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.



Can leaders be kind and show love?

I recently asked a male colleague for his thoughts on why so few women are included in the multitude of leadership guru/expert lists.*

Our fascinating exchange…

“Most women don’t write solely about leadership. They throw in other stuff that keeps them off those lists or doesn’t make them top of mind.”

So where do they go wrong in your view?

“I’m going to use you as an example. When you write about leadership, you throw in that phrase about using your heart to lead. That’s getting outside the parameters of leadership.” 

How so?

“Leaders — and remember, Jane, this is just my opinion — set direction and define the vision. They create alignment. They play the devil’s advocate and identify problems. Leaders manage change. They motivate people and develop other leaders.”

Nothing there I disagree with. Wouldn’t using one’s heart come into play with most or all of those items?

“Not really.”

It seems to me there’s lots of room for caring, and dare I say, love, in executing those responsibilities.

“That’s where you and most of the other women, and even some men, go wrong when you write and consult about leadership. You have to leave love out of it. I know you’re not talking about romantic love, but you are talking about affection and fondness. Leadership is about business, about economics, about getting the job done. People who focus on those things are the ones who get included in the lists you asked about.”

That’s an interesting perspective. So what about kindness and compassion. Is there room for that in leadership in your view?

“You know I don’t advocate or support abusing people or being mean to them. No good leader stands for that happening.”

Of course.

“I’m just saying that no one’s performance gets evaluated on kindness or compassion.”

True, but don’t you think it’s time for some of that to change?

“Jane, I’m just telling you the way it is, which I know isn’t the way you want it to be. Enough said?”

Enough said.

Wow! Today is Valentine’s Day, so I’m inviting all leaders — especially those with big job titles and formal organizational chart power — to bring a little kindness and compassion (and dare I say love) into your interactions today (and tomorrow). Focusing on both task and relationship, rather than focusing on one over the other, pays big dividends in lots of ways both large and small.



*This list certainly isn’t scientific nor representative of scads of exhaustive research! It’s what popped out in a quick Google search. 1 out of 25 on World’s Top 25 Leadership Gurus. 4 out of 50 on October 2011 Top 50 Leadership Experts to Follow on Twitter. 18 out of 100 on NeverMind Awards 2011 – Top 100.  5 out of 12 pickers in selecting the top leader of 2011 on the Washington Post.




Leadership Friday Favs 12.9.11

Our Friday leadership favorites are an eclectic collection of articles, blog posts, quotes, pod casts and whatever else engages our interest. Some items are recent, others aren’t. Some are mainstream, others are off the beaten path. Enjoy! Be inspired!

The Tentacles of Our Ways – Why Change is So Hard (Lisa Haneberg, Management Craft)

Change is a required constant in our lives that never gets easier. We love what Lisa has to say: “Think nonlinear. Think messy. Think terrier-like persistence required here. Think wonderfully human and the hardest work you will ever love.”

How Do You Balance Networking and Managing Your Biz? (Keith Ferrazzi on Keith Ferrazzi)

Grab a cup of coffee and watch/listen to this informative video if you’re struggling to determine where on your priority list networking should be. Enough said!

The Ringelmann Effect (George Brymer, The Vital Integrities Blog)

The BIG team loves to learn something new, and that something new this week was this! “When working on a team project, perhaps you’ve observed that while you’re pulling your weight some others in the group are loafing. Researchers call that phenomenon the Ringelmann Effect.”

Taking What You Don’t Deserve, CEO Style (John Hunter, Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog)

Ready, aim, fire! John takes aim at overly generous CEO compensation (the dollar amounts in his table are staggeringly high) and asks some very pointed questions…that need to be asked.

A Big Lesson (Amy Diederich on Start BIG)

A story of caring and redemption! First Amy recounts one awful day and how she took it out on everyone. Then she shares what she learned from her “bad mood hangover.” Priceless!

A quote that filled us with hope! “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”  ~Jack Layton

Here’s to using your head to manage and your heart to lead!


Leadership Friday Favs 4.22.11

Because I see so much great content in doing my job (what a delicious perk!), I’ve started sharing the highlights - a short-cut for you to have access to leadership information you may not have the time to look up but might be interested in knowing.

Happy reading!

From Breakfast Table to Boardroom: Ask for What You Want (Melissa J. Anderson on The Glass Hammer)

Lois Frankel, PhD, and negotiation expert Carol Frohlinger, JD, say “if women are to lead fulfilling lives, they must know and ask for what they want – in the professional and personal space.” Identifying what you want ahead of time, doing your homework, preparing for contingencies, and tactfully yet firmly asking for what you want are foundational steps for successful negotiating…regardless of gender.

VC CONFESSION: “I Have Doubts Once I Think Of Women Founders Having Kids And Being Distracted From Work” (Post by Paige Craig on Business Insider)

What a fascinating interesting post, and wow what comments! A male angel investor “confesses” his second thoughts about supporting a start-up after learning one of the female founders was pregnant. All the “take care” and “take charge” stereotypes come into play in either the post or the comments.

