Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How can you set yourself apart in the Information Age?

I am always astonished by the amount of information available to people on the Internet. There is free information everywhere. It is beyond drinking through a fire hose. Too much.

It begs the question...if you are in the information business (everyone is) how can you really set yourself apart from the rest?

Synthesizing information. Making it usable and practical.

People will pay for answers, there are plenty of questions out there. There is value in providing solutions and to take the intensity of information and simplify it.

So, if you want to stand out from the clutter of information overload, use the old saying: K.I.S.S.

Keep it simple silly. (we aren't allowed to use the word stupid in our house, after all we do have a 5 year old!)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Are you exhibiting leadership "dissonance?"

I went to the UP Experience yesterday and was inspired by 16 brilliant minds.

I learned an important lesson yesterday. Everything that we say and everything we do is teaching and influencing others around us. This is an important realization for any leader, at home and at work. Too often, leaders believe that their words are most important, and give less focus to their actions. This often creates leadership "dissonance" which results in mistrust. Once there is mistrust or dissonance, a leader can't lead.

People are listening and watching every word and picture. The reality is that the old saying, "actions speak louder than words" is even more relevant as it relates to leaders.

This becomes apparently clear as a parent. After all, leadership at home is based on the same principles as leadership at work. Our words may say one thing, and if our actions say another, chances are our kids will pick that up. When this is the case, you are less likely to influence them and for them to follow your lead.

Put the mirror on yourself and observe every action with a critical eye. Be certain that your words and pictures are saying and reinforcing the same message.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Striving for Perfection?

Leaders aren't perfect.

In fact, your ability to lead depends upon your acceptance of your own imperfection.

When you are trying to be too perfect, you don't leave room for others to fill in the gaps. Recognizing and accepting your imperfection allows you to become more vulnerable and open. In order to lead and influence others you can't hide behind false perfection. By allowing some vulnerability, others will connect to you. It is through connection that you can lead and influence others.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Are you accountable?

I recently saw an article entitled "Do your friends make you fat?"

I was horrified.

It was a catchy title, but it clearly pointed to the fact that we have developed a blaming culture, one that doesn't always encourage us to look in the mirror. Personal accountability requires us to look in the mirror.

Personal accountability is key to effective leadership. Whenever you encounter a problem, if you can train yourself to say "what was my contribution to this problem?" you can start to take action on the pieces for which you are accountable. Fixing others and blaming others is always a no-win approach.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Leadership is another form of Branding

Becoming a better leader is like building a brand.

You have to build a brand with the customer in mind. So it raises the question: As a leader, who is your customer?

Your customer is the person or people that you are leading. It doesn't matter if they are organizationally "below" you or not. We lead in all directions.

Start off with understanding their needs and finding ways to fill them. When we deliver on the customers' expectations, we not only are building a brand, but a brand that can lead and influence them to take action.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Is anger blinding you?

Just the other day, I was meeting with a friend and colleague Dave Daugherty. He is a well-accomplished executive coach and we were discussing a potential collaboration project.

We were speaking of some of the challenges and issues that executive women face in the workplace. As we were talking, he mentioned the pain and anger women feel when they are on the "outside" looking in to the "inner circle."

For a moment, I tapped into my own anger against those injustices that I had felt many times in my career.

The feeling of "why can't I get in?" And the feeling of taking it all so personally, as if you are purposely being shut out. That kind of anger is so blinding. And, that kind of anger is destructive to ourselves and the very cause of furthering opportunities for women.

I know this now that I have distance from my own anger.

It is not to say that the injustices aren't there, but how we react to them and what we do to bypass them is much more important than dwelling in the anger. I believe that we need to move beyond the anger to be able to affect more positive change for ourselves and other women. When I was angry, I wasn't able to mentor other women. And when I was angry I wasn't able to find the connection with my male counterparts. Both of which are essential for getting to the next level.

The 21st century requires a holistic approach where women and men effectively leverage each other and within each of us, we employ both masculine and feminine traits to lead.

So how angry are you? What can you do to get beyond it to make positive change?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Everyone does it....

If I hear that one more time...I will scream.

With my daughter starting kindgergarten, this is just about the only thing that people want to say, "everybody does it."

Instead, what these words say to my daugher is:

1. Be like everyone else
2. What ever you are feeling, it's not valid.
3. Don't rock the boat
4. Get in line.
5. Just be quiet and follow the crowd.

Doesn't the 21st century need better leadership than this?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Do you understand the problem you are solving?

The number one complaint that people have about their jobs is that they feel under utilized in their jobs. They believe that they contribute a lot more than they do. Ironically, this is still the case even during these times of fewer resources and higher expectations.

You may feel like it is your boss' job to utilize you and to seek out your contributions.

Yes. It is partly their responsibility, but you have a role in this as well.

Creating a bridge between you and your boss requires both of you to build it, but you need to be the one to initiate the process.

Start with a good understanding of where your strengths are. And don't stop there, look to see where your boss' pain points are. What is he/she trying to solve? What is the problem that you can solve by uniquely applying your strengths?

