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, your local bookstore or on 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

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.