Conflict, character and calm

Jane is guest blogging over at Lead Change Group today!

You’d been angling to get assigned to the special project team at work for a long time. Finally your dream came true. What you weren’t expecting, however, was discovering the team facilitator rubbed you the wrong way, big-time.

Maybe it’s a case of opinions and values being worlds apart. Perhaps there’s open hostility or a personality clash. Possibly there’s…

 continue reading

Poster credit: Keep Calm and Carry On




Be authentically real but not rude

I’m guest posting over at the Lead Change Group…a place where you’ll regularly find lots of good insights, especially into character-based leadership and beginning a leadership revolution.

Gene was upset with his new team’s quarterly business results, and his withering criticism of their performance during the staff meeting had brought a stunned hush to the room. Not one of the ten people sitting around the table had been exempt from having their deficiencies cruelly described and even mocked during the meeting. As he strode from the room, Gene mentally congratulated himself for telling it like it was. He prided himself on being authentic.

Have you ever worked for a boss like Gene? One who confused realness with rudeness?

The word authenticity has its roots in the Greek philosophy of to thine own self be true, and is one of the hallmarks of good leadership. Gene’s behaviors went awry, however, because he failed to consider that truly authentic leaders are “aware of the context in which they operate” (Avolio, Luthans and Walumbwa, 2004) because “authenticity is a quality that others must attribute to you” (Goffee and Jones, 2005).

Authenticity, like leadership, is relational. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It begins with you, requiring self-awareness, self-regulation and self-discipline. Under the guise of being genuine, one shouldn’t blurt out those first unfiltered thoughts. Transparency can come with tact.

3 rules of the road for leaders to be authentically real without being rude

Be candid without being insensitive. Providing forthright feedback is critical for career development, yet one doesn’t have to shred another’s self-confidence when doing so. While you may think what someone did was stupid and laughable, using those words only makes others defensive. When they become defensive, they close off, thinking you’re a jerk rather than focusing on what they need to change. Authentic leaders speak their truth yet deliver constructive, concise and compassionate feedback that leaves self-respect intact.

Have a strong opinion without being judgmental and unyielding. Nowhere is it written that others must perpetually agree with your point of view. Others seeing things differently than you do doesn’t make them wrong. Before you categorize someone as being difficult, determine if they might not be thinking the same about you. Authentic character-based leaders accept differing positions with positive unconditional regard, practicing Ben Zander’s Art of Possibility Rule #6: don’t take yourself so seriously. They don’t use authenticity as a mask for rigidity.

Be true to your nature while keeping possibilities open. We all have a default setting where we feel most comfortable. Yet using that “take me as I am” mindset limits creativity, innovation and communication; plus it breeds arrogance, fosters stereotypes and perpetuates biases. Many options were open to Gene for sharing his performance concerns with his team without publicly belittling them. Tactfully voicing his disappointment, expressing his desire for better results, and inviting input would have yielded a more productive outcome. Authentic character-based leaders look for new solutions that still align with their values.

Layering in thoughtfulness when dealing with others doesn’t make one inauthentic. Rather, it shows strength of character and demonstrates real self-control in leading yourself so you can lead others.

What say you?





Photography: Light and Shadow by Fan Ho



12 reasons you aren’t getting promoted

You’ve been angling for the big promotion for almost a year now, but no luck.  You’re more than a little frustrated since others are moving up the career ladder and leaving you behind. Of course there’s the possibility that external factors (holding the line on headcount, budget concerns, etc.) are limiting the number of promotions in your organization. Yet the biggest single factor in determining promotion readiness is…you.

Might you be sabotaging yourself with one (or more) of these twelve career-limiting behaviors?

1. Being the lone ranger

You know you’re smart, technically brilliant, even, and work aggressively to get every special project assignment. You highlight your skills at every opportunity, perpetually reminding your boss of what you - and you alone - have accomplished. You’ve been known (why tactfully, of course) to throw a colleague under the bus when it appeared they might be selected for the plum assignment over you.  And every once in a while, you do wonder why no one invites you to lunch.

2. Squeaky wheel is your middle name

Your boss can count on you to be the first to raise your hand in the staff meeting and point out the three reasons why the new sales program won’t work. Everyone in the HR department knows your name, and they regularly tease you about putting the suggestion box right your desktop. You have the emails for everyone on the executive team and regularly send them messages about their latest mis-steps.