When you understand the problem that needs to be solved and how you uniquely can solve them, you are on your way towards creating value and contribution.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Now is Now...not Forever

We are often encouraged to live each day at a time. To be present and to absorb each moment. This is all sound advice.

However, we often hold onto the present far too tight. Whether it's a "bad" present or a "good" present, we often think it is here forever.

Not so. I just took my 5 year old to her first day of kindergarten just this week. There is the reality that a chapter in our lives has closed and now a new one is here. Whether it is a good chapter or a bad one, change is most likely a guarantee in our lives, both at work and at home.

When people face work challenges; perhaps a bad boss, a challenging time of layoffs, or just the wrong job. It is hard to see that what you are living in is not going to be here forever. You may even grow disheartened and discouraged. I believe that is because you glorify the past. We always think the past is sooooo much better than it really was. Get real with the past and accept where you are now. And remember that a new day, a new present moment, will always bring new opportunities.

I see this often with the struggle of working moms. They mourn what they can't do in their present "now", and by mourning they miss what they are doing "now."

Now is now, not forever. Accept it and live it. Look forward by not glorifying the past.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is Discipline in your Routine?

I consider myself a fairly disciplined person. Having been a runner for nearly 30 years requires discipline in my daily routine.

However, there are places where my discipline has dropped. For example, I have not established a daily discipline for my blog writing. And yet, I do think it is important for my development and for the development of those I serve.

When we prioritize something in our lives, we need to schedule it. By scheduling it, we assure that it gets done and is part of our daily routine.

We should never hear ourselves say: "I just don't have time to do the things I love." These should be the first things to schedule. Scheduling activities isn't only about business-related things, but personal ones as well.

When we are disciplined and schedule things we love, in addition to the must-dos, we become more productive.

Is Fear Driving You?

We are still in the midst of difficulty.

And with it, comes fear.

The kind of fear that roots you in your spot and if you move, you move slowly with apprehension and uncertainty.

It is the kind of fear that takes over your confidence, your clear sense of thinking and determination. It is as if someone else is driving your ship and you have no idea where you are going.

Most of us would agree that fear is a terrible thing, but we often only acknowledge it with the things that threaten our physical lives; such as fear of flying, fear of speed, fear of heights, etc. And yet, its ever-presence in our everyday lives is often masked as something else; such as hesitation, prudence, lack of confidence, or uncertainty. However, the underlying emotion behind each of these is fear.

Fear has a firm grip. Fear can keep us in unhappy relationships, the wrong jobs, or even worse yet; fear can keep us from living both at work and at home.

Ironically, fear is not about self-preservation but rather self-destruction. Its impact is often detrimental to our personal and professional growth. So, it should come as little surprise that people who achieve success in life know how to overcome fear's grasp in order to capture opportunity.

Warren Buffet says it best: "be greedy only when others are fearful."
What he means by this is that you have the opportunity to win and to rise above the rest when fear is in the air. In difficult times, the majority is not likely to take action. It is counter intuitive, but when times are tough, it is most effective to dive in rather than pull back.

The best antidote for fear is action.

Think about the small steps you have made when you have been stuck in fear and how empowering it is when you have overcome it. All it takes is small steps. Each step builds on the success of the prior one, and after a series of steps, the fear is abated. Fear usually paints a very realistic, yet terrible picture of the unknown in our minds, but taking small steps helps us recognize that this picture is often an illusion. Your fear may be drawing pictures in your mind like this:
  • I will never find a job to support myself or my family
  • I will never get promoted in this company
  • I will never get back on my feet if I lose my job
  • I will never make it on my own
  • I will lose my home
  • I will starve
  • I won't ever be loved by anyone else again
  • I will never earn any money again
  • I don't have any skills
  • I don't think there is anything right for me

The more you can challenge yourself to confront the unknown to see how these pictures are in fact illusions, the better you will become at overcoming fear. I believe that you can do this in simple ways every day, so that when you confront the big fears in your life, you are more equipped to handle them.

Here are some every day, fear-busting, confronting-the-unknown ideas to pursue at work at home and everywhere in between:

  1. Dine alone in a public place.
  2. Attend a social event where you don't know anyone.
  3. Travel to a city/country you don't know.
  4. Eat something you never have tried before.
  5. Talk with someone who doesn't speak your language.
  6. Speak to a stranger.
  7. Ask for help from someone you don't know.
  8. Do something you never have done before.
  9. Learn something new.
  10. Go first.

Come on, step out, take action and put fear behind you. There is bound to be a great opportunity worth taking.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In these tough times, are you biting your tongue?

On Sunday, March 8, I celebrated International Women's Day at an art event in Houston. It was presented by Dancepatheatre and it featured both dance and spoken word poetry on the themes of women, race and diversity. It was a particularly poignant evening because it reminded me of how far we have come on many of these topics, but also how much is still needed to be done.

The two women artists, Sara Draper and Donna Garrett, whose work was being showcased, had clearly found their voice on these topics. They stopped long ago from biting their tongues. And they unapologetically shared their voices.

Their bravery and courage were appreciated. As a result, the audience was moved and transformed. I wasn't alone with my tears. Many wept. You see your voice can be a catalyst for change, healing and transformation. You have the ability to lead others to a better future.

