Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Do you know your own limitations?

Feeling invincible is a common trait for most teenagers, but hopefully by the time they've started their first job, the feeling has begun to wane.

Realizing one's lack of invincibility is a growing up process.

And yet, we know that many people never grow up! I have met several people in my career who believed they were invincible and indispensable. In fact, the first person I knew who believed this was me. And I was a bit older than 18!

When we feel invincible and indispensable, we have no understanding of our limitations. We believe there is no task insurmountable, no issue non- negotiable, no mountain un-climbable. While we can all view this type of resilience as remarkable (and sometimes essential), there is a down side to being completely disconnected from the reality of limitation.

The down side is that when we believe we are invincible and can do anything by and for ourselves, we cannot lead others because we simply believe we don't need others. We may even have a sense of arrogance that no one can do it as well as we can.

However, the reality is that we do need others to accomplish our aspirations at work and at home. Leaders recognize their need for others because they respect what others can do and are well connected to their own sense of limitation.

I was reminded of my stubborn disconnection from my own limitations just the other day.

I was arranging our holiday cards on the mantel when I accidentally knocked over a large painting that was on the mantel leaning up against the wall. As it crashed down towards me, I saw that it had also knocked down a large, metal candle stick sitting next to it. In a split second as I witnessed the candle stick falling through the air, I thought about this metal object crashing down on the granite floor and I imagined it damaging the stone.

So, with my invincibility intact, I stuck my foot out in order to break its fall (my hands were busy catching the painting). Well, didn't you know that my foot is tougher than granite?!? I might as well have taken a hammer to my foot! Fortunately, I didn't break my foot.

As I sat there icing it, I cried. I cried because of the pain but also because the incident reminded me of how fragile I really am and how fragile life really is. It reminded me how important it is to know your own limitations; after all, even a candle stick could stop me in my tracks! When we don't know our own limitations, we take on too much...we over promise and over schedule. We juggle the world while others sit back and just watch.

Picturing myself juggling holiday cards, paintings and candle sticks with both my hands and feet made me chuckle, yet made me realize that I was at a critical point of needing to ask for help from others.

Recognizing your limitations, isn't about signaling weakness or about admitting defeat, it is the opposite, it is about empowering yourself to be more successful. Recognizing your limitations means losing your arrogance about others' abilities and engaging them to be part of the solution.

I also faced this lesson many times in my career.

One time we were given a mandate from our senior leadership team to launch a product. However, this directive was at odds with our strategic direction and my team (including me) was completely against it. I promised my team that I would get us off of the hook. It was a well-intentioned promise, but it also was based in invincibility. I didn't know what I didn't know and yet, I put myself on the line to deliver. In my mind, I could do it; I could get senior management to reverse their directive, of course I could do it!

But I was wrong. I couldn't do it. I couldn't get us off the hook to launch the product. After all, our senior leadership had another plan in mind. As a result, my team lost faith and trust in me. The most frustrating part of this situation was that I had made that promise to my team with all of my best intentions.

You see, the other down side to not knowing your limitations is that even with your best intentions; you can disappoint others and destroy trust.

Great leaders don't think they can do it all because they understand how they are limited in what they know and in what they can impact. They understand the importance of building bridges in order to have others' fill those gaps.

The craziness of the holidays is a good time for us to realize that maybe we just can't do it all and to engage the help of others. So, this holiday season, get in touch with your limitations by:

1. Realizing you need others to get the job done
2. Being realistic on what you can and can't do
3.Keeping your number of commitments to a minimum
4.Asking for help and assistance
5.Respecting the contributions of others

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The "have it your way" culture shift and what it means for leadership and branding

Burger King's slogan "Have it your way" was way before its time.

We are solidly in the "I will have it my way, or no way" times. People are now creating their own jobs, their own products, their own lives. Through the Internet, individuals can now be as powerful and influential as traditional media channels once used to be.

And it is no longer a generational phenomenon. With nearly 10% unemployment, even the boomers that bought into and perfected the "go to college-get a job-strive for the corner office-be the boss" script, are now finding themselves learning how to create the life and the job they want...on their terms.

This new culture impacts everything from how marketers "control" their products and services, to how leaders "control" and manage the workforce.

It is a huge power shift. Consumers now hold the power to control what is said about products and services to their ever-expanding networks. And employees now hold greater power to say no more often to the golden handcuffs offered by the traditional corporate job. It's implications for branding and leadership are clear:

1. One way dialogues will no longer be tolerated
2. Respect has nothing to do with age, title or money
3. Demanding anything is a surefire way towards becoming obsolescent
4. It's all about choice
5. Want to engage others, provide options, options, options

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet others where they are,

We grew up with the "golden rule" which is to treat others as we would want to be treated.

However, business today requires the "platinum rule" which is to treat others the way in which they want to be treated. How we want to be treated is no longer a good barometer for how to treat others.

In other words, we need to meet people where they are... with our actions, communication, and even our business attire.

I recently read an article explaining that The Vanguard Group, a company whose business attire was formal, recently was told by a customer not to "suit up" because it made him (the customer) feel uncomfortable. This is an example of meeting the customer where they are.

While the CEO of Vanguard decided to make the switch from business attire to business casual based on the feedback from this customer, I would tell them not to donate those dark blues just yet. They may have a customer that wants to be met "suited up."

Across the board changes don't always work when it comes down to good customer service and leadership. We should meet people where they are...with our customers, clients, and associates.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is your complaining keeping you stuck?

For as long as I can remember, being a friend to someone means that you lend an ear and "hear them out" during all of their complaining moments, however painful that may be.

And, being a really good friend usually implies jumping on the band wagon and siding with their part of the show solidarity and support, of course. Often times, these "friendship rules" mean that disagreeing or offering a difficult and alternative perspective could be perceived as a threat to the friendship-a betrayal.

As I have learned from my daughter, this behavior can start as early as age 5. My personal experiences have also convinced me that this behavior continues well into adulthood. Our socialization process pounds into us that it is best to be nice and agreeable instead of being controversial, even at the expense of productivity.

The result in the business world is that we have many complaining conversations with little constructive and productive feedback going on.

As a business coach, my job is to find a way to deliver difficult and alternative perspectives in a manner that can be heard. The value I bring in delivering an unbiased point of view that is honest and direct is to help people grow and change.

Unfortunately, in business, like in friendship, nobody wants to tell people the way it is and nobody seeks to hear it. Instead, associates listen to each other complain about their bosses, their colleagues, their associates, their company, their jobs...and the list goes on. The complaining never changes and the "supportive" listeners only add fuel to the fire, ensuring that the complaining never stops. So with every story comes validation and unity, but little progress to change or to move forward results in the exchange.

This kind of complaining keeps you stuck. It creates drama and gossip that hurts you more than it does the people you are talking about.

Despite all of the energy it takes, the only real outcome will be to keep you exactly in the spot you are in.

I am always surprised when people say they feel good after they have "dumped" and engaged in a dialogue of complaining. Perhaps it is a way to feel "not alone", but it certainly does not provide one with a feeling of moving forward.

I went through several years of complaining. Nothing was right. My personal life wasn't fulfilling and my job or career wasn't going as planned. I didn't even realize how much I was using my friends as a sounding board, to just hear myself complain, until I had a friend stop me in my tracks. I hadn't spoken to him in about 8 months and when we resumed our conversation, he said to me "sounds like you are exactly in the same spot you were in when we last spoke, I guess that's where you want to be."

Since that day, I took an active and intentional decision to stop the complaining and to stop supporting complaining friends/colleagues. I realized that the complaining wasn't serving me at all. It kept me from taking accountability for my situation. I saw how giving energy and focus to the negatives in my life kept me stuck exactly where I didn't want to be.

So, if you find yourself to be someone who is constantly engaged in conversations where you are talking negatively about other people (Can you believe what (insert boss, spouse, friend, colleague name here) did today?) consider some of these important lessons:

1.Talking about your unhappiness keeps you from taking action towards change.
2.Complaining diverts your accountability for the situation.
3.Supporting complaining behavior makes you an accomplice in keeping others stuck.
4.You can't change anyone, but you can change how you react to someone.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you can focus on the areas in your life where you are happy and satisfied. Please replace the complaining with lots of talk about these positive and meaningful aspects of your work and home life. As you do so, it will turn the gossip and drama into meaningful and lasting conversations that impact change and productivity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is there a risk for speaking up?

I recently read that an employee was being fired because she had griped about her boss on Facebook.

