of leadership as a role and if they aren't in one with that word attached to it, well then it isn't for them. I think of leadership as a way to get what you want in life. Authentic leadership enables people to enlist others to assist and help them achieve their goals. No one can be as successful alone as they can with the help of others. I am searching for another word that captures it better and has a lot less baggage.