Forbes recently released the top 30 countries that are best for women. The United States of America wasn't even within the top 25! At number 27, the USA was surpassed by The Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mozambique, just to name a few! If you are like me, this news concerned me and quite frankly angered me. After all, there is no excuse for the U.S.A to rank so low on this scale. This country was founded on the basis of diversity and on our freedom of speech to express this diversity. It has long been revered as a "melting pot" of acceptance and equality...and while our history has strayed from this premise over time, it still is unacceptable to stand at #27. Too often, we learn to bite our tongues and not to speak out with our perspectives, particularly if it is unpopular to do so.

I didn't always share my voice, in fact, all too often in my corporate life I thought that biting my tongue was expected of me. And so, I did it far too much. What I didn't realize was that in doing so, I shortchanged myself; I shortchanged others and my ability to impact the business.

During these difficult times, it seems to me that people are biting their tongues even more so than ever before. Ironically, you may believe that it is the way to "be safe" because you believe that if you rock the boat, or stick your head out, the ax will fall. And so you "lay low" and you think that you are far from harm's way. But instead, when you bite your tongue, you don't contribute. When you don't contribute, you lose your ability to impact the business. And when you lose your ability to impact the business, you become redundant and that is one way to guarantee the ax will fall.

Fortune also recently announced the top companies for women. Google was number one for the second year in a row. Why? I believe it is because Google has created an environment where people are encouraged to have a unique voice. They realize how counter-productive it is to have people biting their tongues. Google encourages people to develop and pursue their own projects they see are most relevant for them and for their business. People love working for Google because they feel valued and they are contributing with their unique perspecitves. As a result, Google wins. However, during these difficult times, you may find yourself to be in an environment where fear and doubt prevail. Fear and doubt keep people hiding out, afraid to unleash their voices. You may not be in an environment that outwardly encourages you to express your perspective, but regardless of what your environment may be, don't make the mistake and assume that your point of view is unwanted.

During these tough times, don't fall into the trap of buying into the fear and doubt. Be courageous and unapologetically share your voice. Unleashing your voice isn't the same as complaining, but identifying the issues and asserting solutions to these concerns for which your unique point of view can contribute.

So, during these difficult times when you feel the urge to go underground; don't. Instead, do the opposite.

Help transform the environment around you and be a catalyst for change with your voice. I would love to see the U.S.A. be number 1 on that list one day. Wouldn't you?

And by the way, not biting your tongue is one of the best ways to stay relevant and contribute during these tough times. Don't you think?

Interested in business or life coaching? Click here for more information:

Laura is a sought-after keynote speaker, award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader, and business and life coach who has been featured on the Today Show and Fox News. In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Work Less Hours and Increase Your Earnings

I do believe in the counter-intuitive nature of life. It plays out all the time in business as well. Less is definately more. Pull is stronger than push. Listen to influence more. And the list goes on. My book, The Connected and Committed Leader. Lessons from Home. Results at Work. highlights 7 leadership insights that are based on this counter-intuitive understanding.

We are at a time now where people are being asked to achieve more with less, oftentimes picking up the jobs of 2 or 3 people that have been let go. This is a time when we need to work less to generate more.

I have tapped into Dr. Gaby Cora who works with people and companies that want to be healthy while they become wealthy. I think her perspective is spot-on. Here is what she has to say:

In an ideal world, we would dedicate eight hours of our day to work, another eight to enjoy recreational activities and the last eight hours to sleep. The true question is, how many of you live in the ideal world?

Instead, in the real world, most people work twelve to sixteen hours every day, with little recreational time and with less sleep. Forget about taking any vacation during the financial crisis. People worry about keeping their job, lay-offs, foreclosures and downsizing.

While people are doing the work of two or three employees these days, being on the go 24/7 is counterproductive to high performance and increased productivity at work. Even athletes know that their performance will start to decrease if they train too hard or for too long.

This is no different at work. Have you ever experienced feeling stuck on a particular computer program or document and you try and you try again completely frustrated. You then realize you’ve been trying to resolve the problem for two hours. You decide to take a break, refresh your mind, you do something else and, when you return to the computer, you resolve the two-hour problem with two clicks in a couple of minutes. Your mind had gotten stuck and, although the answer was right in front of you, you couldn’t see it because you were focusing on the problem, not the solution.

In some instances, people work so much that the pressure starts taking a toll on their health. Many don’t seek for help until they are experiencing medical problems.
Although stress can be motivating and inspiring, too much stress may trigger anxiety, depression, headaches, increased blood pressure or gastrointestinal problems.

Why does this happen? When we over exhaust our bodies or our minds, instead of producing more and increase our earnings, we run out of ideas, unable to think of positive ways to resolve our challenges. We get stuck on the problems and have trouble looking at all options for a positive resolution. Instead, when we keep busy but we are able to refresh our minds we are then better able to make sound decisions that will have a positive impact on our ability to build our wealth.

