Monday, November 14, 2011

Is your Life's Work Disguised as Anger?

As a business coach, I have the good fortune of helping others tap into their purpose and passion. In doing so, their work becomes more than just a paycheck; it becomes their life's work.

When you tap into your life's work, you are living your brand. Your brand is a unique expression and cannot be replicated by anyone else. It provides you long term fulfillment and success.

Recently we hosted a "Texas Women who Rock" event in Houston. I am one of the founding members of this wonderful organization that was created to empower professional women in all aspects of their lives. We had several guest speakers, all of which were successful professional women who had demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity.

Each of them shared stories where anger played some critical role in mobilizing them to find a solution. Through their anger and discontentment, they found their creativity, calling, purpose and passion they were able to channel into their life's work. Here's a snapshot of their stories:
Sherry Eichberger lost two close, young friends to cancer and was angered to learn that many products in our daily lives are toxic and can contribute to illnesses like cancer. Her solution was to open One Green Street, a "one stop shop" where people can shop for green, non-toxic gifts and products. Today, Sherry's life work and brand helps people live healthier lives.

Minerva Perez, a long time anchor on major television stations, was frustrated and angered by the fact that she wasn't seeing Latin Women have a voice on shows like The View, despite the growing numbers of latina viewership. When she left ABC, her solution was to form her own television show "Latina Voices. Smart Talk." which is now in the midst of rapid expansion and growth. Today Minerva's life work and brand is giving voice to thousands of Latina Women.

Cindy Cline-Flores lost her older sister to suicide. She felt a full range of emotions dealing with this tragedy, but she also felt discontentment that her sister had lost hope. She found solace and healing by writing a book titled "Always Hope" which features 25 people who have suffered equally difficult situations yet persevered. Today Cindy's life work and brand is to bring hope to those suffering from difficulty and adversity.
In hearing these stories, I was reminded that my own journey was very similar.

As a long-time, corporate employee who had risen into the ranks of leadership, I saw and was subject to many injustices. Through my more than 20 years experience, I saw a lack of leadership, undue fairness and breaches of integrity. I was bothered and angered by it.

I was so angry at times that I couldn't see straight. I was blinded by it and at times this anger even caused me to unproductively lash out.

One day I realized holding onto this anger didn't serve me. The anger also diminished my ability to make a difference and add value to my organization and company. I needed to find a solution. And I did.

When I left Corporate America, I wrote a book about leadership because this is where I found the source of my anger. In doing so, I found my true passion, purpose and brand. Today my life's work and brand is about helping others become better leaders in their lives.

People often wonder how I successfully made the shift from Marketing Executive to Leadership Development Coach, Trainer and Speaker. My simple answer is that my life's work and brand was disguised as anger.

I believe that this was also the case for Sherry, Minerva and Cindy.

Finding your life's work and your brand may not require you to completely change your course either. You may be able to find it right there in your company or in your business by making a few simple changes and adjustments.

So next time you find yourself red with fury, don't push it aside and dismiss it. Instead embrace it and dive deep into it. It's the unlikely place where you can find your creativity, calling, passion and purpose.

Find it. Express it. Live it. It is the source of your life's work and brand.

And you may never call it "work" again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Self view

Many leaders have an inflated sense of self.

In fact, 62% of people indicate that others see them as above average leaders. Yikes! That math just isn't right. As leaders, what we need is the ability to garner feedback instead of thinking that we are all well above average.

I used to think that about myself, and boy was I wrong!

As a leadership development coach, it seems like the people that are asked to work with me are those that can't and don't want to hear that they are far from "above average." But there is a fundamental difference between intention and reality.

Usually in self-assessments, we are thinking about our intentions. And when it comes to our intentions, many of us are above average. Many people intend to be great leaders. But we often fail even when we have the best intentions. This is where the breakdown occurs.

Ironically, we can't ever fulfill on our best intentions unless we start taking in the feedback of how others are perceiving us. So if you do rate yourself as an "above average" leader, consider getting some direct feedback from others.

It will help you reconcile the difference between your intention and the reality of how you are performing as a leader.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Do you accept what others are saying?

I enjoy reading a variety of leadership and business books. On one of my recent business trips, I found myself strolling through an airport bookstore and stumbled upon Tina Fey's book "Bossypants."

I was immediately intrigued by the title "Bossypants" and because it is an autobiography, it sounded like it might be about her admittance to not being the best of bosses.

Once it captured my attention, I looked at the cover more closely and there she was, Tina Fey, posed on the cover with hairy, man arms. Why? Was this image somehow tied to her message of being a bossypants? Or was it simply a comedic statement? I decided that it was probably the latter, yet despite my intrigue, I refrained from purchasing it right there on the spot because it seemed so silly.