In my opinion, if you don't understand the public nature of social media then you deserve to be fired. This does show incredibly poor judgment.

But all kidding aside, it did raise the question about how far one can speak up against a boss, a work environment, or anything of major disagreement in a business setting without suffering some major consequence.

Take for example the recent news in China where a father was imprisoned for 2 1/2 years because in his activism he "embarrassed leadership."

Fortunately, in this country we do have the right to free speech, but it still begs the question of how far one can go without suffering some consequence, like being fired.

Can you embarrass your boss? And live to tell the tale?

First off, I don't think anyone should purposely try to make anyone else look stupid and intentionally embarrass them. If you have a major gripe, concern or point of contention in the business environment, do it with grace, respect and humility.

Here are few tips to help you not embarrass your leadership and still enable you to speak your mind.

1. Don't use blaming language
2. Take accountability for your part of the problem.
3. Ask more questions before settling on your point of view.
4. Seek other perspectives (not just validating ones).
5. Be compassionate.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Observation as recognition

A recent study indicated that 39% of employees leave jobs because they don't feel recognized.

Learning how to recognize others is a key leadership skill, but often a misunderstood one.

Many times leaders believe that recognition needs to be BIG, in order to be effective. This is not true. While a promotion and a pay raise is a form of recognizing great work, it is certainly not the only way to recognize employees.

I have learned a great deal about the importance and the simplicity of recognition by being a parent. I do think that many of these lessons transfer into the workplace.

The most critical component to recognition is observation. Leaders need to be present in the moment and observe employees behaviors. This is a far more productive tool that one could ever imagine.

When my daughter starts to get demanding or a bit unruly, it is my wake up call that I haven't been "present" with her enough. What I mean by that, is that work can take over. I get busy juggling things that life brings me and someitmes I get routinized into just getting through the activities and days surrounding my family life. The same happens at work. Leaders, like their employees, often get bogged down with the work and they get routinized into just getting through the work activities and plan.

When I find myself in this mode (and my daughter reminds me through her behavior,) no matter how busy I am I try to just stop and observe her. I ask questions and listen and spend quality, focused time on her. I practice deliberate observation which in turn makes her feel recognized, appreciated and respected. Amazingly, her unruly behaviors stop.

Leaders must learn how to practice this with their employees. Employees' behavior will directly remind you that they feel unrecognized. As a leader, you have the responsibility to stop and practice deliberate observation. In turn, you will see how these acts can go a long way with employees. They will begin to feel recognized, appreciated and respected. If you continue to practice this, over time, their unruly behaviors will stop.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How self-centered are you?

The reality is that as humans, we are fundamentally self-centered.

So it is of no surprise that when it comes to any business situation, we have to remind ourselves "it's not about me."

In all of these business situations we need to turn the spotlight off of ourselves and onto the person in front of us:

1. Networking
2. Getting along with your boss
3. Influencing your team
4. Customer service
5. Getting someone to help you

Keep this in mind and you are bound to have better success dealing with others around you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Want to lead others....ask questions!

So many managers have a difficult time moving from being a manager to becoming a leader. It's no surprise that this is probably one of the hardest transitions.

Do it yourself doesn't work any more.

Telling has a way of demoralizing instead of inspiring.

Having all the answers is bound to trip you up, too.

It's true: The skills that made you successful at one point in your career are not going to be the ones you need to rely on the higher up you go.

Becoming a leader often requires us to unlearn a lot that drove success early on. You need to unravel, unwind and take a chill pill if you want to be a successful leader that others want to follow.

Start by stepping out more and doing less. Change your telling into asking more questions that are driven my curiosity and guidance. Learn to rely on others for the answers you need.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Are you building business credibility?

The Internet continues to impact all aspects of our lives.

From how we do research, to how we shop, how we connect with friends and family...and now to how we build and extend our business credibility.

Entrepreneurs have been the trendsetters of applying these technological advances into business, especially when it comes to the social networking component. However, Corporate America is not far behind as it moves diligently and methodically to understand the pros and cons of this medium. It does beg the question: how does a corporate brand entity interact with people on a one-to-one basis? For consumer products, its easy to understand how Old Spice was able to manifest its brand personality into a character that came alive in social networking. Not so easily done when it comes to corporate messaging.

Unless that corporate messaging has an expertise or single idea it wants to stand for: such as leadership, green sustainability, education, etc. Then, I believe that social networking is the place to seed and develop this message.

But what about the corporate employee? How are you developing your business credentials outside of the four walls of your corporate office?

After all, I think we are entering the era of the free agent. A free agent has a single idea describing their brand and they develop and expand that expertise through the advances of technology. And it doesn't matter whether you are in a corporation or you own your own business. This is an important concept in today's business world because we are at the height of the information age. And you, are the creator of information. No longer do we solely seek out information via the traditional mediums of TV, newspapers, and radio. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the multitude of Blogs are the new mediums and you are the media. You must be the brand and be the expert in your field.

Social networking is the place for developing and establishing expertise, because it facilitates a one-on-one dialogue. It is an excellent branding tool. But in order for it to build your business credibility and to work for you, or any organization, you have to have that single idea that describes your brand.

How are your building your business credibility?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ready to throw in the towel? Don't.

In my work with entrepreneurs, and as an entrepreneur myself, I see the temptation to throw in the towel time and time again.

The cycle is a bit like this:
1. We get energized about an idea, an opportunity, or a project.
2. We start to put energy behind it. We start talking about it, marketing it, submitting a proposal, etc.
3. Then the receptivity we get back isn't quite what we wanted.
4. We take this feedback and start to feel disillusioned, discouraged and our energy wanes.
5. We are tempted to "throw in the towel" by either abandoning the idea, changing course, or cancelling the effort.

This happened to me just recently. I was hosting an event that I almost cancelled 2weeks before because I had very few registrations at first, but I pushed through and eventually had a very successful event with great attendance. I learned a great lesson: just when you think you need to quit, it's exactly when you shouldn't, especially if you believe in your idea and what you are doing. I have been surprised many times when I didn't throw in the towel to see that my idea did in fact "pull through." It is as if, I was being "tested" to see how much I believed in my idea.

I don't think I am alone in this. Even the great entrepreneurs that break through and grow substantial businesses go through this time and time again. You just have to read "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh to see this. They push through because regardless of the receptivity or the temporary set-backs they believe in their idea.

So next time you are about to "throw in the towel," think again. This may be a great time to recommit to your great idea.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why your Internet Marketing may not be working

The Internet has made it easier for people to "be out there" and to market themselves more readily.

In some ways it is easier because for many that are promoting themselves and their business on the Internet, it feels like no one is really out there listening. So they may push harder than they normally would.

However, the Internet is simultaneously a medium where no one is listening and yet everyone is listening.

While on one hand, the Internet facilitates and encourages self-promotion, it also is a medium that can easily allow people to tip the scale from appropriate self-promotion into obnoxious self-obsession.

This new business reality that we are living in, makes it even more critical for you to follow the basics of marketing to make your Internet marketing work for your business.

Know your target
The Internet is a place that allows for pin-pointed targeting. Use it to pin-point instead of blasting. The more you can refine your message specific to your target, the better impact you will get. Finding the few that love your service is better than thousands that couldn't care less. Reassess frequently; your target's needs are bound to change.

Stop pushing, encourage pulling
Effective brands create pathways that allow followers to experience the brand. Allow your followers to opt-in and to ask for more. Don't push your message to those that don't want it. Encourage opt-in and opt-out. Reassess frequently; what's important to your followers can change over time.

Offer Value
If you aren't offering solutions based on what is important to your target, you need to go back and do your homework. Your brand's value is not determined by you, but by your target. Make sure you are relevant and are providing value to what they need. Reassess frequently; problems and solutions change all of the time.

Don't have a marketing plan? Click here for a solution worth considering.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marketing from the inside out

I have two loves: Marketing and Leadership.

In my former corporate life, the two seemed so disparate. Leadership and its development belonged in Human Resources and Marketing belonged to the Marketing Department. For my more than 20 years, I was always in Brand Marketing, but always had a passion for some of the work done by HR. It seemed that only when HR and other functional groups developed an integrated working relationship, that we were able to advance the development of leaders.

This didn't happen nearly enough.

It was out of my frustration of seeing how line management functions (like marketing) never took on full ownership of organizational culture and people concerns (present company not excluded). Only when we had a problem, did we make it a priority. We relied too heavily on HR.