Six Extras that Build Power and Leadership (Harvard Business Review blog by Rosabeth Moss Kanter @rosabethmosskanter)

All too often, power gets defined through its negative connotation…an unfortunate outcome. In this thought-provoking piece, Kanter highlights six building blocks for what I call win-win power: being a good colleague, connecting people, being a giver, framing issues, commitment and diplomacy.

7 Types of Power in the Workplace  (HR Bartender post by Sharlyn Lauby @hrbartender)

This power post has staying power! “…it’s important to realize that power exists in all of us. It’s also possible that you have different kinds of power with different groups or situations.” Written over a year ago, it continues to draw comments. Short, sweet and to the point.

Quote of the week: “When the ego and thinking are treated as the same thing, there is a reluctance to be wrong and a need to defend a point of view rather than to explore the situation. A person should be able to treat his thinking much as a tennis player treats his strokes: he should be able to walk off the court complaining that his backhand was not working very well on that occasion or that it required more practice.” ~Edward De Bono


LOVE in a Business Blog Post?

Today’s guest post is by Kevin Eikenberry, author, speaker, trainer, consultant, and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group . His new book, co-authored with Guy Harris, From Bud to Boss – Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership  launched on February 15, 2011.

heart candies

February is the love month – the month of St. Valentine, of cupid and perhaps of memories of Valentine’s Days past. Personally, I like it because I love the original Necco brand heart candies.  But I digress.

Why would we talk about love in an issue of a professional/business/leadership blog post?

Most people might shy away from this topic.  I mean, love isn’t a business topic, is it?

If we could read the hypothetical blogs of shop and business owners and their hypothetical consultants prior to the Industrial Revolution, I believe we would have read lots about love in business and the workplace.   While businesses and professions were passed down generation to generation, I believe that most of the time for the most part, people loved their work.  They cared about their customers.  They believed in the importance of what they were doing.

As technology and mechanization increased, the nature and context of work changed significantly.  One natural outgrowth was the size of organizations.  Now companies grew larger and more people came to work in a centralized place.   Fast forwarding to late in the 1800’s, people like Fredrick Taylor, the founder of Scientific Management, moved organizations forward through the systematic observation and understanding of working systems so they could be improved.   This was important work, and work that in many ways led to the supposed removal of emotion from the workplace.     Zoom forward again to the Quality work of pioneers like Deming, Juran, and others, and you will see the furtherance of the focus on the work output, process improvement and productivity gain (and this focus, though not the intent of these thinkers, often lead to the further reduction of the perceived value of emotion in the workplace).

Look around today and you will see that the world of work continues to evolve.  While there are still many very historically large organizations (which you may work in), organizations are generally getting smaller (and overwhelming, smaller more agile organizations have higher productivity, profitability and create more jobs).   More and more of the conversation in organizations is about the importance of things like pride, caring for customers, engaging employees and much more.

Head & heart in the workplace

Pride, caring, and engagement.  These and many other current topics are thinly veiled attempts to talk about the importance of the emotional component of the workplace.   Love.  Passion. Belief.   These concepts have been important in all forms of work and commerce since the beginning of time.   These aren’t “new-age” concepts, nor are they important only to the authors who write about them and the speakers who speak about them.

Organizations are made up of people.  And people, generally speaking, haven’t changed.  We all have the same basic wants, needs and desires.   This isn’t a newer generation issue or a passing fad.  People are people are people, and people have been around far longer than organizations.   Organizations of the size and complexity we now see are a relatively new phenomenon.  We are still learning, and recognizing that the true power of the organization is the people inside those organizations. The lessons we are learning – the lessons we need to heed and master as leaders - are at the heart of long term organizational success.

Passion.  Caring.  Service.  Pride.  Belief. Fun. Engagement.

L-O-V-E.  Don’t make that a four letter word in your organization.

Happy LOVE Month.


Workplace Rx: A Little More Love

Today’s Valentine post is a mash-up - part love letter, part rant!

Three out five people trust a stranger more than they trust their boss.

While doing some research, I discovered a 2009 study done by the HEC School of Management, Paris and the CEMS (Community of European Management Schools). Both institutions were selected by the editors at the Harvard Business Review to study Managing Talent in Troubled Times with a group of 200 CEOs.  A survey on topics discussed at the CEO forum was opened for general feedback. That’s the source for that disturbing statistic:

*3 out of 5 people trust a stranger more than they trust their own boss*

Across my corporate career, I’ve spent time in both the 3 out of 5 majority AND the 2 out of 5 minority.

On the low trust/no love side. I worked for a firm that was acquired by a larger organization. The new company’s CEO and his senior staff flew out on their corporate jet to meet us, the senior leadership team.  The meeting was perfectly lovely — all the right words were spoken, bread was broken, and commitments to integrity and collaboration were made. 

I needed to be at the corporate headquarters of the acquiring company the next day, so the CEO invited me to fly back with them and avoid the hassle of a commercial flight. More loveliness.