It wasn't until I got my Kindle, that I reconsidered purchasing it. I guess that image of Tina Fey with hairy, man arms bothered me more than I thought. Having an electronic reader allowed me to read it without having to look at that cover each time I picked it up. I did learn a lot about the business of comedy (probably more than I really wanted to) but more importantly I learned an interesting leadership lesson

The lesson I learned was the power of YES; not as a response to a question, but as an attitude.

Now that may not seem very groundbreaking.
It's not until you realize how little YES we have when leading others that you really start to see the power of YES as an attitude.

This idea was presented in the book when Fey was explaining how comedians engage in improvisation; the rules of the game, so to speak.

If you have ever watched an improv show, it is clear that those leading the show aren't planning how or where the dialogue is going. In fact, as a participant in improv you have no way to control, direct or be responsible for what anybody says to you or how they even respond to you. You only have the ability and the role to listen and react to what is being said.

Sounds a bit like real life, doesn't it?

Ideally, yes. But in environments where authority is at play (parenting and leading) we mistakenly believe that we can control, direct or be responsible for the words and reactions of others. In reality, we can't. Like in improv, we can still only react accordingly to what is said. We own our own words and reactions, not the words or reactions of others.

In this context, A YES attitude isn't about positive thinking, or positive re-framing, it is simply about accepting what the person has said to you, not arguing with them, or trying to change it, or determine how or why they said it, but simply hearing and accepting that it was said and building on it from there

Think for a moment how little we see this really at play in the business world, or perhaps even in your home life with kids, a spouse or partner.

It is a difficult leadership lesson and one that I admit I still struggle with.

When guiding and developing people, I always thought that if they could only watch me, learn from me and observe me, they would ultimately see "how it was to be done." However, the problem with this line of thinking is that they aren't me and I am not them. It's based on a fundamental flaw that I can actually direct, control and teach others to react exactly as I would react. Nothing is further from the truth.

Unfortunately, leaders do this all the time with their associates and parents do this all of the time with their kids. In trying to control, direct or teach others to react and say things as you would, you aren't listening or accepting what they are saying. You diminish not enhance, their ability to think and act on their own feet. You also negate their involvement and demotivate them from participating in the future.

Having a YES attitude doesn't mean that you have to agree with their perspective, but it does mean that you must listen and accept their idea and allow it to be.

Using the power of YES as an attitude allows for innovative communication and exchange while pushing back accountability and responsibility to the other person.
Accepting the words of others and reacting to them accordingly ultimately engages and develops others to a whole new level.

After all, isn't this the ultimate role of a leader?

Tina Fey as a comedian was definitely schooled in using YES as an attitude. However, did she transfer this skill into her leadership roles? Maybe not as much as she could, because if she had, she wouldn't have been as much of a bossypants, would she?

Then maybe she wouldn't have had hairy, man arms on the cover either.

So what about you? Are you accepting what others are saying?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is your nemesis part of your solution?

I have always been a supporter of diversity, both professionally and personally.

Since an early age, my friends have always come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and interests. Often, the only common ground across my varied groups of friends was the fact that they were friends with me.

When I went off to college, I rejected the idea of joining a sorority, despite its philanthropic fundraising efforts and its central role in social life on campus. I felt at that time that any group that had to judge its members prior to being included was not a place I wanted to be. Despite these feelings, I never held it against anybody if they choose to be a part of it. In fact, I had many friends who were actively engaged in a variety of sororities and fraternities.

But, cliques have never been my thing.

I have struggled with the fact that cliques are commonplace in most social structures, especially in the workplace. An unfortunate result of the fundamental human need to belong is the formation of cliques. The intent is not mal-intended, but the result can be detrimental You have the exempt/non-exempt clique. The execultive/non-executive clique. The Manager/non-Manager clique. The Company lifers/ newbies clique. The women/men clique. The Hispanic/non-Hispanic clique. The line job/support job function clique. And the list goes on.

The thing I hate most about cliques is that by mere definition of a clique; you are either in or out. Cliques foster exclusivity and exclusivity always limits progress and productivity.

I was reminded by this on my recent trip to South Africa.
I wasn't particularly attuned to all of the history and details about Apartheid prior to my visit, but being immersed in a post-Apartheid South Africa, it became clear to me that this country is progressing and healing simply because Nelson Mandela saw that the solution required changing the country's clique mentality.

You see no matter what side of the clique you are on, a clique mentality always perpetuates the clique by maintaining the judgments and blame towards the other side.

Mandela saw that it was futile (and common) to perpetuate the clique by blaming the other side. He saw that the other side of the clique ( ie: the white people of South Africa) had to be part of the solution.

Too often, I see the same dynamic at play in the workforce. Cliques continue to exist and don't progress forward because each side keeps the other at bay and in blame of the problem. Women blame men for their career advancement problems. Hispanics blame non-Hispanics for their career problems. Exempts blame non-exempts. And the list goes on.