When I decided to form my own business, I knew that leadership is and continues to be lacking at all levels in many organizations. I felt that I was in a unique position to teach leadership from a practical, business leader point of view. I was not just schooled in leadership, I had to live the realities of leadership when theories may not have a practical application.

Bill Taylor's recent article, "Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand" hit home for me. Today, I no longer see Marketing and Leadership as two separate entities, in fact many of my branding principles and leadership insights that I consult, train and speak on are one-in-the same. I often say that branding and leadership are the same exact thing. You can't be a brand without being a leader. And you can't be a leading organization without leading your consumers, customers and employees effectively.

Bill Taylor's words take it one step further "even the most creative business leaders I know recognize that success is not just about marketing differently from other companies: more daring ads, more new products, more aggressive use of Twitter and Facebook. It is also, and perhaps more important, about caring more than other companies — about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values."

In my work today, I help aspiring leaders to develop and connect their own personal brand to their company's brand. This is another way to build engagement from the inside out. You can't separate an organization's internal culture from its external brand. When these aspiring leaders find that they can't connect their own personal brand to their company's culture, they go elsewhere. In Marketing terms, this is a sign of internal brand dissonance. The company loses its connection to one of its critical constituents: their employees.

So next time you think that simply connecting with your customers and consumers is the only important thing to do in your role, think again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are you an effective loser?

Whether you like it or not, everyone loses.

You win some, and you lose some. Even if during these recessionary times it feels like there is more losing than winning.
But it's how you handle your loss that determines if you are going to be a long-term winner.

In our competitive culture, losing often means you are "below average," "mediocre," or "not good enough." We are taught at a young age that being on the losing side is not the place we want to be. Oftentimes when we lose, we just want to pack it up and give in.

And so, we carry around negative judgments about losing, when in fact losing is an essential part of winning.

Leaders and long-term winners not only understand that losing is part of the process; they learn to embrace the loss and use it as a stepping stone for something bigger.

I have had a lot of losses in my life, but I haven't allowed these losses to turn me into a loser because I have learned how to become an effective loser.

However, it wasn't always that way.

When I first got divorced at 29, I felt that I was a loser at love and relationships. After all, most 29 year old women were not only married, they were starting families and seemed perfectly content in their lives. I just thought that I was too independent, too ambitious, too stubborn, and too outspoken to fit into the traditional role of "wife."

I concluded that I was flawed, because I didn't fit the mold. I started to believe that this loss would be a permanent way-of-life. I began to identify with the loss and for 11 years, I had several relationships that supported my belief that I was unfit for marriage or any kind of serious long-term relationship. It wasn't until I started to shift this belief when at 40 I realized I wanted to start a family of my own. I knew I had to make some changes in how I thought about myself.

This is when I started to understand that we all have the power to turn our losses around into long-term successes. Here are the things that helped me become an effective loser at that time of my life:

1. Don't buy into the belief that losing means you are a loser.
2. Don't give up and quit. Keep moving.
3. Be kind to yourself.
4. Don't compare yourself to others.
5. Reaffirm and revalidate your differences as assets, not liabilities.
6. Create your own definition of success.

What that meant for me personally was that I was going to have a non-traditional relationship where I wouldn't be put into the box I couldn't fit into. I would need to build a new mold for me. And so I did. And my loss became my success.

When you become an effective loser you resist the urge to shut down and retreat, instead you keep going. You are driven less by the external comparisons and more by your internal compass. You are grounded and accepting of your uniqueness and where you are at a given point in time. You are forgiving and kind to yourself, not blaming or intolerant of your foibles or stumbles. You find new strength to forge forward.

You see our "get rich quick," "take this pill and get thin," or "become famous overnight" competitive culture doesn't support this approach. It says to us that when you lose, you aren't good enough, even if it is your own personal best. It fuels disillusionment and a culture which says "do it great (and the ideal defines what great is) or don't do it at all."

So unfortunately, many choose to do nothing at all.

That's right; many don't decide to start their own businesses because they feel they won't be successful enough. Others don't try to follow their passion in their work because they believe it's impractical or frivolous. Many won't give love a second try. While others just throw in the towel at the first glimpse of failure.

During these times of loss, leaders who are effective losers are the ones that will prevail. They know how to be kind to themselves, providing encouraging words to themselves and others. They trot along, despite the odds against them, making good headway compared to those that have shut down and quit. They find their own road.

So during these tough times, when you lose and you are down, get up, dust yourself off and encourage yourself to recommit to do your personal best. Keep moving. Don't compare yourself to others. Reaffirm and revalidate your differences as assets, not liabilities. And by all means, create your own definition of success.

After all, isn't it time to re-write your own script for success that graciously allows for some stumbles along the way?

Join The Texas Women who Rock on October 1 for some great insights and inspiration on how to Refresh you life and career. It's not too late to sign up!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is your strategy a "just in case" strategy?

When travelling, I learned a great deal about packing light from my husband Lewis. He would always say, "you are packing for "just in case." you don't need half of that stuff."

I don't say it often, but he was right.

You know the drill: "I'll take this in case it rains, I'll take that in case we go out to a fancy place," and on it goes. Before you know it, you have packed 10 pairs of shoes and clothes for 30 degrees as well as for 90 degrees.

Businesses often use a "just in case" strategy and yield poor results.


A "just in case" strategy is like having no strategy. Everything is important and nothing is important.

When leaders embrace this approach, they don't want to let go of anything. Every project is important, every task is needed and every question must be answered. Before they know it, they have 10 priority initiatives and they get bogged down because nothing really gets accomplished. Everybody is just too busy "just in case."

Prioritization and choice is the antidote.

So next time you hear yourself say "just in case." make a choice and do something that's really important to drive your business.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Doing the right thing in the face of adversity.

It is easy to do the right thing when everyone agrees with you. It is another thing when doing the right thing is not the popular action.

And yet, it is precisely at these moments, that effective leaders come through.

Leading our teams, our families, our lives takes a commitment to do the right thing, especially when doing the right thing is not the easy choice.

I was reminded of this the other day when a friend of mine reprimanded her daughter for spilling a drink on a precious and irreplaceable book. We were all visiting friends when it occurred. My friend felt so badly about the incident that she immediately said to her daughter, "we are going home, you didn't calm down when I asked you and now you have spilled this drink on a precious book."

She showed her daughter effective leadership because in the face of adversity, she decided that this was the right course of action and followed through on this action. The adversity came from everyone at the party, everyone said "it was just a small accident", "she didn't mean to spill the drink," "you don't have to leave," etc. The truth is both mother and daughter were enjoying themselves and the decision to go home was going against the common belief.

She did what she believed was the right thing to do despite the popular opinion at the time. This is when leadership (and parenting) gets tough.

What about you, do you follow through and do the right thing in the face of adversity?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Are you decisive?

Fear can get in the way of being decisive, but so can guilt.

Leaders need to be able to make decisions, even if they impact people adversely. This is one of the most difficult aspects of being a leader.

I learned about making decisions as a parent. As a parent, you definitely have fear about making the right decisions, but I think parents tend to have even more guilt associated with difficult decisions. Like leaders in the workplace, parents don't like to disappoint or cause unhappiness with their "team." As a result, often times we postpone or delay or choose not to make a decision when it is difficult.

But indecision's impact is far worse than any adverse decision.

When faced with difficult decisions, I often just brace myself and say the decision as cleanly as is possible with as little emotion as possible. Emotion can communicate that you are ambivalent about the decision. Ambivalence works against effective leadership.

Directness is a gift here. Saying it with compassion is important, but emotion is not. But make the decision and hold steady in that decision.

Your teams (and families) will love you for it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two sides of leadership

My personal trainer and friend said to me the other day, "I can tell a lot about people's work ethic by how they work out."

She went on to tell me that observing people work out says a great deal about their ambition and drive. She believes that people who work their bodies out hard are the go-getters and leaders out there.

But what about those non-athletic types out there? Does that mean that they don't have ambition and can't be a leader?

I also had a conversation with my daughter's Occupational Therapist that same day. I was telling her that my daughter is introverted and not always the one initiating conversation and play with other children. I went on to say that she often responds best when other children grab her hand and say, "come on, let's go." The therapist responded with "Oh, you mean the leaders."

But what about those introverts out there? Does that mean that they don't have a chance to be leaders?

Their perspectives on leadership aren't wrong, they are just half right.

That's right, there are two sides to leadership.

The one side we all know too well: the hard-driving, competitive, extroverted, take control, confident leader. And the often-dismissed side of leadership which is the soft-spoken, receptive, introverted, empathetic, humble leader.