The following are some tips to assist you as you strive to increase your earnings while working fewer hours:

1) Think of effective hours of work rather than number of hours of work: You may believe that you are the only one who can do everything that you do, but keep track of your activities. You will be surprised when you realize how you distribute – or waste - your time. Common traps include the constant use of email, BlackBerries, PDAs of phones rather than allocating time to respond to emails, for example.

2) Set up clear priorities: Make sure that you achieve what is high on your list and that you discard the actions that have been on your list but that haven’t been done in months or years. It’s time to let go. If you claim that everything is an emergency you will fall in the trap of responding to fires all the time rather than creating ways to increase your earnings.

3) Have a Plan: Most people don’t have a plan and many who do leave it in the drawer without checking their progress. By having a plan, you can constantly follow your progress and decide whether you are achieving your desired goals and earnings. Without a plan, you will end up busy and exhausted and will continue to have more of busyness and exhaustion. If you have never created a plan, this is a great time to start.

4) Cut down your working hours from 16 to 12 or from 12 to 10: What would you do if you were forced to work less hours and be more efficient with your time? Unfortunately, many feel pressured to do this after they have become too sick to work many hours or when life circumstances have impacted upon their ability to work. By creating a sense of urgency and efficiency, you can force yourself to become more focused, more effective, and more productive.

5) Find effective ways to relax: Eat, exercise, sleep and relax. If you are an executive or entrepreneur and you are leading under pressure, you will need to find and integrate times to eat, exercise, sleep and relax in your busy schedule. Avoid too much caffeine during the day and the negative cycle of daily caffeine and alcohol or hypnotics at night. It is not a matter of whether someone who is overworked will exhaust his or her energy; it’s a matter of time: When will they burn out? Learn relaxation techniques including guided imagery or meditation. Listen to music or find a hobby. In addition to these strategies, exercising is a must for busy corporate warriors and business owners. Repetitive exercises tend to be the best to help de-stress. Others prefer Yoga and Tai Chi. Nothing beats sleeping well at night.

What do you think about these 5 points?

I particularly like point number 4. I think we often factor in too much murphy time for projects and it is always amazing how much we can get done when we compress those timelines. I am going to try to compress more often to get more done. What are you going to do differently?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

It seems that during these tough times, we hear more about people losing jobs than leaving them, but the question of when to leave a job is still relevant.

I recently gave a leadership workshop in Houston. One of the people attending my workshop was taking it because she needed to improve her situation at work. She came in with the flu and I am certain that her physical sickness was related to the fact that she was emotionally drained because of her work situation.

I advocate that people work hard at improving their situation(s) by taking full accountability of what they may be contributing towards the problem. A connected and committed leader does take a good look in the mirror to own up to their shortcomings, However, having said that, there comes a time when you have done all you can and you can not continue to push water up hill.

If you are at that point, Deborah Grayson Riegel offers 8 clues to determine if it is time for you to push the punch button and 6 steps to follow in order to ensure a smooth landing elsewhere.

Here is what she has to say:

There’s a difference between temporary and permanent job dissatisfaction. When and if you realize that your situation is unsalvageable, it’s likely time to think about leaving. When do you know when it’s time to remove yourself from your current situation? There are eight circumstances that warrant a good, hard look at whether you would be better off exploring new opportunities.

1. When you were never a good fit for the job, and never will be. If you are a person who loves variety and lots of action, and your job requires phone time at an isolated desk, it’s going to be difficult to change the structure of your job to create satisfaction. Your job should suit your natural preferences in more ways than it doesn’t. Otherwise, it could be time to move on.

2. When your boss has written you off. If your boss is not willing to communicate with you in a meaningful way, won’t consider your ideas of restructure, and doesn’t really seem to care whether you succeed or fail, it’s definitely time to look elsewhere.

3. When you’ve written your boss off. If you and your boss just don’t gel—if you have vast differences when it comes to values, ethics, incentives, or to work processes in general—you might not be able to find happiness at work as long as you’re working together. Time to go.

4. If you don’t have the desire to learn or improve your skills. If progressing at your job requires additional education or skills, and you find that you really have no interest in pursuing those things, you may not have a fundamental interest in your work. Since having an interest in your work contributes to job satisfaction, it’s probably time to seek other opportunities
5. If you can’t find anything about your job that you like doing. You’re not going to love everything about your job. However, if there’s nothing you like about your job—if you spend all day crunching numbers and you really hate math—the chances of you ever finding job satisfaction are slim. If you think hard but can’t find one thing about your job that you actually enjoy doing, it’s time to change things up. Don’t be afraid to consider a completely different career path.

6. If your job is negatively affecting your health or personal relationships. If the amount of stress and unhappiness at work is so significant that it’s affecting your health or relationships, it’s time to start looking elsewhere. You deserve to be happy and healthy.

7. If there’s no incentive to perform. A job can’t benefit just your employer. It has to benefit you as well. The benefit doesn’t have to be financial. It just has to resonate with you in a way that’s meaningful and motivates you to perform. Incentives can be internal or external—but if there’s no motivation whatsoever for you to get out of bed and perform your job every day, it’s time to find another job.