However, the fact is that your nemesis (the other side of your clique) needs to be part of your solution. Your nemesis must become your ally for the situation to change. Great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King understood this very well.

Much of my work today supports women entrepreneurs and corporate executives to become more effective leaders. This work can lead to having women-targeted workshops, meetings and events. Many men colleagues and men friends have often given me a hard time about that, feeling that these activities exclude them and other men.

But, this isn't true.

From the inception of many of these seemingly "exclusive groups" there is a fundamental belief that sponsors and members are needed from the other side of the clique to help solve the problems being faced. Perhaps even sororities and fraternities operate under this same premise today. Many men are on my list and many are included on the invitation to attend these events because they can be women's best advocates and are in fact, an essential part of the solution.

So what about you? Can you lead your situation to a better place by making your nemesis an ally and becoming part of your solution?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Are you a good follower?

As far back as I can remember, I was a fairly intense, passionate and determined person.

I remember my equally intense, passionate and determined brother telling me "take a chill pill, Laura." I assure you that coming from him, it was the kettle calling the pot black.

But, looking back, he was right, I did need to chill. I was actually more intense than him, if that was at all possible.

I didn't realize that my intensity had a lot to do with my strong desire to tackle challenges and succeed; wanting to drive things, all things, forward to where and how I wanted them.

After all, I liked getting results and I thought I knew what it took to get them.

My competitive intensity poured into my life on all fronts; academics, work, sports and travel. You could say that what charged me up more than anything was conquering life single-handedly, or at least trying to.

I was a full-fledged, self reliant, steam rolling woman on a mission to get results.Growing up in the '60's and '70's I had internalized a strong feminist message that I didn't really need anybody in order to succeed.

I believed that self-reliance was the key component to success. I saw that needing others or relying on others was considered a sign of weakness.

Being a follower was a dirty word.

When I entered the workforce, there were many bosses whose jobs I aspired to have. I always wanted to be in their shoes. I didn't want to follow them, I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the boss and to "lead."

"Lead, follow or get out of the way" for me was "Follow me and get out of the way". I was fortunate to have many bosses that did give me the freedom to excel and flourish. I think they understood the value in doing so especially because they saw me as a "go-getter".

Thank goodness for me and for them that they were effective leaders and didn't try to stand in my way or micro-manage me. And so I blossomed and grew into having more and more responsibility.

But as I gained more leadership responsibility, I started to see that the way I had excelled in the past wasn't getting me the results I needed in the future. That self-reliance at all costs, worked in the short run, but then it got in my way as it began to demotivate others around me. It became a liability.

Since I hadn't learned how to be a good follower, I was being hampered at becoming an effective leader.

But then I remembered an important lesson I had learned (and forgotten) about the importance of following others.

I drew back on my High School Field Hockey days and remembered my coach saying "when the team captain calls the play, you all must follow through. The team won't win if you all don't follow her lead."

You see the lesson about being a good follower is a lot like being a good leader, it doesn't really matter who scores the goal.

My coach got that. My bosses got that.

What matters most is the end result.

After all, being a leader and being a follower are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes you lead by following. And sometime you follow by leading.

You can't do one effectively without understanding the other. So, next time you think that being a follower is a dirty word, think again.

How well are you following?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is Losing Yourself Necessary for Leadership?

I grew up in a tight, European household.

We were a total of 7 living under one roof which included my maternal grandparents. I was taught many of the "old world" values where the collective needs always came before the individual. I was taught that a family was not a summation of individuals, but rather an entity unto itself. Boundaries were never clear between "me" and "we".

You could say that I started life without a real clear sense of myself, because it was intertwined with the needs and expectations of my family and my extended communal "colony" comprised of 50 other families who emigrated together from Spain.

My internal household reality was at odds with the external world where I spent my childhood on Long Island, NY during the '60s and '70s. Our country was built on an individualistic spirit; one where we were taught the importance of following your own passions, purpose and dreams. A place where every person can "do anything you set your sights on." A place where our founding fathers dreamt every individual could flourish.

My family upbringing caused a conflict and struggle in me relative to my outside world where individualism was the order of the day. That struggle continued well into my adult life, particularly in my working life where I came face-to-face with the leadership challenges of the seemingly-at-odd priorities of "we vs. me."

It is no surprise that when I came across two articles recently, that I had a strong reaction to their messages. The first one was an article by Bill Taylor "We is bigger than me" where he states "the true measure of success is not the value you create for yourself but the values that define your work and how you lead and live."

I happen to agree with his statement. To lead your life effectively, you can't be completely self-centered. You need to see the broader impact beyond yourself.

However, Taylor goes on to say that "This is the age of the maverick, the startup, and, dare I say it, as the cofounder of Fast Company, "The Brand Called You." That is why it's so easy to focus on the magazine covers, the IPO wealth, the personal narratives." What Taylor is missing here is that some of this rugged individualism is required to ultimately connect with the "We" which in this case is a target audience. Achieving a brand called YOU, means that you have understood the intersection of your brilliance and core strengths with the needs of your target to deliver on their needs.