The loveliness evaporated at about 20,000 feet as the CEO and his team verbally disemboweled nearly everyone they had met. They didn’t seem to care that those people were my trusted colleagues nor that their mid-air comments were quite at odds with the genial words spoken over dinner. As it turned out, the culture of the new firm was to “smile-and-back-stab.”  I didn’t stay long.

When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.  ~Betty Bender

On the high trust/high love side.  I feel fortunate to have experienced the six years I worked for Lyle.  Lyle was the senior vice president for a region with nearly 3000 employees. Employee morale was off the charts high, so was productivity.  And. drumroll please, the profit margin was 60%, plus or minus a point or two, every single year.

Lyle’s standards and expectations were high. He offered praise. He regularly treated at lunch (especially on the days when the little diner around the corner served liver and onions).  He knew when to push and when to pull.  He defined the results he expected you to produce and challenged you to do even better.

Lyle didn’t hesitate to kick butt.  He kicked butt because he cared about the organization AND about us.  We all knew he had our best interests at heart.  He candidly told us how to be better - right to our face. And he left our self-esteem intact. Lyle wanted his employees to do, and be, their best. We would have followed him off the cliff.

The big firm with the corporate jet had no trust, no love and 10% profit margins.

Lyle built trust, wasn’t afraid to love and delivered 60% profit margins.

That kinda says it all, doesn’t it?


Corporate soul and raspberry kool-aid

After spending 20+ years in Corporate America, I left before totally losing my soul. The relentless focus on the bottom line and the you’re-only-as-good-as-your-last-set-of-numbers mentality extracted a toll, only part of which was visible.

I was surprised by the length of my “corporate detox” period and, in fact, that it was even necessary.  I expected a transition — moving from a Fortune 100 VP position to being a first-time entrepreneur is a hefty leap!  I knew I had changed over the years:  a gal raised in the Midwest had much to learn, and needed to learn it fast, being the only woman on several leadership teams. Over the years, I resisted drinking the kool-aid, to the delight of some bosses and the chagrin of others.

In my “corporate detox” I discovered that I had sipped some of that kool-aid over the years, inoculating myself to some realities that didn’t become clear until I no longer sat in the corner office.  An executive coach friend introduced me to the work of David Whyte, poet and author.  One of his books, The Heart Aroused, Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, became a favorite.

I was particularly intrigued by David’s concept of the five “courageous conversations” a good leader (one interested in the art and discipline of leadership as David phrased it) should be having.

1. The first leadership conversation is with the unknown future.  Frequently ask yourself: Am I prepared, both personally and professionally, for what is coming?

2. The second leadership conversation is with customers, vendors, employees, etc., who represent the organization’s future. Ask these people:  What can we do for you? How can we serve?

3.The third leadership conversation occurs with different parts of the organization.  You should be asking these groups: How can we collaborate to create positive outcomes for our customers and shareholders while fostering employee engagement?

4.The fourth leadership conversation is held with your work group and colleagues.  Be asking these people: How can I best communicate and team up with you to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes?

5. And the last leadership conversation—the one on which all others are predicated—is the conversation with that “tricky moveable frontier called yourself.”  Ask yourself:  Am I living my purpose and passion every day?

Powerful stuff, isn’t it? I wonder — had I had these five conversations on a regular basis, would my stay in Corporate America have been shorter, or would it still be happening?  Hmmm….

What say you?


Opening doors with creativity and chocolate

Cartoon, Beacon Learning

In a cost saving move, two divisions of a national firm in two adjoining states were merged; one division large, the other much smaller.  Aggie was selected to lead the marketing department for the new, larger division. Her appointment surprised many people given that she worked in the smaller division and had been with the organization far less time than Nancy, the head of marketing in the larger division. How Aggie handled the transition was a creative and positive leadership lesson.

The twelve marketing department members in the former large division made no secret that they were prepared to dislike Aggie and would give her the brush-off when she came to meet them. They said it didn’t matter that they had never met her. They said what mattered was that Nancy’s seniority hadn’t been honored which was how things used to be.

It was meeting day. Aggie arrived with thirteen boxes, all beautifully wrapped and adorned with large bows. She asked her twelve new direct reports to join her in the conference room. 

“Hi all, I’m Aggie, and delighted to meet all of you. I’m seriously hoping that you like chocolate candy as much as I do! Let’s spend the afternoon enjoying chocolates and getting to know one another. I’ll go first.”

Ellen bit into a chocolate, then smiled. She spent the next fifteen minutes describing her background; her hopes and joys, what made her smile and what made her frown; her favorite foods, colors and places to visit; and the antics of her two small children. There was no mention of marketing and mergers.

One by one, each of the twelve followed suit - savoring chocolates from the shared box and sharing about their life. Several hours later, each knew their colleagues better; and all thoughts of disliking Aggie were gone.

Each one took home a box of chocolates, filled with hope that their new leader was definitely the right choice to lead them into the future of this newly merged organization.

Have you encountered a similar circumstance? What did you do to win folks over so you could get down to business on friendlier terms?