3. Listening skills aren’t your strong suit

You’re known for asking someone a question - and then answering it yourself. You always volunteer to be the speaker or facilitator; and if you aren’t selected, you figure out a way to co-opt the agenda so you can share your ideas anyway.

4. You think dress codes are for wimps.

Hey, if customers and the folks on the executive floor don’t like your piercings and tattoos, well, that’s just their problem, not yours.

5. Your plan is to get the needed skills once you get the promotion.

You’re busy, so who has the time to take classes, volunteer, read books or work with a mentor. You know you’re a fast learner and will quickly pick up what you need to know once the promotion is yours.

6.  No time to network.

All that brown nose stuff isn’t your cup of tea. You think going to company functions, trade association meetings and industry conferences is a prime waste of time. You know your work speaks for itself, why should you bother to interrupt it?

7. Your work ethic is so-so.

You do just enough to get by and have occasionally missed a deadline or two. People know to not get in your way come 5:01 PM since you’re always the first out the door every day. Asking for more responsibilities isn’t something you’ve ever done or intend to do.

8. You tell people you deserve to be promoted because you’ve paid your dues.

You’ve put in your time with the organization; three years is ample time for them to recognize your brilliance and reward you.  You’re allergic to helping out a colleague and figure the newbies can learn the job on their own since that’s how you did it.

9. Getting to know the company culture is a waste of time.

You think culture is one of those HR buzzwords that needs to be buried. You’ve got better things to do than determine the ins and outs of office politics or learn the company history.

10. You communicate when it’s convenient and makes sense only for you.

Everybody knows meetings are a waste of time, so you can’t remember when you attended your last one. Answering emails and returning phones isn’t on your radar screen. You believe the higher-ups aren’t really interested in what you have to say anyway, so why bother to participate.

11. Your boss is a waste of time.

It’s totally unclear to you how your boss got to be your boss. You’re way smarter than he is and have occasionally pointed this out, usually in a public venue.  You barely listen to the feedback she shares in performance reviews. You’re the first to slam his performance around the water cooler.

12. Building relationships isn’t what you get paid to do.

Getting the job done is what you’re paid to do, not building connections or making friends with your colleagues. All that warm, fuzzy stuff is a waste of time. You’ve never attended an office potluck or birthday party. Whose got time for idle chit-chat when there’s work to be done?

Image from Read Solutions Group





7 questions for figuring out your tolerance for risk taking

While discussing the push/pull polarities of influence styles at a workshop on Power, Persuasion and Influence I facilitated for a group of Fortune 100 executive women, one woman shared a moving observation with the group:  while knowing which style of influence is best to use depending upon the situation is important, the real issue is one’s willingness to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.

Her courageous workshop action item was to take that risk.  She said she owed doing so to her colleagues, the organization and herself.

What a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Sometimes the risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian, and/or dancing with the elephant in the room.  Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.”  Risk-taking can yield great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

7 questions for assessing your leadership readiness for risk taking

You must have high EQ, PQ (political quotient) and a thorough knowledge of your work culture to assess your tolerance for workplace risk-taking.  Consider:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo?  Are you prepared to accept possible negative outcomes?  Are you willing to see your credibility erode? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company?  Are you primed to be a role model and/or attacked?
  • Do you have solid solutions already in mind?  Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure?  Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success?
  • Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Risk tolerance is extremely personal.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Either way, be prepared, be thoughtful and do what’s right for you.




I’m Kind, Not Stupid

leaders can be kind without being weak“You seemed so nice when we talked, I just figured you wouldn’t mind,” said Allan with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice.

“Really!? You really figured I wouldn’t care you presented my idea to the boss as your own just because I was nice when we spoke?” exclaimed Bea. “What were you thinking?”

I’ve heard similar stories from many a client, especially those striving to be character-based leaders. Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact that far too many people interpret kindness as weakness. Research conducted by Batia M. Wiesenfeld, Naomi B. Rothman, Sara L. Wheeler-Smith, and Adam D. Galinsky found that bosses who treat people with respect and dignity are “seen as less powerful than other managers—less in control of resources, less able to reward and punish—and that may hurt their odds of attaining certain key, contentious leadership roles.”

Individuals wanting to be known as effective leaders are self-aware. They don’t take the same shortcut in stereotypical thinking that Allan did.  They understand that a leader/individual who treats them with kindness is not:

  • a doormat or stupid
  • or a perpetual follower without an opinion
  • a fountain of ideas from which others can freely drink without attribution
  • powerless.