Achieving a Brand called YOU is the ultimate challenge of melding the needs of "we and me", which requires you to step outside of yourself to deliver on the needs of others. This is the work of a business leader.

The second article by David Brooks "It's not about you" (which Taylor references in his article) reinforces the idea that as leaders we need to "lose ourselves", in other words putting others or the task at hand ahead of ourselves. His message was directed to new graduates, as they step into this world, as newly minted leaders of their lives and careers. Here are some of his words:

"...many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture. But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

...Today's grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they'll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center." He concludes his article by saying "The purpose of life is not to find oneself. It is to lose oneself."

While I agree that leadership is a maturation process and that we ultimately do want to lose ourselves to the tasks of life and the needs of others, what Brooks misses here is that losing ourselves can only happen once we have a strong foundation of self.

This profound insight represents one of leadership's counter intuitive truths: In order to lose oneself completely, one has to know oneself completely.

I have seen this in my own personal journey.

The tension I felt between "we and me" can best be described with a continuum. At one extreme end of the continuum there is self-lessness where the "we" rules at the expense of the "me." We can see this in repressed societies around the globe. It is also where many women in our own society can migrate when they feel the relentless expectations to care for others at the expense of their own needs and desires.

On the other extreme of the spectrum is where I believe Taylor and Brooks are advocating "losing oneself" to an area that I call self-interest. A self-interested person has a good sense of themselves and is not threatened easily by others. They are compassionate of others but they can't be walked over either. They are driven by a greater purpose, something bigger than themselves.

Having a healthy self-interest is critical to effective leadership.

In the center of the spectrum is where unfortunately, many people reside and where leadership cannot flourish. Self-centeredness. As infants we start here, after all we enter this world with a need to survive and self-centeredness is essential for survival. However, as adults we need to move beyond self-centeredness. When someone is overly self-centered, they usually don't have a good sense of themselves, they are struggling to know their place and role in life and are easily threatened by others.

Self-centeredness is about self preservation and hanging on to the status quo while fighting heavily to maintain it.
Our individual and collective journeys are to move from self-lessness and self-centeredness areas of the spectrum to develop into healthy self-interest. So, is losing oneself necessary to get there? Yes, but certainly not at the expense of eradicating "me" altogether.

To that point, I would change Brooks' words to say that "The purpose of life is not to find oneself. It is to find oneself then give it away."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Leadership a la Gaga

Now I have heard it all.

The Economist recently ran an article "The angel and the monster" that drew similarities and differences between Mother Theresa and Lady Gaga.

They went on to state that there are some leadership lessons to be gleaned from Lady Gaga's success. They boiled it down to the fact that she knows her brand and has found a compelling emotional connection point with her target.

Last time I checked, this has more to do with branding than in does leadership "projection" or charisma.

We obviously are struggling for direction in leadership these days, as a recent article in HBS "Why Leaders lose their way" reminds us of the many recent examples of fallen leaders:

-Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd resigned for submitting false expense reports concerning his relationship with a contractor.
-US Senator John Ensign (R-NV) resigned after covering up an extramarital affair with monetary payoffs.
-Lee B. Farkas, former chairman of giant mortgage lender Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, in April was found guilty for his role in one of the largest bank fraud schemes in American history

Not to mention Senator John Edwards.

Maybe they tried a little leadership a la Gaga!

All kidding aside, the lessons to be learned here from either Lady Gaga or Mother Theresa is one of conviction and passion. And more importantly having the courage and vulnerability to put it out there. They are so aligned with their passion, they epitomize "what you see see is what you get."

Yet, as we have seen with many of these fallen leaders, they are not who they say they are. They are cowards hiding behind false words. They are far from being vulnerable with their own convictions and passions.

When leaders have conviction and passion, others will follow. But don't waste your time emulating Lady Gaga, or trying to break down the elements of her unique "leadership projection." This is not something that can be copied.

Spend more time uncovering your own conviction and passion based on your own personal journey. Once you find it, then you have to have the courage and vulnerability to put it out there.

This kind of leadership is frightening and not for the faint-of-heart.

Whether you like Lady Gaga's aesthetic or not, what she does have is the ability to be vulnerable and courageous to put her passion and conviction on the line and that's what people connect to. There is no confusion about her message.

I respect that about her.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Do you have leadership presence?

Jim Collins challenged the notion of leadership presence when he defined a level 5 leader as "one who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will."

He rattled our traditional belief that effective leaders must have a charismatic, extroverted and take-charge confident presence. In fact, Collins went on to discover that a common thread of these high-achieving level 5 leaders was that they contained a "compelling modesty."

This modesty is described with words like quiet, humble, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing and understated.