8. If the atmosphere is toxic. If the level of infighting, gossiping, back-stabbing, and negativity is so multi-layered that you don’t know where it begins or how you would even begin to fix it—time to search for better environs.

Six Steps to a Smooth Transition

When all is said and done, changing jobs is a reality of professional life.

If you’ve decided that your present job is unsalvageable and it’s time to move on, it’s important to develop a strategy to ensure that your new situation is better than your old. By following six simple steps, you can boost the odds of landing a position that meets your needs.

1. Size up your situation. Define the primary issues that are causing your current dissatisfaction. Be very specific so you can avoid situations with similar problems.

2. Proceed with caution. Finally making the decision to move on can be intoxicating, but put the kibosh on your desire to tell your co-workers that you’re “outta here.” Be careful of projecting subtle signals as well. Showing up on casual Friday wearing your best interview suit or taking lots of vacation days—without going on vacation—are clues that your co-workers might pick up on. Looking for a new situation while you have the security of your current job will allow you to take your time and find what you’re really looking for.

3. Do some research. Take a look at what’s happening in your industry. What opportunities are out there? What obstacles might you face? Will your current skills and education allow you to get where you want to go in the next year. In five years? In ten? If adding to your qualifications will open more doors for you, take steps now to learn a new skill or gain additional education.

4. Get help. Sometimes you can’t see the trees through the forest. If you’re still having trouble figuring out what you want to be when you grow up, try joining forces with a coach, networking group, mentor, or others who can support and direct you.

5. Be persistent. During this tough economy, persistence is more important than ever. Once you identify some organizations you’d like to work for, make yourself known there. Forget relying solely on help wanted ads or job opening notices. Instead, schedule a meeting with the hiring manager and tell them what you can do for them. If they don’t have a position open now, perhaps they’ll create one. At the very least, they’ll remember you when a good fit does arise.

6. Make a smooth transition. When you do find a new position, make sure to attend to important details. Be sure that you are covered by your current health insurance before your new policy takes over, and decide how you are going to handle any 401 (k), 403 (b), or other employer-sponsored retirement plans you might have.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Tough Times, Is Your Definition of Success Too Narrow?

You have seen it far too many times. Successful, top-of-the-heap leaders gone awry.

Madoff. Blagojevich. Lay. Just to name a few.

On top of these disappointments, you overlay the uncertainty of our economic outlook... and you try to make sense of this mess. But the pieces don't fit. There is a missing piece to the puzzle.

I spoke recently to a group of 120 professional women. I had addressed this group previously on the topic of leadership so this time I spoke to them about "Finding Your Passion." After all, with February being International Leadership Month as well as the month of love, it was no surprise to me that my speech on "Finding Your Passion" was just another way to address the importance of leadership.

Yes...passion and leadership are both matters of the heart.

As I traveled back home after my speech I reflected on how my messages of passion-driven work were so relevant and needed in our current economic times and to these fallen "leaders."

You see when times get tough; it seems that passion, heart and leadership are the first to be compromised. And yet, when times are tough you should be shoring them up instead.
When you find your passion and live it; you are living a life that is fully integrated. A life that doesn't have a work side and a life side, or one with secrets you can't share with either side. No, it just has one big piece. ONE whole life. It is only when you are fully integrated that you can lead this life, and others, effectively. But this integrated ONE life requires a new definition of success.

A much broader definition of success where passion, purpose and heart can't be compromised.

How do you think these leaders that went awry defined their success? Probably in a very narrow way. I venture to guess that it was: Money. Money is not the bad guy here, but the lack of passion, purpose and heart coupled with a singular focus on money at all costs, including their own integrity, is what went wrong here.

Harvard Business School Professor Michael Beer was recently interviewed about his upcoming new book High Commitment, High Performance: How to Build a Resilient Organization for Sustained Advantage.

In his new work he studied successful CEOs to answer several questions about achieving long term, sustainable business performance, particularly when faced with our current economic climate. His studies found that more effective leaders were those who defined success in a much broader sense. They encompassed metrics such as customer and employee value, as well as community and society impact into their overall view of success. They defined it to be much more than just profit and stock price, but at the same time these CEOs still had a strong focus and discipline around these latter metrics.

As you would suspect, when faced with difficult times these CEOs made far different decisions than those whose metrics were only about profit and stock price. They were less likely to move directly to layoffs, recognizing that people were a key asset. It is not that they never used lay offs to affect change, but they found creative ways to reduce labor costs through shortened work weeks, lower pay, and fewer benefits.

The CEOs in Beer's study represent the kinds of leaders who have a more holistic view on business success that embodies passion, heart and purpose. They didn't compromise these things even when times were tough.

Just as exceptional leaders take a broad view during difficult times, you need to raise your own bar and define success more broadly during these same times.

Define your success more broadly to encompass your passion, purpose, and heart. So as you go through your day trying to weather these tough times, are you living only for the paycheck? Have you parked your passion elsewhere? Is your definition of success too narrow? Broaden your definition. Start pursuing your passion, purpose and heart, even if they seem to be frivolous or non-revenue generating.

By defining your success more broadly, you will start to experience greater and greater levels of success. The kind of success that is capable of weathering difficult times.