Steve Livingston, a social psychologist, offers this advice. ”Be careful about the assumptions you make about others, even the positive ones. When we fail to do so, at the very least we are losing the opportunity to get to know someone on a more personal — more human — basis. At the very worst, we can inadvertently set up a chain of expectations and misunderstandings that will undermine the relationship itself.”

It’s a paradox of life that we want to be treated with kindness yet treat those who are kind to us without respect.

The next time someone treats you with respect, acts as if you matter, cares what you think or deals with you fairly — in short, treats you with kindness — don’t sell them, or yourself, short by assuming they’re without power or smarts or influence.




Building a new leadership paradigm

There’s something, isn’t there, about the ambiance of a little coffee shop that spurs how-we’re-going-to-change-the-world discussions?

The topic at hand was a rich and challenging one:  reinventing leadership so it’s inspired and inspiring. People want to produce value and feel valued. Just-a-cog-in-the-wheel environments must go. Ethics and integrity tossed aside for economics and perpetually better bottom line results is wrong, wrong, wrong.  What needs to be changed and how would it be accomplished?

As one might imagine, there was immediate consensus on the need for a new leadership paradigm and no shortage of ideas for what it should be. Our caffeine-stimulated change ingredient list so far:

  • No more singular focus on just the bottom line as a measure of success. Somewhere along the line, Drucker’s observation that “what gets measured gets managed” was corrupted.  Hard and fast metrics make management easier, but that isn’t the point.
  • There must be a moral center. Ethics and integrity matter. Must end the Murdoch mentality of “get the story no matter what.”
  • Leaders apply confidence and humility in equal measure; both are used appropriately. Laughter and tears are welcome in the work place.
  • Contrarian points of view (albeit presented professionally and without haughty condescension) are encouraged. Brown-nosing is no longer a required promotional competency.
  • Power is used appropriately. If it’s a truly command-and-control scenario (crises), directives are OK. Otherwise, power is used with others and to produce win-win outcomes. Leaders know when to flex between styles and are held accountable for doing so.
  • Gender, race and ethnicity are irrelevant to effective leadership.
  • Pronouns reflect inclusion (we, not me) and courage (it was my decision…)
  • There’s a team-oriented approach to achieving results coupled with a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” No more “me-centered” spotlights.
  • Tough empathy rules. A job well-done is recognized and rewarded. Less-than-stellar performance is addressed immediately via thoughtful, continued coaching; follow-up required.
  • Serious thought goes into perks. Pooh-bahs don’t continue to fly in corporate jets while clerks and assistants have to pay for their morning cup of coffee.
  • Diversity goes beyond lip service and really means something. Inclusion is valued.
  • It’s OK, expected even, to go home while it’s still daylight and/or not come into the office on the weekend. Seeing your kid in a play or a soccer game matters.
  • Vacations are for renewal, really. Clear your head. Come back renewed not current with your email.
  • The squeaky wheel doesn’t get all the attention. People talk, share, engage. Political correctness in agreeing with the guy with the loudest voice isn’t politically correct anymore.

Given the breadth, depth and complexity of leadership, this new paradigm list is a work in progress. What elements would you add?



This Week’s Leadership Favs

The BIG Friday leadership favorites are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engaged our interest as we did our work over the past week. Lead BIG and enjoy!

How to Map the Politics around Your Work (Colin Gautrey, The Gautrey Group)

Ewwww, say many people when the topic “office politics” is broached. Yet smart leaders understand that office politics can’t be ignored, and in fact, need to be understood. Colin offers up a fascinating exercise in this post, designed to help leaders develop a “firm grasp of what is “really” going on, can you start to navigate safely through the corridors of power.”

The 70-20-10 Rule  (Center for Creative Leadership e-Newsletter, requires free sign-up)

Based on their own research, CCL proposes a formula for developing managers that incorporates three categories of experience: “challenging assignments (70 percent), developmental relationships (20 percent) and coursework and training (10 percent). Says CCL’s Meena Surie Wilson, ‘We believe that today, even more than before, a manager’s ability and willingness to learn from experience is the foundation for leading with impact.’”