These are not attributes we normally associate with leadership presence; in fact, we often think of attributes that are antonyms to these words. And yet, according to Collins, these attributes are the makings of great leaders.

Yet most of us continue to mistakenly believe that having leadership presence is like playing a role in a play, requiring an elaborate costume and a personality change. As if we need to be on center stage, in the spotlight, with all eyes and attention upon us, in order to have the presence of a leader.

Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to developing your leadership presence.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was addressing the professional women at my former employer, The Coca-Cola Company. Another speaker, a current executive at the company, was talking about the issue of work/life balance and she said an important thing related to leadership presence. She said "it isn't about balance, it is more about presence. When you are at home, you must be present with your children and family, not feeling guilty about work obligations. When you are at work, you must be present and be at work fully; not feeling like you should be tending to family concerns."

You see, when you are going through the motions and are somewhere else mentally and emotionally, you can unwillingly communicate arrogance which does not allow you to connect with others as a leader, nor will you be perceived by others as a leader.

The "presence" she talked about was about being in the moment and available to the people with whom you are leading, at home or at work. When you achieve this level of presence, you exude humility. It is also from this place of presence that you develop trust with others and the ability to connect.

With presence, you are also in a grounded state allowing you to meet the challenges as they arise, rather than being out of step with those around you. You meet people where they are.

While many types of people struggle to develop this "presence", ironically, I have found that people who exhibit traditional leadership presence attributes like charisma, extroversion and take-charge confidence, are usually the ones who are most challenged with being in the moment. Present company clearly included in this observation.

So, if you are like me, your tendency might be to always be three steps ahead of yourself and especially ahead of others. This poses a challenge for you to be in the moment to effectively develop leadership presence, as it did for me. As a result, you might be inclined to go at it alone, rather than bringing others along with you, simply because you aren't in the moment and you are in a different place than they are.

If you find yourself in this camp, remind yourself that getting to the end of a problem in record speed doesn't always provide the best solution. Plus, if you get there alone, it often will take more time and effort to go back to get others on board, than if you had gotten them with you from the start. Been there, done that, and certainly have the t-shirt on this one.

All kidding aside, as I have personally worked these past several years at gaining more "presence" for being in the moment and in essence growing my humility, it is the one thing that I attribute to my continued and growing success.

It can be for you too.

Using the play as an analogy for the business stage where leadership presence unfolds and you are either in that role of the leader, or aspiring to be, here are a few tips to keep in mind about developing your "presence" for leadership.

1. Lose the costume and personality change. Above all else, bring the best of you.
2. Resist the temptation to move towards the center of the stage where the spotlight is the brightest.
3. Be in the moment to bring calmness and a grounded, quiet confidence.
4. Refrain from taking too much attention; shine the light on others whenever possible.
5. Get comfortable with silence and looking to others for answers, especially when all eyes are upon you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Are you pursuing your definition of success?

Since leaving Corporate America and becoming a speaker and a leadership coach I have addressed and worked with thousands of business professionals from all walks of life; from corporate executives, entrepreneurs, working moms, small business leaders, mompreneurs, MBA students and even recent grads.


But many of them often have the same question for me: "How did you do it?"

My answer usually is "Do what?"

And the response to that question is usually met with a dear-in-the-headlights look.

All kidding aside, I am often baffled by the use of the proverbial "it" they are referring to. "It" defines everything and yet nothing. While "It "usually refers to some measure of success or accomplishment, it's important that "it" be clearly defined, and most importantly defined by you.

But this rarely happens.

Most of the time, we are in pursuit of an "it" defined by a collective, societal view of success, not our own.

Also, part of this collective view of success is that we are at the mercy of others deeming whether or not we can have "it". As a result, I often hear people use the proverbial "they"... especially when "it" isn't happening. Generally, "they" are the ones accused of blocking their way, the ones keeping them from accomplishing "it". "They" could be a spouse, a boss, a company, a customer or even a parent.

There was a point in my career when I stalled out. I didn't get an important promotion and as a result I felt like I had taken a huge step backwards. I felt this way because, in the definition of success I was pursuing, the only way to move forward and to be of any value is to get that next promotion. So, at that point, there were many "they" that I was blaming.

When I hit that roadblock along my climb, I didn't recede; I just continued to push harder and harder still.

Sometimes the persistent push works and you make it up the next rung and then the next. But sometimes it doesn't. And you try again and again and yet again, growing more resentful with each push that results with no movement.

In fact, you can become so blinded at this moment that you can only see that next rung on the ladder in front of you. You can't even see that this ladder is no longer taking you to where you want to be. And so you hold onto each step as if it is the only one left; as if there are no other steps possible.

Many of my coaching clients that have come to work with me often have "get promoted" as their top objective. Over time, some learn that this objective is not really what they seek; it is just the only result they know because they are so gripped with fear for stepping outside of that common definition of success.