The reality is that in order to be the best leader we can be, we need to draw on both sides. There is a time and place for both. In fact, extremes are never good. A leader that relies on one extreme at the expense of the other is bound to lose effectiveness.

Since most of us are trained to be the first kind of leader, my book The Connected and Committed Leader helps us see the benefits provided by the "softer" side.

And if you are the "softer" kind of leader, you have something to learn from those on the other side. In short, the best leader embodies both sides of leadership.

I found this interesting, particularly because on the fitness-front we have such extremes in our country. We have hit record levels of obesity, and yet gyms are a dime a dozen with

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is the power trip inevitable?

It is easy to spot someone on a power trip.

But is this a natural inevitability, a by-product, of people with authority?

Unfortunately, the research says "yes."

The power trip is alive and all of us. We are after all, human. And with power, people can exhibit power trip behaviors.

In an article by Jonah Lehrer for the Wall Street Journal, he says
"Contrary to the Machiavellian cliché, nice people are more likely to rise to power. Then something strange happens: Authority atrophies the very talents that got them there."

It does in fact pose a paradox.

Lehrer goes on to say that "According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others. For instance, several studies have found that people in positions of authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people. They also spend much less time making eye contact, at least when a person without power is talking."

I guess this is why we have so many un-empathetic bosses that think they are too important to bother with the minions. But do you have to be a jerk if you are in power?

I don't think so.

However, I know that it takes hard work to overcome some of these natural tendencies. Take it from a nice person who has been on a few power trips in her day. I am a living testament to this study.

I remember one time when I was on one of my power trips. I had been travelling incessantly and my itinerary got messed up and when they finally put me on the right flight, I didn't get upgraded. I was furious. I was furious at everyone and anyone. I remember being rude to the airline folks (I mean how could they not upgrade me? Didn't they know I travelled every week with their airline?) and then getting on the phone and giving my assistant a piece of my mind. Looking back, I remember my internal dialogue sounding a bit like "How dare they? Don't they know how busy I am? Don't they know who they are dealing with?" My ego was bruised.

I believe that power has a way of engaging our egos and making us create an illusion of superiority that comes with authority. This is why humility is one of the most powerful attributes that leaders need to nourish.

A humble leader stays connected and empathetic. A humble leader is never "above" the standards set for the masses. A humble leader can get the back seat of a flight (by the bathroom) and feel grateful to be there. Humble leaders project power but aren't on a power trip.

There is a fundamental difference of projecting power and being overtaken by power. Projecting power is critical to achieve a degree of confidence by those following you, but being humble and keeping your ego in check is critical for long term success as a leader.

So how do you know when you're on a power trip and have lost touch with humility?

1. You believe you are entitled to certain standards and/or perks.
2. You hear your internal voice say things like "don't they know who they are dealing with?"
3. You don't meet with just anybody: you consider status first before ideas.
4. You get upset easily.
5. You constantly measure yourself against others.

If you can relate to any of these you may be on a power trip. Don't fret, you're not alone. But you can do something about it to become a better leader. Take these important steps to bring you back to humility:

Reconnect with the "niceness" that got you into that position of authority in the first place
Watch your judgments of others
Accept your own faults and admit blame
Be curious about people and ideas, regardless of status
Get in touch with the reality of the masses
Say no to the power trip and don't let your ego derail you.

Remember to lead effectively, you don't have to be a jerk. In fact, succumbing to the power trip will not only diminish your impact, it will rob you of long term success.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is your organization prepared to handle conflict?

I am always surprised to hear that people believe that being nice and leading are mutually exclusive.

Studies show that nice people do in fact finish first. According to Jonah Lehrer, nice people are more likely to rise to power.

However in a recent Harvard Business Review article, "Is your culture too nice?" they state that conflict avoidance is a common issue in corporate cultures. The author of the article, Ron Ashkenas states "most people want to be liked and unconsciously fear that arguments, disagreements, or negative messages will create tension with people they interact with on a day-to-day basis. Compounded with the environmental pressure to respect authority and the organizational stress on teamwork, this creates a great deal of anxiety around stirring up trouble"

Perhaps this is true for some people, but what ever happened to "the truth shall set you free?" I have always been one of those people that want to say the truth straight and directly to others and in turn, I want to be told the truth directly. In fact when others avoid telling me things straight, I grow to mistrust them. But I do understand that not everyone is like me. Others may want the truth in a less-direct manner.

As a certified Birkman consultant who works with teams and individuals, the component that measures this is named "Esteem." Esteem is the way in which we relate to individuals. It measures how a person may deal with, or prefers others to deal with, approval-related topics. Conversations that create conflict are certainly approval-related. If you are a high esteem person, you are likely to respect titles and status symbols, initiate feedback by suggestion and are more careful and diplomatic in relationships. The focus is more on the person vs. the issue. A low esteem person is frank and forthright and focuses more on the issue at hand vs. the person.

I believe that Ron Ashkenas is describing a culture filled with people who have a high esteem need. And he is correct, the dominant social pattern of the Esteem score is a low esteem usual behavior, but a higher need. What this means is that most people will show up in a matter of fact, candid and non evasive fashion, but they need their environment and others around them to be respectful of their feelings and to have criticism balanced with genuine praise.

Whether you are low or high esteem, I believe that people want to be told the truth and avoiding conflict at all costs is a dangerous situation for most organizations. The bottom line is that organizations are filled with leaders and followers that are different on this component. Leaders need to be trained on how to have those hard conversations that can set someone free to do the right thing and course-correct.

Some tips that I offer:

1. If you are someone who likes to be dealt with in a matter of fact way, recognize that those around you may need a softer approach. Practice giving feedback that blends genuine praise with constructive criticism.

2. If you are someone who likes to be dealt with in a way that respects your individuality and shows respect, recognize that those around you may need a more direct, matter-of-fact approach to understand how to course-correct.

3. Let's drop the word nice altogether. Being nice is simply a form of respect and kindness. Both high and low esteem people can show respect for others in the face of conflict if they better understand their audience. My belief is that the question should not be "Is your culture too nice?" but rather "Is your culture prepared to handle conflict?"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is Fear Driving You?

We are still in the midst of difficulty. Double dip recession?

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. Seth Godin refers to this kind of fear as "the lizard brain."

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 worst 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 of 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-busing, confronting-the-unknown ideas to pursue at work at home and everywhere in between:

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

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

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Are you thinking positively during these negative times?

I learned recently that there is scientific proof for positive thinking and its connection to success.

This is not just some new-agey, fluffy fairy tale.

This learning came to me as I attended The UP Experience's Mini UP session where I saw Shawn Achor from Harvard University speak about "The Science of the Ripple Effect." He has researched the area of human potential and has been working at Harvard University for the past 12 years.

His findings have tremendous application in the workplace today since we all know how difficult it has become (given our current economic crisis) to create positive work environments that generate greater results and profitability. Everywhere we turn it seems like we are in a downward spiral.

But, we all have the ability to alter the course of this spiral.

Apparently, when any event happens to you in life, your brain automatically creates a counter-fact which is usually a hypothetical comparison that helps you judge the experience as good, bad or somewhere in between. Depending upon the counter-fact that you use, you create a positive experience or a negative one. The positive-ness or negative-ness of these experiences has a ripple effect on you, your environment and the people around you.

The reason it ripples to others is because your brain has something inside of it called "mirror neurons". These mirror neurons basically pick up others' emotions as if they were your own. Your brain reacts the same way to a smile from another person as it does to when you are smiling. This is a mirror neuron in action.

This is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that positive-ness can spread and helps you achieve. But, the bad news is that negative-ness also spreads and causes you to stall.

You can start to examine your counter-facts as events happen in your life. When these counter-facts cause you to judge the event as negative, find a more positive counter-fact.

Here is an example; we know that many people, including those close to you or maybe even you, are losing their jobs. A negative counter-fact could be: "That's terrible! I am a step closer to potentially foreclosing on my home, I will never find another job in this economy." A positive counter-fact could be: "That's terrific! What an opportunity to reassess and pursue another direction in my life, since I was never fulfilled in that job anyway."

Learning how to create positive counter-facts is also very helpful if you take a lot of things personally. You have to find a counter-fact that doesn't point to you. I am often amazed to see this in action with my daughter. She is 5 years old and she is a bit reserved and shy, especially around people she doesn't know. She doesn't always respond positively to others' overtures.

And yet, adults often take her responses personally. They have counter-facts that sound like this: "She doesn't like me." "She thinks I am weird, just look at that look she just gave me." It seems absurd. After all, she is a child and has nothing against any of these adults.