Bad is Stronger Than Good (Roy F. Baumeister, et al, research paper)

If your orientation to the world is a glass half empty, you’ll have a field day with the scientific data here, “having a good day did not have any noticeable effect on a person’s well-being the following day, whereas having a bad day did carry over and influence the next day.”  For us glass-half-full folks, all the more reason to keep working on making a positive difference and paying it forward.

Bad Boss or a Bad Job Fit? (Chris Young, Rainmaker Group)

Chris poses an interesting question here: are you certain your workplace problems are caused by having a crummy boss, or is the root cause that the wrong person was hired for the job? He proposed a three-step process to find the answer.

4 Big Reasons to Kill Your Weekly Status Meeting (Art Petty, Management Excellence)

Time is money. Relationships are the new currency of workplace. If you’re a boss and value both time and relationships, read Art’s post before you schedule your next staff meeting.

Quote of the week:  “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” ~Art Turock



Super-Charge Your Leadership with These Two Words

“What do I want most from my boss?” reflected Bill. “A simple thank you would make my day. When he hired me, my boss told me it would take at least two years to turn around the department. I’ve done it in a little more than a year. Would it hurt him to acknowledge what I’ve done?”

Many of us share the same yearning — for our boss to say thank you for a job well-done or to give us a pat on the back for going above and beyond. A recent study found that more than 50% of employees say their boss provides no recognition of any kind.

If you’re a boss, ask yourself when was the last time I told someone on my team thanks, you did a good job on the new product marketing campaign or I appreciate the thoughtful way you handled the Murphy account renewal. If it’s been more than a week, it’s time to get busy!

If your boss is stingy with recognition and saying thanks, there’s little that you can do to change your boss’s behavior. However, you are in complete control of what you do in providing recognition for your employees. You don’t have to be what’s happened to you or how you’ve been treated.

Become a recognition role model

  • If you dream of your boss telling you what a great job you did on the recent budget rework, make it a point to tell one of your employees how impressed you were with something they did. Mention a specific body of work she handled and what you liked the best and why.
  • If you’ve been waiting and waiting for your boss to acknowledge the extra long hours you put to complete a special project, step out of your office right now and thank an employee who has done the same on an assignment you gave him. Tell him what his dedication meant to you and how it helped the organization.
  • If you’re pretty sure hades will freeze over before your boss thanks you for that great money-saving idea you put into practice, start your next staff meeting by recognizing the contributions of several team members. Wouldn’t that be a great way to start every staff meeting - shining the recognition light on team members who deserve a special call-out for their efforts?

Informal recognition that’s sincere, authentic and from the heart doesn’t cost a dime and reaps super-size dividends in employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity.

  • The book 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late based on Saratoga Institute studies of employee turnover reports that lack of recognition and inadequate communications were the top reasons employees gave for leaving their jobs.
  • A Towers Perrin Talent Report, Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement , reported that companies with employees who were highly engaged beat the average revenue growth in the business section by one percent, while companies with low engagement fell behind their business sector’s revenue growth by an average of 2 percent.

Drop the first “thank you recognition pebble” into your team’s “morale pool” and watch the positive ripples spread!

What say you?


Character, Giving Credit and Leadership Credibility

We’re guest posting over at the Lead Change blog today (where you’ll regularly find lots of good insights)!

Don’t you smile and feel good when accolades come your way? It’s incredibly gratifying to have your work be publicly acknowledged and praised. But what happens when you don’t deserve all the applause? When that “I” you used is really a “we?”

A small group of us had labored for months on a project to improve morale, performance and slowdown turnover in a particular facility. This assignment had been layered on top of already full task lists, yet it was a labor of love for most of the project team. Who can resist the lure of freedom to create whatever is needed to mend something so tattered and broken? Continue reading…




Just Get Up and Lead

Today’s thought-provoking and compassionate guest article is by Deborah Costello. She’s a teacher, Math department chair at Trinity Prep School in Winter Park, FL and a consultant for the College Board. Deb is passionate about human rights, peace, education, leadership, triathlon training, and most importantly family and friends. She believes that in the end all you need is love.

Are you a leader? Maybe you are a manager at work, an usher for your church, or the president of your bridge club. Hopefully you are the leader in your own home. Certainly you lead yourself. Many people struggle with the idea of leadership and conclude they just cannot do it. It’s too difficult or no one will want to follow them. I would suggest that this is not true. In fact there are leaders everywhere we look, people changing lives and making progress. They are neighborhood watch captains and Girl Scout leaders, community treasurers, and PTA presidents. But even if you don’t have a named position or a title, there are ways you can lead in your community that are meaningful and exciting, ways that enrich lives. Let me tell the story of a pair of such leaders.