You see, our fear keeps us pursuing this common definition of success and makes us believe that someone can actually knock you down from that ladder and take those steps away from you forever.

But they can't.

No one can knock you off that ladder. No one can take away those steps you have laid so carefully before you to get you to where you are today.

Those steps you have accomplished are yours to keep. They are yours to take with you and to build new steps upon them, to create a new ladder.

A ladder that takes you to your newly defined "it", your definition of success.

And guess what? In your newly created definition for success, there is no one else to blame, no one else standing in your way, except yourself.

When you create your own definition of success you relinquish the blame you place on others because you have taken the first step of accountability towards creating your success by defining it.

We rarely take the opportunity to ask these questions:

Is the definition of success you are pursuing worth changing?
Does your definition of success need to be redefined?
Should you be climbing a different ladder to get there?
Can you make a bigger ripple, a bigger impact with an entirely different ladder?
For me the answer was a resounding "Yes."

So, what about you, what's your definition of success and is the ladder you are on taking you there?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Facebook is a Marketing Tool

There is a difference between Marketing and Sales. And in Marketing, we learn that it is critical to match your message with the medium. Facebook is a Marketing medium, not a Sales tool.

Companies and brands need to understand how to strategically use Facebook and how it can work as a brand builder, not necessarily as a short-term sales generator.

This is why the recent study conducted by Forrester Research and reported on Yahoo News today, in my opinion, doesn't ask the right question.

They reported that Facebook has not driven sales or sales conversion for several retailers. I don't find that surprising.

Not all marketing vehicles are expected to drive immediate sales, that is why marketers use a mix of tools. Any platform that can generate a relationship with a consumer (500 million on Facebook) is an important tool because brands are built on a solid relationship which can ultimately equate to a strong brand equity. The social platform isn't intended to "ask for an order," in fact when brands do that, they fail. This platform is about deepening relationships and trust, so that when you ask for the order elsewhere with another tool, consumers are apt to buy your brand.

So if you are using Facebook to ask for an order, think again. Your brand may start to feel like your a pesty friend asking you to buy something when all you want to do is talk and get to know each other better.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are you a free agent?

News flash!

In this new economy, we are all free agents!

Whether you work for a corporation, a large organization, a small business or are a solo entrepreneur, you need to become a free agent.

Here is the definition of a free agent.

A free agent:

Has a personal brand
Is regarded as an expert centered around their core offering and key strengths
Follows a passion
Is a leader
Proactively develops connections
Creates value with those connections
Understands that value drives business
Recognizes that business is personal and based on trusted relationships
Does their best work
Understands that collaboration and team work drives results
Can be trusted
Is consistent and clear
Leads their life and inspires others to do the same
Doesn't follow the "shoulds", but is connected to own values and priorities
Creates their own path
Understands that job security is not an entitlement
Stays relevant


Don't get stagnant and stuck in the past. Break out and become the free agent you need to be to prosper and succeed in the new econonomy! It can all start with creating your own personal brand!

What other characteristics do you think should be on this list?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Have you lost perspective?

There is no question that as human beings we can become myopically focused on our own reality. In other words, we lose perspective.

After all, that is why reality shows are so popular today.

Because for 30 minutes, you can get a sneak peek into someone else's myopic reality!

Watching this human self-absorption can be incredibly scary, amusing and entertaining all at the same time. But, while we are laughing at them, it's hard to see how myopic we can also be with our own lives.

Without even realizing it, we lose perspective and become overly self-absorbed into our own reality; just like those on TV. Except we have a different script. Our script.

My script used to look something like this:

· I was playing the role of a high-powered executive at a major Fortune 100 company. I thought that the role required me to be singly focused in order to perform optimally. So over time, I gave up all else.

· I travelled every week and had little time or concern for people that weren't moving as fast as I was. I ran at 6:15 every morning regardless of which city I woke up in. I had mostly condiments in my refrigerator and ate out for most meals. I often worked till 7 pm or later. When I got home late, cold cereal was often my dinner. I only connected with friends and family via my cell to and from airports in the early mornings or on weekends. Conversations with them often focused on my exhaustion. I missed so many social engagements that people eventually stopped inviting me to attend. Work was my only focus.

· Then one morning after I turned 40, I realized that I had nothing, despite a healthy salary.

I am sure there is a TV reality show waiting to be made on this script, or a movie ...oh wait...the movie has already been filmed, it's called "Up in the air." You see, I was George Clooney with pumps.

Like me, George had lost perspective.

While I had reached a high level of success, ironically my single focus, myopic reality and my loss of perspective eventually worked against me.

Unfortunately, like many others, you may still believe that in order to be "at the top" you have to sacrifice all else.

But, you are wrong.

You see, when you sacrifice all else, you not only short change yourself and any semblance of having a life but you also short change your work, and the value that you bring to your work.