And yet, the counter-facts they use to "judge" their experience with my 5-year old reinforce that something is amiss with them.

Some of your counter-facts are just un-examined, programmed reactions. You must be proactive in managing and creating counter-facts that support your success.

Many of you may believe this is a bunch of bunk. In fact, you may think that people who consistently think positively by creating positive counter-facts are out-of-touch with reality and live in some illusionary world.

I must admit, I have been accused of this in my life before. But, I have to tell you, I like my "la la land" and now I know how it contributes to my success and the success of those around me.

Gen Y, who is a product of optimistic boomers, is the one generation who epitomizes positive thinking. In fact, my fellow "Texas Women Speaker who Rocks," Karen McCullough often says "Gen Y is the first generation whose self-esteem is higher than their talent."

I think she is spot-on. I also think this is a good thing. We have a lot to learn from this generation. That's why we are going to have amazing Gen Ys step up like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, to blow the doors off business as usual.

Highly successful people have an unwavering, positive self-belief that often looks delusional to others.

It is such a simple thing that you can do every day to increase your chances for success.

Reinterpret every event, every step and every "failure" differently. Find a counter-fact that puts it all into a positive light. It doesn't mean that you can't set your bar high. You can. But with every step, and with every misstep, be kind and positive to yourself and to others. Positive momentum builds on itself.

And now we know that it even ripples to others.

I don't know about you, but I sure want some positive news these days. Don't you?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Do you manage to results?

I always thought that I managed to results.

I set the expectations and I allowed people to achieve the results in the best manner that worked for them. I wasn't a clock watcher to see if my team was putting in enough hours. In fact, I was bothered when employees would stay too late or come in during the wee hours just to impress me.

Clocking in too many hours told me that employees were goofing off too much during working hours and were inefficient with their time. I didn't require "face time," I just wanted the results.

But just the other day, this came into question.

Since I now work from my home office, my housecleaners (a pair of sisters) came to my house and were working for just under two hours to clean my entire house. After writing a $120.00 check, I wondered, is this enough time to clean a 3000 square foot house? Suddenly, I found myself comparing them to my previous housekeeper who used to spend six hours doing the job. Their two people for two hours was equivalent to four hours vs. the other at six.

But I kept reminding myself that they got the job done. Was it to the level of cleanliness of my other housekeeper? Yes. Did they do all that was expected? Yes.

So, what was the problem?

Sometimes for a given job, we have expectations regarding the compensation level. That expectation is based on our own experience. As a boomer who used to make $2.35 minimum wage at McDonalds as my first un-skilled job, the fact that a housecleaner could earn $30/hour seems crazy. But times have changed.

The same logic can be applied in todays workforce. You can be managing someone 15years younger and they are making almost as much as you are and suddenly you find yourself expecting them to put in a lot nore hours, but they don't. After all, in your mind, they need to justify that big salary.

But, stop.

How many hours they spend on getting the job done isn't the issue, and yet it seems to be the big debate these days with leading people across generations. It seems like we all have a different definition of success and how to achieve it. As a boomer, putting in sweat equity and showing face time was how we defined it. That certainly is no longer the case today.

But, isn't getting the job done and achieving the result the concern, not how we go about doing it?

Now more than ever, we need to manage to results. There are so many ways to get to a given result and technology has enabled efficiency and effectiveness. It allows people to work smarter, not longer. Managing people virtually and remotely is not uncommon in todays changing workplace.

Set expectations and let people deliver. Managing to results helps you step out so they can step im and achieve the result.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Connection fights obsolescence

Relevance used to be the name of the game.

Today, it is more than just being relevant. You have to have a meaningful connection. Relevance is just the cost of entry, it is no longer the name of the game.

When we don't have any connection with our target or with the people we are leading, we become obsolete.

Today, more than ever, connection is the name of the game. Connection allows for influence.

Isn't that what a leader is all about?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Are you stuck in the ways of the past?

Since I have been a marketer for so many years, understanding the impact that social media is having on marketing fascinates me.

When I first started in marketing in the 80's, marketers controlled everything that was said about any given product. Today marketers no longer have this control. Today, consumers are the ones controlling the message.

In years past, an irate consumer would write a letter to the company and would get a letter of apology in return with a couple of coupons inside to mend the relationship. Today an irate consumer can create a ground swell so large through social media, that a product can fail right out of the gate.

This is a consumer-driven world. It has fundamentally shifted the relationship between marketer and consumer.

I see the very same shift occuring between leader and employee.

In years past, an able employee had to wait for a leader to appreciate his/her value before that employee could advance and progress forward. Today, that same able employee can create connections and have greater widespread impact and results outside of the traditional reporting hierarchies of organizations in order to advance and progress forward.

This is an employee-driven world. It has fundamentally shifted the relationship between leader and employee.

The reality of these shifts is that the old hierarchical model is being flipped. Marketing and leadership no longer can be a one-way-directed dialogue. The conversation has started and control now is a shared responsibility.

So as a marketer and a leader in today's world, have you shifted your approach or are you stuck in the ways of the past?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are you playing the "blame game?"

The “blame game” usually starts and ends in a stand-off.

Nobody is moving, nobody is talking and yet everyone is right…in their own minds.

We see it all the time at work and at home; with bosses, colleagues, parents and with spouses. It isn’t until some time has passed, that you even know that you were participating in a blame game. However, you can save yourself some angst if you can recognize the signs of being locked in a “blame game” while it is happening.

The truth is that when you lock horns in the game, you aren’t able to get the results of what you want (unless you want conflict and angst.)

Someone once said to me “would you rather be right or get what you want?” I wanted to say “both,” but I knew that was the wrong answer.

It is hard to get what you want if you always need to be right.
When you are so fixated on being right, you forget what your broader objective really is; whether that is to get the job done, get a promotion or have a long-term, loving relationship.

So here are some tips for recognizing when you are in a blame game:

Tip #1: You see only black and white: You are right, and they are wrong.

I once had a colleague who I could not stand. Everything he did seemed to rub me the wrong way. I believed he favored people and was rude to those that weren’t useful to him. I believed he operated in a way that didn’t enhance the team, but instead created a culture based on exclusion versus inclusion. I thought he was more interested in himself above all else. Of course, the vision I had of myself was exactly the opposite. I believed I treated others equally and wanted to enhance the team and to create a culture of inclusion.

In a nutshell, I could do no wrong and he could do no right.

However, the truth was somewhere in the middle and a little bit grey. He wasn’t a perfect leader, but neither was I.

Once you see that you are doing this, one way to get out of this “blame game” is to recognize that you are not as right as you believe yourself to be and your nemesis is not as wrong as you want to believe. Redirect some of that judgment to yourself and start chipping away at your own self-imposed perfect image.

Recognizing you are both flawed is a much more powerful starting point to get the results you are seeking.

Tip #2: You look for alibis to support your black and white position; you are right, they are wrong.

Complaining husbands and wives do this all of the time. They seek out friends to corroborate with and seek out other examples to trash their spouse. Colleagues also engage in this behavior regarding their bosses. Siblings have been known to gang up against their parents with all the things they think they do wrong. Oh…and Democrats and Republicans do it to each other. It becomes a feeding frenzy with no real productive outcome.

When you find yourself doing this; STOP. It only feeds your need to be right and doesn’t get you closer to reaching your objectives.

Instead, spend your energy identifying your own shortcoming and work on improving them. Step into the shoes you are criticizing and do it better.
Becoming a great parent is the best way to forgive your own parents’ shortcomings. Becoming a leader is the best way to forget your worst boss. Becoming a loving spouse is the only way to bridge and strengthen your relationship.

Tip #3: You are not listening.

A clear cut sign of when you are participating in the “blame game” is that you know you are right and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is saying. In that moment, you are in the comic strip Charlie Brown and all you are hearing is “Wahhh, Wahhh, Wahhh.”

So, how do you make a move that helps take the stale mate out of the situation? Ask a question.

Curiosity is the one of the best antidote for the game. By asking questions, you will likely realize that this person is not on such an opposite side after all. It can allow you to start seeing the areas of agreement between you as opposed to solely focusing on those areas of disagreement.

One thing for sure about the “blame game” is that if you are frustrated while being in it, the other person is too. When you take the first step to try to get out of this game by following some of these tips, chances are you will break the standoff and start to get some movement towards achieving your objectives.

And after all, don’t you want to get what you want, even if you don’t have to be right?