And that is one of the missing puzzle pieces! Don't you agree? Interested in business or life coaching?

Friday, January 30, 2009

More stress. More jerks.

When times get hard, people become more stressed. Stress can also bring out the worst in people. I like to say that stress is the killer of effective leadership.

It seems like we are in a pressure-cooker these days. Times, tough enough for even the best of leaders to withstand.

It isn't just the people that have lost their jobs that are suffering. Even those that have jobs are suffering because the demands are high and they are working bone-crushing hours. People are no longer expected to do one job, they are expected to pick up the pieces after the layoffs.

It's snapping time. People are losing their social graces. So it begs the question: Do you work for a jerk?

I have tapped into Joseph Grenny, who is the co-author of The New York Times Bestseller: Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations for some insight on this topic. Read on to get some perspective on this.

Work for a Jerk? by Joseph Grenny

For many people, work has lost its luster. Employees who were once motivated to come in early or stay late now have a tendency to take off early, show up late, or even call in sick. Is this trend simply a sign of a career slump, or is there a reason employees seem to be getting the corporate life sucked out of them?

Popular opinion cites unacceptable hours, low pay, and bad work assignments as leading causes of career blues. Naturally, these grievances are enough to cause any employee to grumble. However, according to a recent survey by VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, these grievances are actually the least common concerns among employees. More than 50 percent of survey respondents listed a disagreeable boss as their number one reason to want to pack up and leave.

These disgruntled employees aren’t just daydreaming about leaving – two out of every three people who are bugged by their boss are actively seeking alternative career options. If you’re feeling stifled by your supervisor, leaving the office may feel like the cure. But what happens when you stumble into a new office with a new boss – only to discover that, once again, you work for a jerk?

Even though the grass seems greener on the other side, the problem may not be with the disagreeable boss – despite the fact that he or she could use a personality adjustment. The problem could in fact be an employee’s unwillingness or even inability to candidly share concerns about his or her working relationship with the boss. The survey revealed that only one in five people have even attempted to fully lay out their concerns with their boss.

It’s no wonder people aren’t enjoying their careers as much as they could be. When you can’t approach your supervisor, work suddenly feels less enjoyable and productive, and more like detention.

After twenty-five years of research in the field of organizational effectiveness and interpersonal communication, the VitalSmarts team of researchers has determined that most people don’t know how to candidly and respectfully express concerns to anyone, let alone a person of higher power or authority. It turns out that when it matters most, most of us do our worst at communicating our concerns. Disturbingly, almost two-thirds of survey respondents admitted they will quit before ever really speaking their mind.

However, a disagreeable boss does not have to be the ticket to a dead-end career. With the proper set of skills, any employee can turn a less-than-pleasant working relationship into one that will restore a desired level of respect and civility. In fact, survey respondents who stated that they do speak up and feel skilled at holding what we call “crucial confrontations” with their bosses were more satisfied with their current jobs and less likely to look elsewhere. They were also less likely to badmouth the boss to others or to work around the boss’s weaknesses.

So, if you begin dragging your feet on the way to work because your boss is disagreeable – maybe even a jerk – use the following skills to successfully confront your manager and begin the path to career revival.

  • Work on you first, the boss second. Get your emotions in check by looking for how you may be adding to the problem. It isn’t that the boss doesn’t have faults; it’s that most people tend to exaggerate their boss’s problems and ignore how they may be contributing.
  • Hold the right conversation. Most people think they are giving their boss feedback, but fail to get to the real issue that concerns them. If your fundamental concern is that your boss doesn’t respect you or that you don’t trust your boss, find a way to discuss that issue without skirting around it.
  • Start with safety. It can be tough to tell your boss you don’t trust him or her. But it is completely possible to do so without rupturing the relationship if you can help your boss feel safe. People feel psychologically safe when they know you care about their interests and respect them. Start with: “I have a concern I’d like to discuss. It’s important to me, but it’s also something I think will help me work more effectively. May I discuss it with you?”
  • Facts first. Don’t start with harsh judgments or vague conclusions like, “I don’t trust you,” or, “You’re a control freak.” Instead, start with the facts. Strip out any judgmental or provocative language and be specific. For example, “After you told me you brought me up for a promotion in the HR meeting, two people who were at that meeting e-mailed me and asked why you hadn’t recommended me for it.”

I think he provides some great points. I know that most people think that now may not be the right time to have these conversations, but that is incorrect. Now is the time. It is when the pressure is on, that you need to take action to make it right. What do you think?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Creating a High Performing Culture During Tough Times

It is hard to look the other way and deny our economic situation. It seems like it is the only thing we read about these days. It's the focus. We read about it in the papers. Businesses are talking about it. Our new president is addressing it. We are even being hit with it at home... as we increasingly know someone else being "let go."

Most people I encounter ask me how my business is surviving "these days."

What can we do to work within these times? How do we get people to do more with less? How can we continue to build a culture that is productive when everyone left is worried about being let go?

This post's featured contributor, Holly C. Green author of More than a Minute: How to be an Effective Leader and Manager in Today's Changing World offers some great insight.