Leaders must have perspective. And you can't have perspective if you have don't have any balance.

Work is more productive, more creative, more engaging for you, those around you and for your company, when you have perspective.

Being so out of balance didn't serve me, my work in Marketing, or my company over time. I clearly didn't have, nor couldn't develop, any perspective for the key consumer of my product who was a suburban mom who frequented grocery stores and was shuttling kids back and forth from activities. She was someone who lived a life that looked quite different than my own. I didn't have to be her, but I did have to have perspective in order to understand her so that I could market to her more effectively.

I also didn't have, nor didn't develop, any perspective for my team members and colleagues whose realities were also different than my own. While I was actually the anomaly, my behaviors didn't recognize this fact. Because of this, I wasn't able to connect and lead them effectively. I had lost all perspective.

When you find that you are so singly focused on something and all else around you is either completely out-of-focus or non-existent, recognize that it's time to regain perspective.

Try these steps:

Stop and reflect.
Moving from one activity to another without reflection is an indication that you are operating without perspective. Stopping helps you to reflect in order to prioritize and make conscious choices.

Step back or Step aside.
Simply by backing up or looking at things from a different angle allows you to frame a situation in a new way. The action alone can give you perspective. It may bring to question your previous approach and open up your curiosity to find a better way.

Ask yourself why? But don't allow "have to" be your answer.
At the root of losing perspective is that we begin to operate under some preconceived belief that we have no choice but to behave or do things a certain way. Don't buy it. Don't do things because you feel you "have to" or "should". By asking yourself "why?" and making conscious choices about your actions you can regain perspective.

Firm up your boundaries.
Get clear on how you want to work; identify where you are going to spend less time and what's going to take second position. This can be a weekly process that can adjust and change as you see fit.

Having perspective benefits you, your work and the people around you. Don't buy into the idea that you have to lose balance, and in the process lose perspective, in order to make it to the top.

In fact, the top is the last place you want to be without perspective!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Do you feel guilty?

I have never considered guilt to be of any positive value.

Until now.

Harvard Business Report summarized a recent study by Professor Francis Flynn which has linked guilt with strong work performance. The study's findings state: "People who are prone to guilt tend to work harder and perform better than people who are not guilt-prone, and are perceived to be more capable leaders."

As much as I hate to admit it, for me, this finding did ring true. Having been a guilt-ridden person for most of my early adult life, my devotion and commitment to my former company was in many ways fueled by guilt...needing always to do an outstanding job and showing loyalty above all else, including myself.

I certainly did advance in my corporate career, but at what cost?

In my opinion, there are many costs of guilt; the greatest one being that guilt-ridden people are often disconnected from their own, authentic motivators. In fact, over the course of my life I have seen the damage of guilt, my own guilt.

Guilt leads to the inability to know intrinsically what drives you. Guilt-induced action is not a genuine or authentic action. It is an action that may serve external forces but does not serve you.

Guilt brings to question the character of the person with judgment rather than objectively focusing on the behavior of that person.

I believe that guilt creates a win/lose situation.

While guilt might drive short term results from people,as it did for me, these results are not sustainable for the long term. Ultimately, I believe that guilt-prone people burn out and feel resentment. Clearly, these are not good results that leaders would want to inspire in others.

As with many of my leadership insights, this understanding about guilt became clearer to me when I became a parent. As a parent, I wanted to raise a healthy, well-balanced, successful child with a positive self-image that can be drawn on both today and in the future. I knew that some of the old styles of parenting that reinforced guilt-induced actions were not in support of my definition of long-term success. So, I dropped many of these things from my vocabulary:

· "good girl" or "good boy" but used "good job" instead since it focuses on the behavior, not the person.

· "I am proud of you" but used "You must be so proud of yourself" instead since it reinforces self-validation not external validation.

· "you disappoint me" but used "you must feel disappointed?" instead since it reinforces self-assessment not external assessment.

Guilt causes us to look out to the world to validate ourselves; instead of having a sense of validation already built-in.

Education research supports that internal motivators, not guilt-induced motivators, generate long-term learning performance. And so, I believe that this translates into the work-place as well as at home.

As leaders, or as parents, if you want to build followers that are self-empowered, self-starters and self-initiators, you need to equip the internal drivers of those around you without guilt or fear. Given the state of business today, we certainly can see that the ways of the past won't serve us going forward. We must eliminate guilt and fear as primary motivators.

So if you are a manager or leader that uses guilt or fear as a way to motivate people, you are not building a long-term learning culture with self-empowered associates. Chances are if you are doing this to others, guilt has been your driver and motivator. And if you are guilt-prone, how do you escape this grip of guilt for yourself?

1. Don't pass it on. Watch your communication with others. Guilt is about command and control, an antiquated view of leadership.