Friday, July 23, 2010

What's in a name?

When people start down the path towards creating a business, they obsess about the name.

While business names are important, they certainly are not the most critical aspect of developing and maintaining an effective brand.

Just the other day, my husband Lewis was cooking some Asian dish that required shrimp. Normally we would just go to Whole Foods for the shrimp since we believe they have the highest quality of seafood and meats. But since our newly renovated neighborhood "Signature Kroger" had just been completed, we thought we would give it a try and buy our shrimp there instead.

Well, the shrimp was not the freshest and as a result, the dish suffered.

What I found interesting was Lewis' comment. He said "you can put makeup on a pig and yet, it still is a pig."

What he really meant by this was that despite the multi-million dollar renovation, this Kroger was still the same Kroger we had before with regards to its offering of seafood and meats. The fact that it now had been named "Signature" was irrelevant since its offering did not match its promise.

The lesson here is that regardless of your name, are you delivering your brand promise?

For us, it meant that a "Signature Kroger" that now looked as fresh and new as our Whole Foods should also feature excellent fresh seafood.

We were wrong.

Or rather, Kroger is wrong. It appears that they are still selling the same seafood they did before the renovation.

This hurts their brand.

How can you apply this same lesson for your business and your brand?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't just jump on the social media bandwagon!

Only get into social media when you have clarity and understanding of what you want to get out of it.

According to all the hoopla about social media out there, you would think that social media is the cure-all for every business. Twitter your thumbs away and your phone won't stop ringing. Right?


Grow your followers, fans and people who like you into the tens of thousands and watch your bank account grow.

Wrong again.

Like any marketing tool, social media can work for you if you know why you are using it.

Too many people will sell you on how to use it, but few will guide you on determining why it makes sense for you and your business.

Only after you have determined the why, can you move to the how. Unfortunately any marketing tool used incorrectly can work against you and your brand. Just think about the meaningless million dollar super bowl ads during the dot com craze. They were entertaining but were they business-building? I don't think so.

I see a lot of that kind of noise on the Internet today. However, it adds up to be just meaningless clutter. Don't just keep adding to it.

You are wasting your time and whittling away at your your own brand's equity.

I don't care what anyone tells you, using social media to tell your audience about enjoying your steaming cup of latte isn't going to grow your career or business. However, if you are using it for business, it can help you build a better relationship with your target market whether you are an entrepreneur or working within a corporation.

Being effective with social media takes a great deal of work and strategic thinking for your brand. Here are several tips to help guide you.

Ask yourself why?
Why would your customer be interested in finding you on social media? Why is it important to them to connect with you there? Why is social media the right tool for your business and what you are saying about your brand? Does your brand’s imagery fit on the social media site you are considering?

Understand your target
Is your target market on social networks? If they are, what are they looking for from you and your business? How can you fulfill their needs with your blog posts, or comments? What are you providing them that they can’t get elsewhere?

Engage and educate; don’t sell
Social media is a unique tool; it’s not like television advertising or a print ad. It isn’t about selling, it is about engaging and educating. Use the platform to inform and build your expertise. Think of it as a tool to build a following because you give relevant, usable and timely information that matters to your customer.

Remember business building is a long term game
Social media is a great way to build loyal followers and potential clients, however it is a long term strategy. If you are in it for short term gains, you picked the wrong vehicle. Don’t get discouraged if you have thousands of followers and are posting regularly and yet to get any business from it. As with any business building strategy, it takes time to build trust with your core customers.

Keep your objective front and center
Don’t stray from your objective. Remember why you are using social media and don’t confuse customers with friends. While customers can enjoy knowing a bit about your personal life, don’t barrage them with it. Remember why you are there in the first place, to provide relevant and timely information that is useful to them and builds your business brand. Never forget that it is all about your customers, and not about you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Are you pig-headed?

Have you ever found yourself trying so hard to prove a point that you tip the scale at being pig-headed?

Yes, pig-headed, stubborn like a dog on a bone.

Well, I hate to admit it, but I have been known to be a bit pig-headed at times. In fact, this morning on my way back home from taking my daughter Leila to camp, I witnessed this kind of stubborness on the road. You know the kind of stubborness that says I-have-got-to-prove-to-you-that-I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong kind of pig-headedness.

Well, it takes one to know one, afterall.

So, there were two women drivers in two separate cars on the road travelling in the same direction. They were both in the left lane. The one in front was going slower than the one following her wanted her to go, so the one following was trailing her very closely. The lady in front didn't like being tailgated. So she slammed on her brakes to prove her point: don't tailgate.

The lady following her slammed on her brakes but continued to tailgate to prove her point: drive fast in the fast lane.

The amazing thing though was that they kept doing this for atleast 5 times. Neither car changed lanes or tried to get around the other. Both of them were so convinced they were right and they had to prove their point regardless of the cost.

They didn't crash, but they certainly tied up traffic and were both probably late(and frustrated) by the time they got to where ever they were going. Their pig-headedness kept them stuck.

In their quest to be right, they were both wrong. They also lost sight of their objective to have a productive day.

Stubborness has a way of getting in the way of meeting your objectives especially if you are proving you are right.

Leaders don't have to be right, they want results.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Building the success of others

Sometimes we are so focused on our own success, we don't see that one of the fastest ways to build our own success is to help build it for someone else.

This is such an important paradigm shift for good leadership.

When you shift your focus towards building others' success, you build your value and your equity. Value and equity are essential components to your ability to lead and influence.

As a result, you will build your success.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Do you feel battered, yet resilient?

If you answered "YES," you are not alone.

According to The McKinsey Quarterly Economic Snapshot, 42% of executives picked this description to describe their feelings regarding the global economy.

It is one thing to feel battered. It is an entirely
different thing to feel resilient and powerful to overcome it.

What struck me about this survey is not that top leaders in business are feeling battered, it is clear that nobody is immune to the impact of this economy. But instead, what was evident in this research is that leaders choose to manage these feelings in a productive way.

Leaders are resilient.

Resilience isn't just about "toughing it out". Resilience is about being flexible, bending and adapting to the forces beyond your control.

Rigidity is the opposite of resilience.

We often hear people speak of resilience when it comes to children. When a child confronts change or difficulty, we often say: "They'll be fine, kids are so resilient." I would agree, except to say that they will be resilient only if they have developed trust in themselves and in their environment.

Usually when children exhibit a lack of resilience or rigidity it is because they are insecure and mistrusting of the "new" experience or change.

I have experienced this dynamic with my daughter Leila who is adopted from Russia. She wasn't able to build trust early, since the first 11 months of her life contained no predictability or security, only a revolving door of caretakers. As a result, her ability to be resilient is sometimes lower than other children.

I have taken steps to help her build her resilience and with these steps, I have also built my own resilience. No one is immune to a lack of trust and in order to build resilience, we must firm up our feeling of trust in ourselves.

I think these steps can help you become a better leader at work and in your life by enabling you to become more resilient during these difficult times.

1. Build predictability into the areas which you control in your everyday routine.
2. Before you do anything, make it a conscious choice. For example: "I am choosing to work out today."
3. Know that every choice has a consequence. Get clear on what consequence you want.
4. Ask yourself throughout the day, "What will I choose to do next?" Ensure that your actions are driven by you.
5. When things happen to you outside of your control, know that you have a choice in what to do with that. You can't change or control others' actions. Every action has a reaction. Choose your reaction wisely.

I can't control what others are telling me about the economy, I can only choose how to react to it.

I don't know about you, but I sure want to do something productive with it.

Don't you?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is your "all or nothing" thinking holding you back?

Rest assured. We all have been known to take things to the extremes of "all or nothing."

Words like always and never are common when you fall into the trap of "all or nothing" thinking.

There is evidence of this type of thinking in all aspects of our lives. Here are a few examples on how this thinking may sound in your head:
"I was passed up for that promotion, I will never make it in this company."

"We didn't go on vacation again this year, we never do anything."

"My boss is so insensitive, she always ignores my input."

"I told them what to do, but they never get it right."

At the foundation of "all or nothing" thinking is fear. But as a result of this thinking, we usually don't feel the fear; instead we usually feel anger or blame.

However, fear doesn't stop there. It causes us to believe that our power to solve these problems is also "all or nothing." As a result you believe that you either have the power (and you plan to use it over someone else) or you don't (and are resentful).

Both extremes (you over-use power or you under-use it) can immobilize you and rob you of getting the results that you want or
need in your life, at home or at work.