Creating a High Performing Culture During Tough Times
by Holly G. Green

Excellence happens in context™

High performance and success are not dependent on one simple factor or as a result of one or two things. The entire context you operate in greatly impacts your results. This context includes the culture of the company - how things get done, how decisions get made, what works and does not work as far as behaviors and what gets rewarded and how. It is the complete environment in which employees interact with each other and with other stakeholders.

Every company has a culture. The key to building a high-performing culture is to make sure you consider ‘what’ and ‘how’ you will get to your destination points (the clear definitions of where you are going in a specific time frame).

  • What do the ‘norms’ in the organization need to be to enable everyone to work effectively on the right initiatives?
  • How can you clarify and reward the behaviors you desire and enact appropriate consequences for undesirable behavior?
  • What elements of the culture need to change?
  • How much change is required, and how do you successfully implement the change?

The majority of employees want to be a part of a compelling future, want to know what is most important at work and what excellence looks like. When you create a culture of performance and success, you inspire loyalty with employees and other stakeholders, and you create advocates who promote the company positively to others.

The specifics of a high performance culture are unique to your company because they are based on what will work best for you to get you to where you want to go within the parameters you have defined. Every decision you make, almost every behavior you engage in has advantages and disadvantages, so there is no one perfect way. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to culture.

However, there is ample research to help us understand some commonalities for what makes a high performing culture. The following are common attributes across 200 high performing companies.

Clearly define what winning looks like.

  • Look across the entire organization and define what it looks like from a variety of perspectives – Sales, Marketing, Finance, R&D, etc.
  • Tap into your employees as a resource. Listen more and keep employees vested in success by communicating. Ask them if they have all the tools they need to be successful in their jobs. Ask what would help them be even more productive?

Measure what matters and what employees can relate to. Focus on additional metrics besides the financial ones.

  • How are customer leads handled in order to achieve a desired profit margin?
  • How are customer orders, returns, inquiries handled?
  • How are products determined & developed?
  • How does work get done (collaboration or individual efforts)?
  • What are the customer and employee retention targets?

Be sure to communicate these other metrics on a monthly basis. Employees who are not in the financial world will be able to relate better to the results and will feel more included in the process. Visibly reward the desired behaviors and results.

Develop an ownership mentality and enable-educated risk-taking.

  • Educate your employees by communicating acceptable behaviors and boundaries.
  • When individuals understand the boundaries in which they can operate, as well as where the company wants to go, they feel empowered with a freedom to decide and act, and most often make the right choices. They begin to think and act like an “owner”.

Keep an eye on the external environment.

High-performing organizations complement their drive to create a culture aligned to their destination points with an ongoing vigilance of looking at the external environment.

  • Build Deep Relationships: Talk to your current suppliers and customers about their business and their perceptions of what’s going on in the marketplace.
  • Keep tabs on your competitors and what is going on in your particular industry.
  • Take a look at other industries especially those doing well in tough times. What can you learn or adapt from their approach?

Monitoring the ever-changing environment gives you the edge in responding to new technologies and new competitors as well as downturns or upturns in the marketplace.

Commit to setting up employees for success and nurture their trust.

  • Think back to a time when you did not have the tools to do your job, or when you did not feel supported in getting done what you thought had to be done or even when you had a boss who was more of a hindrance than a help. You probably did not perform as well as you could have. Now contrast that memory with one of feeling particularly successful. How many things or people can you list that influenced the difference in your performance? There are a lot of factors involved so make sure to think through what excellence will take and set your employees and yourself up for success.
  • Tools might include training, coaching and feedback as well as engaging employees in sharing ideas and candidly discussing issues.

High-performance organizations do not take their culture for granted. They plan it, monitor it and manage it so that it remains aligned with they want to achieve. Through the process of clearly defining your destination points, as well as creating your breakthrough model and operations plans, you will have explored both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

Completing and effectively communicating your strategic framework helps drive important components of the culture. When the destination is clear, people develop a sense of direction and focus, and this in turn contributes to a thriving culture and a successful journey.

A virtual cycle evolves when the strategic framework is cloudless, the culture is intentionally defined, and individuals are held accountable to achieving the behaviors and results outlined in both. Higher results are possible and, in fact, a more probable outcome.

I agree with Holly that trust is so critical to rebuilding a culture that is able to do more with less, especially when they don't take it for granted. What do you think?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is business just a transaction for you?

Despite the recession, I experienced quite a few business transactions this holiday season.

No matter what store I found myself in, it was crowded and busy. Those cash registers were certainly ringing!

Having the memories of the holidays behind us and some credit card bills yet to pay, I have thought about these transactions as a reminder for how we may not want to conduct business in the new year.

Shopping during the holidays is often a thankless experience. But all transactions don't have to be like that.

It reminds me why I used to like staying at the Ritz Carlton versus the W. Both are great hotels, but that extra personal connection I received at the Ritz made all the difference in my experience.

"Welcome back Ms. Lopez, would you care for a non-smoking room again this time?" And, they would come around from the desk, look into my eyes, give me a handshake and say "its nice to have you stay with us again." They handed me my room keys and other information as they asked if they could be of further service. I felt their genuine concern and care for me as their customer.