2. Develop more well-defined boundaries. Don't take on the emotional baggage of others and solve problems that aren't yours to solve. Firm up your accountability and insist on accountability from others. Guilt often blurs the lines between people.

3. Look beyond the short term. Developing others requires a long-term view. Guilt focuses on immediate impact and control.

4. Encourage moderation in yourself and others. Extremes are often the result of guilt. Guilt perpetuates work/life balance struggles.

5. Develop a stronger internal barometer by looking inside of yourself more often. Guilt keeps us focused too much on others and not enough on ourselves.


Here's to a guilt-free work-place where you can bring your best because you, and others around you, are internally driven and motivated to do so!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Are you holding yourself back?

"We have met the enemy and the enemy is us."

As the saying goes, we can often be our own worst enemy.



Mistakenly, we believe that this enemy within us is the hyper-critical one, telling us we can't do anything right.

However, the real enemy within is the self-protective one, telling you that you are right and that have done no wrong. This is the enemy that really holds you back.

Confronting your own shortfalls and admitting blame is harder than it sounds because this behavior doesn't often come naturally.

We naturally don't want to be so vulnerable as to admit to shortcomings, faults or wrong-doings. Instead, we naturally want to self-preserve and self-protect. Research shows that we are more likely to rate ourselves more favorably on key attributes vs. how our peers, our bosses or our associates would rate us (or our spouses). In part, some of this self-inflation is driven by the natural need to self-protect.

And yet, what is counter intuitive about this is that the more you self-protect, the more you actually self-defeat.

By over protecting yourself, you hold yourself back. You can't lead others or even lead yourself when you are in a state of self-preservation; whether it's protecting your job, protecting your status, or protecting your turf.

In my work as a coach I hear it all the time: "How can my boss care about me and my development when all he is worried about is his job?" Or the boss who says "How can I worry about developing others when all I am concerned about is holding onto my job?"

Unfortunately, during these tough and insecure economic times with nearly 10% unemployment, there is more self-protectionism than we care to admit.

My own worst case of self-protection came about when I had a boss who I felt was not on my side. I went overboard trying to shore up my business, my team and my results. So much so, that I was blinded to what I may have been doing wrong or in hearing any valuable feedback.

During that time, I was holding on to my job with the tightest of grips. Unfortunately, as a result of protecting myself so fiercely, it also happened to be when I was the most inflexible, argumentative and uncooperative.

You see, when we over protect ourselves, we don't often show our best attributes. When we believe that we are under attack or being blamed, the natural reaction is to shore up and hold on, and sometimes even push further. However, a smart leader leans into this feedback with an openness and acceptance to self-adjust, self-correct and learn.

It is in our most unsure moments where we may be riddled with insecurity that we need to accept that we may not have it all buttoned up right. With this acceptance we can lead others more effectively and lead ourselves towards growth.

So what can you do to grow as a leader if you know you are in a self-protection mode?

1. Start a dialogue with your boss, your team, and your colleagues. Ask for pointed, constructive input on the impact of your actions.

2. Listen to the feedback with openness and a willingness to adjust. Try to keep your defenses down; fighting against feedback with denial only hurts you, not others.

3. Affirm your value and strengths to yourself. Self-protective behavior usually is the result of an insecurity that only you can fill.

4. Recognize that strength comes from admitting fault and being vulnerable. These are not signs of weakness, but important leadership qualities.

5. Realize that the best way to impact change is to start with yourself! Do what you can to get out of your own way.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who can you learn from?

It is usually best not to assume who will be your greatest teacher.

I have been surprised many times in my career. I have learned the most about leadership from those I had least expected:

a consumer
a homeless person
a child
a janitor

I am glad that I was open to the lesson.

Suspending judgment is the ingredient leaders need if they want to continually grow. When we suspend judgment, we can allow for those most unexpected lessons to come our way. Especially from those we least expect.

Who have you learned from?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Your voice in your head isn't really silent

What we think often gets manifested in our actions and behaviors. Sometimes we may not say what we think, but it still has an impact.

Judging your boss? Can't seem to trust that co-workers? That little voice in your head impacts everything.

In Dan Pallotta's blog post "How to Fix Misunderstandings at Work and in Life" he states "So often we talk past one another, distracted by the voices in our own heads, unable to listen to what other people are saying, let alone what they might be feeling — all under the pretense of communication."

You see, when we have an active little voice in our head about someone, we can't really hear that person clearly. When we "hear them," we can only hear our little voice, so in fact we really aren't able to listen to them effectively.

In order to smooth out the relationship, you really have to build a new perspective about the person. In other words, the little voice in your head needs to be quieted down. How can you do this?

1. Realize that when you feel that kind of intensity towards someone, chances are they have a similar issue with you.
2. Own up to your part. Try to find out the issues they have with you and address them.
3. As you change to address their concerns, the dynamics between you will also change.
4. Talk about the issue with a trained facilitator so that it is a safe environment for both of you.