The truth about power is that it is NOT a zero sum game:
When you believe someone else has power, you don't need to give yours away.
When you believe you have power, you don't need to take it from someone else.
Power is not about "all or nothing," however fear can trip us up into believing that it is.

Leaders in the face of difficult times need to be aware of this "all or nothing thinking" that is fueled by fear.

Fear is rampant during difficult times and not always easy to confront, causing extremes to surface and power struggles to endure. Leaders are more apt to exert excessive power or to relinquish it too easily during these trying times.

What extreme pole are you taking? Are you blaming others for your situation? Or, are you trying to fix it for everyone?

In the McKinsey Quarterly, Derek Dean has an interesting article "A CEO's Guide to Reenergizing the Senior Team" which outlines ways in which leaders can begin to work through fear and denial in order to achieve better results.

If you find that you are in a power struggle or a blaming game, try using some of the following tips to regain the power balance:

1. Take the extreme words out of your thinking. Stay alert to when you use words like "never" and "always" to describe others' actions or your beliefs.

2. Take accountability. Blaming others is a clear sign that your extreme thinking has led you to avoid accountability. When you take accountability and move away from blaming, you can regain your power over the situation.

3. Give accountability. Taking on someone else's responsibility for a problem doesn't solve it. Examine your extreme thinking as it relates to you having all of the answers. By giving accountability you enable and empower others.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Are you criticizing others too harshly?

No matter what kind of work you do, you need to rely on other people.

In fact, even if you don't work, you need to rely on others.

This became very clear to me one day as I was visiting with a new mother and her baby.

During our visit, she complained incessantly about how tired she was because she couldn't get her husband to help as much as she would like. Shortly after hearing all of her woes, I experienced first-hand the root of her problem.

She was criticizing her husband too harshly and as a result, he was demoralized and didn't engage very much with their child. My guess is that after hearing all of her criticisms, he wasn't feeling very competent.

To my ears, her criticism sounded something like this:
"Don't pick her up that way; you are going to hurt her."
"Please don't feed her that way, she needs to be more upright."
"Keep your voice lower, you are going to over-stimulate her."

Poor guy, it seems that whatever he did, it wasn't right or good enough for his wife.

I know this mother loves her husband and wants him to be involved with their child and she also is doing her best at being the best mother she can be. She is well-intentioned in every possible way.

I tell this story not because I want to fault this woman, but rather to highlight that even when you have the best intentions to do the right thing you can often unintentionally demoralize and cause others to disengage when you are looking for the exact opposite behavior.

Work situations are no exception.

Leaders who successfully get others to deliver results for them know how to manage criticism. Criticism is important for course correction, but understanding how to manage it for optimal impact is essential, especially during these difficult times.

At the foundation of behavior modification is ensuring the person has a positive belief in their abilities.

This mother will have the greatest ability to impact her husband's behavior if she is able to validate and reinforce his ability to parent his child as opposed to crushing it; which is what her harsh criticism is doing.

Too often, we focus on what isn't right and we want to fix it, as opposed to focusing on what's right and how to build on it.

When your kids come home with a report card with all A's and one C, the first question most parents will ask is "Why did you get the C?" The better question is "How can you become the best in the class where you achieved an A?"

Leaders always focus on what has been done well.

Focusing on strengths is one of the best ways to manage criticism.

In all of the interactions this father has with his child, there must be several things he does exceedingly well. His wife needs to focus first on these areas.

From that foundation, behavior in the "weaker" areas may improve. The best way to influence behavior is through positive affirmations, not negative ones.

Next time you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of "under performers," ask yourself a few questions:

Am I criticizing this person too harshly?
Am I focusing only on what is being done wrong?
Have I validated and reinforced the things this person is doing right?
Can I help this person build a positive belief that they are competent in some aspect of their work?
With Thanksgiving fast approaching this week, it is a good time to see the "right" things others are doing. Be a better leader and take time to build on the "right" things as opposed to criticizing the "wrong" things and you are bound to get the results

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is Your Business Suffering Because You Are Overly Focused on Receiving?

The ultimate paradox in life is: in order to receive, you must give. It starts with giving; receiving follows afterwards.

There are many applications to this paradox in life, but it is especially relevant in business and in the workplace.

Unfortunately in business, we often have the order of this paradox wrong. We think first about "receiving" and later about "giving."

I made this mistake when I first started in my own business.

I was initially very focused on receiving by "making the connections in order to get the business." I remember meeting this woman who had all of the right connections within a large corporation that I wanted to do business with. I immediately stepped into telling her all of the reasons I was the right consultant to help deliver on her company's needs.

I asked her to give me the necessary leads in order to make inroads. I walked away feeling hopeful. But, she never delivered the leads.

Why? What went wrong?

I started off with receiving, not giving.

If I had applied the paradox correctly and focused first on giving, I may have been able to open this door and develop this customer into a long term, loyal customer.

Next time I applied my learning and got entirely different results.

Months later I met another woman whose business is in creating public seminars. Her reach into my target market of corporations and the business community is very large. My first thought was: "I want to be hired by her as a speaker so that I can broaden my exposure." This thought was a receiving thought. I quickly caught myself and stopped going down this path since I remembered my past experience. I decided to step forward with a giving idea. I approached her and offered to help her draw more people into her seminar by using my network of contacts. She was thrilled and receptive to my offer.

By applying the paradox correctly, my giving action formed the basis of a business relationship with a long term potential of receiving.

Sounds logical, but so often in business we do the opposite.

In your eagerness to build your business or career in the short term, you may unknowingly start first with "receiving" actions that actually hinder both your short and long term business growth.

I received an e-book from Seth Godin called "What Matters Now." One of the first pages written by Seth is about Generosity (giving), here is what Seth says about it:

"When the economy tanks, it's natural to think of yourself first. You have a family to feed a mortgage to pay. Getting more appears to be the order of business. It turns out that the connected economy doesn't respect this natural instinct. Instead, we're rewarded for being generous. Generous with our time and money but most important without our art. If you make a difference, people will gravitate to you. They want to engage, to interact and to get you more involved. In a digital world, the gift I give you almost always benefits me more than it costs. If you make a difference, you also make a connection. You interact with people who want to be interacted with and you make changes that people respect and yearn for. Art can't happen without someone who seeks to make a difference. This is your art, it's what you do. You touch people or projects and change them for the better. This year, you'll certainly find that the more you give the more you get."

What "receiving" actions are you taking that are hindering you from advancing your career or growing your business? How can you turn these around into "giving" actions?

So if you are finding yourself on the negative side of this economic downturn and are out searching for new customers or a potential employer, don't make the mistake of focusing first on receiving, instead ask yourself how you might assist and give to them. These giving actions will form the foundation of a business relationship that will bear fruit now and in the future.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who is Driving Your Bus?

We all have new hopes, dreams and objectives.

The question isn't whether we have them (we all do), but instead how we fulfill on them.

If your hopes, dreams and objectives that you have for your work and home life were a bus, who may I ask is driving it?

You see, many of us relegate the driving to someone else. When we have someone else driving our bus, it sounds like this:
I have no choice; I have to work 10 hour days to handle all the work
I am stuck, I have a job I hate, but my family depends on me
I never get to do what I want to do; I am just too busy with taking care of everyone else
I can't keep up; nobody seems to pick up the slack around here but me

We are trained to believe that putting our nose to the grind stone and just getting it done is the only way to free up time to accomplish our goals.

Quite the contrary, the more you do that, the further you are from fulfilling on your hopes, dreams and objectives. In fact, they move further and further away from you until one day you even forget what they were.

We believe that we must be self-less and jump at the every whim or need of those around us. You jump for bosses, for spouses, for children, for parents and for communities. Instead, you need to be self-interested and serve yourself first to be able to serve those around you in a way that doesn't destroy you.

While life often teaches us that it is critical to occasionally let go of the wheel of our bus and make way of uncontrollable external factors, it never requires us to fully relegate the driver's seat to those external factors or circumstances.

This became very clear to me last month.

At the end of 2009 my dear friend Jon died of a heart attack. He was 56. He was a loving friend, husband, and brother who did so much for others; all at the expense of himself.

A week before he died I had the opportunity to speak with him and he was stressed out to the max. He had just buried his mother and was the responsible one handling all the details left behind. He was burning the midnight oil at his job because he felt he had to in order to wrap up the year. I told him that he needed time and space to grieve and to rest. He knew he did too but he didn't stop. He felt he had to serve others and not let them down.

