5 things character-based leaders do

I’m guest posting over at the Lead Change Group blog today!

I’ve long believed life isn’t an either/or choice but rather an array of both/and opportunities.

One place where the either/or versus both/and orientation shows up in stark contrast is in working with people to produce outcomes, whether it’s at work, at home, in the community, etc.

Some individuals have an intense heads-down focus on delivering a finished task. Others prefer to build camaraderie and esprit de corps.

A welcome few understand all work gets done by and through people. They practice the art and science of delivering solid results and developing/maintaining relationships by using their heads to manage and their hearts to lead. Continue reading…

Photo credit:  Scenic Reflections



3 Crucial Leadership Connections

Does your life and work schedule resemble the landing strip at O’Hare or LaGuardia airports - so much incoming activity that there’s no time for anything else? No time to think or reflect or connect. (Sometimes, in my first act of life, there was hardly time to go to the bathroom!)

In today’s crazy busy world we connect with technology frequently, spending lots of time interacting with a device (Crackberry, anyone?). Yet it’s connecting with real people that brings genuine success and satisfaction to our personal and professional lives. And making those people connections requires that we be thoughtful in seeing, and seizing, the opportunities to “only connect” as E.M. Forester says.

You’re 1/12 into a new year. Are you as connected with others as you’d like to be?

If not, use this three-pronged approach as your guide to making the other 11/12 of the year rich with quality connections.

Connect with you

If your personal reservoir is empty, there isn’t much to share with others. Re-engage with what’s important to you. Psychologist Daniel Goleman’s work with emotional intelligence is a helpful place to start:

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.

Getting in touch with what we fail to notice – about ourselves and others – is a crucial first step to establishing powerful connections.

  • What’s my personal and professional north, and am I still on track?
  • What worthwhile things have I done today that I will continue doing?
  • Whose life did I touch today and help make it better?
  • What one thing, big or small, did I do today to renew my energy and increase my knowledge and/or skills?

Connect with colleagues, co-workers, the barista who makes your daily latte

Make the time - or schedule it if that works for you - so you’re spending five quality minutes with a direct report, colleague, client, vendor, assistant and on and on. Establishing relationships with those around you at work – at every level within the organization and externally as well – is a make-or-break element for career success.

  • Ask “how are you doing today?” Then really listen to the answer and ask follow-up questions.
  • Say thank you. Throw in a smile for good measure.
  • Celebrate an accomplishment. Chocolate is one of the four food groups!
  • Ask them about sports, their kids, a favorite TV show, etc. Explore, discover and share interests to build a bond.

Connect with your boss

Some bosses are the scourge of the earth, others just delightful. Either way, engage him or her in a meaningful exchange. Your boss can propel your career to new heights or hold you back behind your back. Aim for the propelling part.

  • Ask  if there’s some way you can help out.
  • Ask him about his family or favorite book so you can establish some common ground and shared interests.
  • Ask her where she sees her career going and what will help her succeed.

Make making meaningful connections a goal, a habit, a way of life!



Peeking inside part 2

If you aspire to be the kind of leader who uses their head to manage and their heart to lead, getting your interactions with others right depends first on getting you right. And getting you right requires both introspection (casting a caring yet clinically objective eye on your interests, skills, qualities and values) and self-awareness (a non-judgmental understanding of how you respond, react, engage and interact).

Know your early warning signs for being over-stressed. Do you withdraw? Shout? Reach for chocolate? Be alert to your reactions and take control of the situation before you go into melt-down (and lash out at others or eat six candy bars).

You cannot prevent the birds of worry and care from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building a nest in your head. ~Proverb

Know if you over- or under-estimate your capabilities.  Whichever way you lean, build the appropriate variances into your schedule and viewpoint. Give others a heads-up on your natural inclinations (or maybe they already know from past experience!) so they’re prepared.

Know your default settings. Is your natural preference one of straight-forward telling? Asking 20 questions? Advocating? Writing rather than talking? Is your default a strength, or has it become a weakness due to over-use? Ask folks around you and find out.

Know your style of humor. Whether your humor is subtle, sly or raucous, know what makes you laugh. And do it often.

Know your fears. Poke around in what makes you afraid and understand why you fear it. Is your fear rooted in a lack of confidence or knowledge or loss of control? Can you (and others) live with it, or must it be tackled and tamed?

Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it. ~John Putnam, Jr.

Know your passions. Glory in those things that make your heart sing and your eyes light up. Share them, too!