There is a reason I believe connection is the key to achieving results in life and at work. It's the same reason that explains why people who achieve long-term success know how to build committed connections with their customers.

Here is the reason: Business is NOT a transaction, it's PERSONAL. Business requires connection.

The minute we think it is just the transaction, it's the minute we lose our ability to influence, guide and lead. We lose the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.

Now, this concept may be easy to understand when you think about customers, but as a leader you need to broaden your definition of who your customer really is. As leaders, our teams, colleagues, suppliers, bosses and subordinates are all our customers. Leaders serve others.

Generation Y has it right, this is the generation that is taking connection to a whole new level in business and in their lives. They expect business leaders to connect emotionally with them and they are changing the shape of business today and forever. Just to put in perspective, Gen Y changed the face of this past year's presidential campaign. They had direct connections with President Elect Obama. They felt his genuine concern and care for them as his customers. In doing so, President Elect Obama was leading them.

Gone are the days of command and control hierarchies. If you think you or your position are "above" the connection and you revert to doing business as a transaction...beware. Business today is about committed relationships built on a foundation of transparency, trust and connection.

Is your leadership mindset stuck in yester-year?

If you are looking at business as a transaction where you "just get your work done" and get on with the rest of your life, well you are in for some eye-popping reality when dealing with the expectations for the 21st century.

Just yesterday, an airplane came crashing down in New York's Hudson River. I saw a few recounts of the episode told by survivors. They each had amazing things to say about the pilot. Many believe he is a hero, a leader amongst leaders, not just because he did his job the best he could and they all survived, but also because he fulfilled his role by connecting with those around him.

He was one of the last to leave the sinking plane.

For him, his job was not just the transaction: take-off, fly and land safely, but it also encompassed a responsibility for his passengers. A connection to those he served. He had an authentic and genuine concern and care for his customers.

He risked his own life for the sake of others. This is the ultimate demonstration of connected leadership. He walked the talk, he didn't just pay lip service to the idea.
When we connect, there is a real and genuine exchange. One that builds success to an even-higher level because it builds trust and loyalty. Connections are not one-sided, they allow both parties to benefit from the exchange.

So what about you? Can you begin to think about changing your mindset about your business transactions and connecting with those you lead? Do you have a genuine concern and care for your customers and for those you serve?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Moving from Manager to Leader

I have coached people that have recently taken on a new leadership role. One of the most difficult transitions people make is moving from manager to leader. Often, we underestimate the differences in skills needed to succeed in a leadership role vs that of a manager.

I particularly find that Dr. Karen Otazo's advice in the following article is helpful. Read on to see what she has to say about it.

The Gaps in Your Personal Work Habits Show Up When You Move Up
By Dr. Karen Otazo

Moving into leadership is like moving up in school. No matter how smart and motivated you are, if you don’t know how to organize yourself, the complexity of your new environment will overwhelm you.

You probably advanced because you were the best at what you did. But what got you to where you are may not work anymore. In the past, you may have been able to “wing it” by relying on your wits, but the higher you go on the organizational chart, the more complicated things get.

George unexpectedly moved up from managing a small group of twelve salesmen to leading all of 400 employees in sales and marketing for his company. A smart and enthusiastic leader, he found that he could no longer do what he used to do which was to drift around his department as he cajoled, praised, and pumped up his twelve people. Now he had twenty-nine direct reports and a total group of 400 people reporting to him. The little things that he used to do, like going out with some of the members of his team for happy hour, didn’t go down well with the new team.

Your new leadership position will require you to hone your personal work habits.

Keep up with scheduling: Ensure that you or someone who works for you puts every appointment and meeting on your calendar and that you show up on time.

Delegate with quality standards and due dates: Give your staff and support functions enough guidance and time to get the work done and then hold them to the deadlines.

Follow up on delegation and commitments: Have your assistant keep a follow-up file so that you are on top of all pieces of delegated assignments.

Make decision making clear: Let others know if your decisions include them and whether they have input into the decisions that you make. Also let them know when a decision is theirs to make.

Follow the money: Have someone keep track of budget figures and expenditures on a monthly basis and balance the inflow and outflow.

Ensure fairness in all you say and do: Use checklists to keep track of which staff members you compliment or coach, so you don’t inadvertently ignore some of them.

Let go of being one of the guys: Find leader-like and appropriate ways to interact in your new role. Spend time with your team and with your colleagues at meetings and meals. You need to forge a new way of working with others that is based on your leadership status, and sometimes that will mean maintaining some distance from your group.

Unless you invest enough time and thought in setting up effective working systems and relationships early on, you will get into bad habits and never be able to completely move up. You’ll get overwhelmed, like George, by the complexity, the meetings, and your inability to control the details that you used to attend to. And the better you were at doing your job before, the more frustrated you will be about not being able to do what you used to do. Moving up as a leader involves a lot of letting go while still guiding others with interest and support. The sooner you stop doing parts of your old job and embrace the complexity of your new job the more effective you will become.
See more on Dr. Otazo t

What do you think?