On Valentine’s Day I showed up in a field outside an art museum with a couple hundred people I didn’t know. I had been invited by two women that I had met a few weeks earlier. The event was called, “The Human Heart: An OUTright Love-In.” Envisioned by Nicki Drumb four years ago, she and her wife, Rachel Gardiner sponsor this yearly Love-In to celebrate the strides that have been made over the past year toward marriage equality.

As I walked toward the field, I was greeted by a friendly stranger handing out red necklaces made of hearts. Another gave me a glow stick to combat the gathering darkness. A third came forward saying, “Your face looks familiar.” As we talked, she walked me down into the crowd. I eventually saw a few people I knew, but mostly it was strangers — men, women, couples, children, families — gathering together to celebrate a simple idea. Love. That’s all it was about. Celebrating the beauty, the wonder, the joy of love.

On the ground there was a giant heart, formed with candles, and we gathered there. A few people spoke, detailing the year’s events, sharing their own stories. Nicki and Rachel’s story helped me understand why people had come. That afternoon they had made their annual pilgrimage to the county clerk’s office. In the past they had tried to apply for a marriage license. This year they were hoping to have their existing license recognized, for they had recently married in New York City. They brought the pastor of their church and stood before the same clerk again this year, but her answer was the same. No. The state of Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages. This year the clerk mentioned that she would retire in five years. Rachel hopes they won’t still be visiting the county clerk in five years. Despite four years of rejection, she is hopeful. You can see it in her eyes.

As we lit the candles, one from another, and stood together forming a heart, I looked at the faces around me. There were no protestors shouting, no anger or frustration at what had not been accomplished. There was only a feeling of gathering strength, of bearing witness to love and knowing that the year to come would bring progress and setbacks, good news and bad. But no matter what, we would withstand it all and there was great cause for hope. These two women had led us all to this place and for a moment we stilled our stress and our sorrow, our too much and not enough. For a few moments we stood together, in love.

Rachel and Nicki are committed to each other and to helping others find the love that they so generously share. So they keep on. Each year the event grows a little bigger and more complicated. This year they included art submissions from local artists on the subject of love. We met afterward to support a local bar and a food truck outside that had provided a delicious feast. It seemed so simple from the outside, but I know there were a thousand details. Maybe this event doesn’t seem all that amazing. If so, then here’s your challenge. See if you can inspire a couple hundred people to show up in a field on Valentine’s Day and listen to you speak.

In the end, that’s all leadership really is, a little idea, a little commitment, a little hard work, a little time. There are so many ways that we could lead in our communities, our neighborhoods, our businesses. Everyday people do amazing things. Every day we all could do amazing things. And yet we don’t. Too busy. Too tired. Just too.

So if you are in that “too” camp and just can’t imagine a way to lead, start thinking. A good leader is a combination of three simple things; ability, integrity, and compassion. In some areas of our lives, each of us is all of these things. I’m asking you to dig into your heart, where your love lies, where your passions lie, and ask some simple questions.

What can I do? Can you share your ability and make a difference for someone else? Do you see a problem in your community that you could help solve? Are there needs in your neighborhood that are not being met? I find it impossible to believe that you do not see these things in the world.

Do I believe in my idea with all my heart? Can you support it and stand by it with honor? Do you know that by leading in this way you are making a difference? Can you stand up for what you believe and stick with it even in tough times? Are you true to your word? There’s your integrity.

Am I making things better? Will other people’s lives get better? Will you improve your community, raise awareness, offer opportunity, bring people together, or promote understanding? By leading with compassion, others will want to join you. We all long for a better place.

Nicki and Rachel have this incredible capacity to love and by sharing it in this way, have led others to a better day, a positive place where they can peacefully share a moment of compassion and love. Their community leadership inspired others to join them on Valentine’s Day. They were able to support local artists and businesses. Their event inspired me to tell their story. Perhaps it will inspire you to do a little leading for the Girl Scouts, to share your abilities with the neighborhood watch, to offer your compassion at the PTA meeting, to show your integrity as the community treasurer.

In the end, we are all surrounded by leadership. The best leaders have the ability to turn a difficult any day into an amazing every day. Just get up and lead.