Know your  idiosyncrasies. What little quirks make you unique, or could possibly make people crazy? I love pens - old ones, new ones, luxurious ones, cheap ones. I’ve never met a pen I didn’t like and have baskets full of them, a constant source of good-hearted amusement (thank goodness) for my hubby.

The point of getting to know yourself is not to be self-centered, but rather to build an emotionally intelligent foundation for working and interacting effectively with others. Let’s make it so!

(You’ll find more insights in part one here.)


Power: Force of Nature or Free Will?

Warning: mini-rant ahead, proceed at your own risk!

The tornado that hit Joplin, MO or the recent flooding along the Mississippi - those are forces over which we have little to no control.

It’s not the same with power. Not the same at all.

Recently, the media has been full of stories of people (mostly men) in high places exploiting their power in very despicable ways.

As I see it, these individuals chose to abuse their personal or professional power, or both. At some point, they opted to believe they were more special, more privileged and hence above the rules applicable to us lesser mortals. Power, office politics and countless other topics are labeled as corrupt, evil and something to be avoided because someone elected to apply them in a ‘I win, you lose’ manner. By definition power isn’t bad. Like office politics, it becomes bad in the self-centered and self-serving way some people choose to use it.

Power, in and of itself, does not corrupt absolutely…unless ones chooses to let that be the outcome.

What say you?

Whew…stepping back from the edge, mini-rant over…looking forward to what you have to say!

What’s your fabulocity quotient?

Why is so darn easy to focus on what we lack or don’t have or can’t do, and manage to overlook all the positive elements we have and can offer to others??

We see possibilities in others, but do we ever dream of the possibilities within ourselves?  ~Unknown

I was speaking with a client who spent several minutes bemoaning (and berating) her inability to prepare a pivot table in Excel, comparing herself to a colleague who could “whip up a pivot table in his sleep.”

“Does your job require that you prepare Excel pivot tables, ” I asked.

“Not really.”

“Is preparing pivot tables part of your colleague’s job duties?”

“Absolutely.  He’s our compensation director and has to do lots of analysis.”

“Does your colleague have your ability to craft compelling marketing messages?”

“No way,” she chuckled.  “He can hardly write an understandable email message!”

What Diane missed was her own fabulocity factor - the unique abilities that you bring to the table.  Many people go through life being way too hard on themselves, thinking and/or feeling that they’ve fallen short in too many ways. While it’s true that there are always things we could do better, it’s equally true that each one of us brings our own special gifts and talents that we should honor and appreciate more.

Positive self-esteem is the immune system of the spirit, helping an individual face life problems and bounce back from adversity. ~Nathaniel Branden

Too often we don’t inventory our special gifts and talents, considering ourselves just ordinary. So rather than begin the new year with a resolution — something that you have to start or stop doing — begin your year with a quick inventory of the special talents and gifts that you already have and continue doing.

Proudly make a list of your unique abilities. When you’re feeling inadequate, reread it.  Be mindful of what you have and can do.

“Mindfulness means noticing new things and drawing new conclusions, ” says professor of psychology Ellen Langer and author of  On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself through Mindful Creativity. “It doesn’t matter whether what you notice is smart or silly because the process of actively drawing new distinctions produces that feeling of engagement we all seek. It’s much more available than you realize: all you need to do is actually notice new things. More than 30 years of research has shown that mindfulness is figuratively and literally enlivening.”

Being mindful of your fabulocity* isn’t bragging – it’s acknowledging and recognizing that you’re special.

*Kudos to my dear friend, Taide Alvarez, for inventing this fabulous word and letting me use it!



Lost Your Leadership Wings?

The clerk in the beach souvenir shop had sad eyes and a timeworn look yet was quite willing to talk.


 She described her “former life” as having been a “rock star” within her industry, a “force to be reckoned with” for 25 years.  Then her company changed hands.

The new management team measured success in ways that Jocelyn could not nor would not accept. She openly confronted her superiors, determined to convince them she was right. She declined all offers to discuss compromises or even to better understand the new measures, saying that the newcomers should be willing to listen to her counsel that was rooted in years of experience.

Jocelyn said she was shocked the day they let her go, said she never saw it coming.

Given a generous severance package and the services of an executive coach, she had the luxury of time. Jocelyn and the coach met weekly for three months. During those 90 days, Jocelyn said the coach did not have one acceptable idea for her to try. The coach reluctantly agreed to a second 90-day period.

After six months, Jocelyn said there still wasn’t any job offers or any other employment options that were acceptable given her former status. So she stopped seeing the coach and moved to the beach town where she had enjoyed vacations as a child. Ten years later, she is still in that little town, spending her days as a clerk in the souvenir shop.