Jon was indisputably an amazing giver. He put others' needs often above his own. But, his giving was not sustainable. His heart gave out. Literally and figuratively, it gave out because he didn't take the time to fill it up. Unfortunately, he allowed others to drive his bus at the expense of himself.

At his funeral I learned that one of Jon's goals was to write a book so he would be remembered. He wanted to leave his mark and make an impact so that he was "not just a picture in the hall that hangs like an antiquity which third generation relatives point at and say: Who is that?" He believed that he had a life worth sharing.

And he did. But he never was able to do that.

Many of us are no different than Jon. We have purposeful hopes, dreams and goals. However, we let jobs or obligations drive us instead of us driving them.

I was no different. For more than 20 years I had no idea where my bus was going. I had lost sight of what mattered to me most and I jumped whenever anyone said jump.

It took lots of courage for me to move towards self-interest and move away from self-less behavior. It required me to say no more often or to propose a different way to get the job done so it also worked for my family and me. It meant disappointing people at times or simply dealing with my own internal judgments which often confuse self-interest with selfishness.

Driving your bus doesn't mean you don't want to help, support or do things for others. Quite the contrary; it means you want to be able to do this for the long-haul while preserving and nurturing yourself. This is the place where you have the ability to make your greatest impact.

The goal is to give your heart at work and at home, without having your heart give-out like Jon's.

So, I ask you again: who is driving your bus?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is your work a work of art?

Just the other day while painting, I realized that all work can be a work of art.

Not just the art-kind of work, but YOUR work as a marketer, as an engineer, or a lawyer or an entrepreneur...the kind of work that you do to pay the bills, buy a house and raise the kids. You know the work that you often refer to as the-four-letter-word kind of work that is hopefully, yet painfully getting you to that paradise island in the sun you call retirement.

Yep, that's the work I am referring to and I believe your work can become a work of art.

But, there is a hitch. You have to put your heart into it.

You see, too often we think of work and art as two separate ends of a spectrum. One is the practical work the other not-so-much. We also think of artists as those who can draw, paint, choreograph, sculpt or create beautiful works of art. In his new book, Linchpin: Are you Indispensable Seth Godin helps redefine it for us: "Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another. Art is about intent and communication, not substances." He goes on to say "And I think it's art when a great customer service person uses a conversation to convert an angry person into a raving fan. And it's art when Craig Newmark invents a new business model that uses the Internet to revolutionize the classifieds."

This kind of work, like art, takes heart. Seth Godin refers to this new type of work as "emotional labor." He states that emotional labor is needed in order for you to be an artist in your work and to create works of art that can create change.

Is your work a work of art?

If your heart is in it, most likely it is. But if you are like most people, you don't bring your heart to work.

I don't know at what point in time most of us started to separate work and life, as if life ever existed without work. Yet we separate it so much so that our hearts stay comfortably at home while some part of us charge off to work. And when things like "layoffs" and "downsizing "and "involuntary dismissals" start occurring, your skin grows even thicker as do the walls around your heart.

I often hear people say "I am a different person at work than I am at home." The reason you are different at work vs. home is because your heart usually doesn't make it in the business door.

That's right; you leave your heart at home and don't dare bring it to the office.

Bringing your heart to work and exerting "emotional labor" enables you to connect with others, whether it is your customer, your coworker, or your boss. When you have connections with others it allows you to influence and guide them to achieve your goals

When you leave your heart at home, you go to work to fulfill the role of being some replaceable cog in someone else's system. You become a scripted robot following someone else's playbook for success. You become a victim of circumstances and become the next layoff on the list. You relinquish your ability to be a leader. Not only will this limit your ability to achieve your goals, it is a sure-fire way to drain your energy and your passion.

I believe that some of what is going on in the job market is a wake-up call for a new way of working. Our current economic situation is requiring a different kind of work, the kind of work that is filled with courage, humility and vulnerability. Bringing your heart to work is the only way to separate you from the masses; to make you indispensable and to brand yourself as a leader. After all, isn't this you have been wanting for so long; the opportunity to bring your authenticity and unique voice forward?

It's there for the taking. But, it won't be handed to you. You have to courageously step into it, heart-forward.

When I left Corporate America four years ago to start my own business, I had the passion to change the way people looked at work, especially leadership. I also had a personal goal of better integrating my art and my heart into my work. You see, in corporate life I often checked my heart at the door and kept my two lives separate. I kept my head down more than I should have and I tried to stay safe. But my goal as an entrepreneur required change and I needed to be the first to make it.

One of the first things I did in my business was I wrote a book. In my book I share many personal stories that are filled with transparency and vulnerability. I typed many sections of that book with tears streaming down my eyes. You could say that I put my heart into it and with it I risked everything..

When it was done, I had to do one of the scariest things in my life; I mailed it to my former boss and mentor, Don Knauss, now the CEO and Chairman of the Board at Clorox. I felt so exposed and scared because there I was on the page with no protection of any kind. In retrospect, this was one of my first acts of courage in my entire career. And yet, my most brilliant. Sharing my unedited, heart-felt words started me down the path of reinventing myself in a new business and a whole new way of life and in doing so it enabled my work to change others.

Fortunately, Don came back with a glowing endorsement and encouraging words for me to pursue my passion. I was relieved and ecstatic. It gave me the needed confidence to continue to face more and more fears that I inevitably encountered when speaking out about my lessons with transparency and vulnerability.

When you bring your heart to work and your work becomes your work of art, you put yourself out there over and over again. It is never with your head down or in a safe place.

So what about you? How can you be courageous to transform your work into a work of art? Where can your emotional labor create change in someone else?

Transform your work into a work of art by bringing your heart to work and see the impact it has around you, but also within you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are we there yet?

Any trip worth going on would not be complete without hearing the words "are we there yet?," especially if you have children.

My daughter Leila's version of this question is: "how long have we been sitting here?"

She asks this most often when she is really looking forward to getting to where ever we are going; whether it is a 10 minute trip to Kroger to ride the shopping cart with the make-believe car, or a 4 hour trip to visit her cousin Claudia in New York. But in truth, the reason she is asking this is because she has been told that the adventure begins when we "get there," and not "while we are getting there."

With our destination-driven mindset, we over emphasize the destination and as a result devalue the journey in getting there. I believe that when we do this, we do ourselves and our children a disservice. As a result, it is difficult to appreciate the journey when all we want to do is get to the destination.

So it begs the question, can you get a 5 year old to appreciate the journey of a 4 hour plane trip? I think so. When the adventure is more about the journey such as riding the plane, seeing the cock pit, visiting with a pilot and playing games while on board. Seeing the journey as the adventure makes getting to your destination more enjoyable and beneficial.

As adults, we are no different than my daughter Leila. In fact we have been very well trained to focus solely on the destination with little regard for the journey. Whether your destination is getting the job you want, making more money, or finding the right life partner, it's difficult to enjoy the ride getting there when all you want to do is to be where you want to be: In the right job. Making the right kind of money. With the right person.

Unless of course, you reframe the journey as the adventure to be lived instead of solely focusing on the destination.

When you do this you gain two major benefits that can help you get to your destination more smoothly:

1. You gain perspective to see if you need to change your approach. Focusing on the ride provides you with valuable learning and practical feedback that you can apply to the ongoing journey to your destination.

2. You have a clearer picture of your destination. You can see that your destination is not fixed and that you can course correct your destination by incorporating these present realities.

Roadblocks such as layoffs, job demotions, and bad bosses may be well needed in order to assist you to course correct your destination or your approach in which you are trying to get to your destination. Yet, when you are solely focused on the destination, it is hard to see these roadblocks as providing any value.

It is only when you appreciate and fully live the journey that you can be ready to accept the destination that comes your way. Life happens on the journey, even if you end up in a different place than where you intended.

I think Warren Buffet says it best in this recent quote "The truth is, everything that has happened in my life...that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better, lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity."

At some point, asking "are we there yet?" is no longer relevant. The question needs to become a question that helps keep the focus on the journey which is "where and how do we need to go now?" I believe that is how Buffet succeeded in the long run despite being rejected at age 19 by Harvard Business School.

Learning the tools to adjust and accept the journey allows you to reach greater destinations. Destinations that aren't held so tightly that you have to kill yourself to get them. But, destinations that bend and flow with what is happening around and inside of you.

With any destination that you have, be sure to embrace the journey and ask "where and how do I need to go now?" Learning to accept and embrace your journey will not only make you a happier person, it will actually enable you to exceed your goals and reach new destinations you may never have dreamed of before.

Happy Travels!