The shopper asks Jocelyn if she had thought about volunteering, being a mentor, even teaching. Jocelyn’s whispered answer: “no, it’s just easier this way.”

Do you know any leaders who have lost their wings? What advice would you offer them?


Do feelings have a place in business?

“I don’t consider your blog a business blog,”  he said.

“Why not?” she inquired.

“Because you write about behaviors, relationships and understanding yourself. Those aren’t business topics,” he explained.

Goodness, how insightful!

And how true, given how men and women approach the world from different perspective.  These differences are thoughtfully explored in  The Female Vision by Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson.

Their book opens with a story describing how Jim and Jill respond to a meeting in which the sales reps receive information about new sales quotas:

  • Jim goes right into action, assessing how the targets can be met.
  • Jill shares her observation that a key team member appeared disconnected, even depressed, by the topic.  She’s concerned by his reaction since his support is vital to meeting the new targets.
  • Jim thinks Jill’s comment is irrelevant. Jill senses his disinterest and backs off.

Dr. Mary O’Malley, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist who works with executive women, notes “women often have difficulty defending the value of what they see in part because the traditional workplace is not necessarily structured to recognize subjective observation.”

In both my corporate career and current entrepreneurial role, I’ve seen countless business situationsand/or business careers go awry because feelings weren’t factored in or due to a supreme lack of EQ (with both men and women being the culprits). I’m betting you’ve seen it, too.

It takes two to tango: logic and emotion, quantitative and qualitative, masculine and feminine power, head and heart, subjective and objective, chocolate and peanut butter.

So, I’ll continue to write (and teach and coach and speak) about relationships, behaviors and self-awareness…and maybe, some day, the traditional workplace will have become a little non-traditional.

What’s your view?



DIY Leadership

 I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

  ~Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson

Effective leaders use their heads to manage and their hearts to lead.  If you aspire to be that kind of leader, getting your interactions with others right depends on you getting you right – first.

And getting you right requires:

  • introspection: casting a caring yet clinically objective eye on your interests, skills, qualities and values; and
  • self-awareness: a non-judgmental understanding of how you respond, react, engage and interact.

Getting to know what makes you tick requires a super-sized serving of fortitude because sometimes that mirror reflects self truths we’d prefer not to know.  It’s much easier to point a finger at the management teams of BP, Toyota, Lehman Brothers and on and on and declare that their leadership practices need to change.  That’s really tackling the 800 pound gorilla!  A gorilla that’s of a scale and scope beyond our reach.

Yet what is within our reach is stopping to consider our very own leadership legacy. Is it a good story? A bad story? A so-so story that could be better?  If so, that’s an 800 pound gorilla that can be conquered one bite at a time. Get connected to what goes on in your head and your heart, and then use that wisdom and knowledge to connect with, lead and inspire others.

5 do-it-yourself leadership improvement bites to chew on

  1. Know your hot buttons.  Get familiar with what sets you off and build some fail-safe processes ahead of time.  One of my hot buttons is missed deadlines, especially those that come and go without advance notice that there’s a problem.  My workaround has been to use a two-part ground rule that’s communicated early on:  deadlines are jointly negotiated and a heads-up regarding barriers to completion is an expected practice and courtesy from all involved.
  2. Know how you learn.  Do you learn best by doing? Reading? Touching? Seeing? Noodling it over? Tailor your own practices to fit your style.  Share those insights with those around you so they don’t have to waste time guessing.
  3. Know your top five values. Many life and career mistakes – and heartache – can be avoided if you make/take the time to inventory those principles that are “must haves” in your life. Understanding your values becomes a yardstick against which you assess what you do. Taking a wrong-fit job will become a thing of the past as will feeling unfulfilled and disengaged.
  4. Know what you’re really good at doing.  Get a firm grip on your strengths and put yourself in situations where you can maximize them (without over-playing them).
  5. Know what personal skills you lack. Knowing your weaknesses is real strength. If you’re an introvert and meeting strangers makes your stomach knot up, the nonprofit job you’re considering that requires you to regularly network with community leaders to raise funds probably has a skill gap between your preferences and the job requirements that’s too large to bridge successfully and/or comfortably. Spending time “correcting” your weakness isn’t the best use of your time, just use this knowledge to guide yourself into situations where your strengths take center stage.

I’m fond of saying that real leaders think more about we and less about me. To get to that thoughtfully self-aware position, focus first on yourself, and get firmly grounded in your own emotional intelligence so you can be successful in leading others.

I’m gonna make a change,
For once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right . . .

~Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson