A climate for creativity

Art by Sarah Loft

Stories can teach us powerful lessons about life, love and leadership, and this one, The Little Boy (author unknown),  does just that…

Once a little boy went to school. One day his teacher said; ‘Today we are going to make a picture’.

‘Good!’ Thought the little boy. He liked to make pictures and he could make pictures of all kinds, lions and tigers, chickens and cows, trains and boats. He took out his box of crayons and began to draw.

But the teacher said, ‘Wait! It’s not time to begin!’ And she waited until everyone looked ready. ‘Now.’ said the teacher. ‘We are going to make flowers’.

‘Good’ thought the little boy. He liked to make flowers and began to make beautiful ones with his pink and orange and blue crayons.

But the teacher said ‘Wait, I will show you how’. And it was red with a green stem. ‘There’ said the teacher, ‘now you may begin’.

The little boy looked at the teacher’s. Then he looked at his own flower. He liked his own flower better than the teacher’s but he did not say this. He just turned his paper over and made a flower like the teacher’s. It was red with a green stem.

On another day, when the little boy had opened the door from the outside all by himself. The teacher said ‘Today we are going to make something with clay’.

‘Good!’ thought the little boy. He liked to make snakes and snowmen, elephants and mice, cars and trucks and he began to pull and pinch his ball of clay.

But the teacher said, ‘Wait! It is not time to begin!’ and she waited until everyone looked ready. ‘Now’ said the teacher ‘we are going to make a dish’.

The little boy liked to make dishes. He began to make some that were all shapes and sizes.

But the teacher said,’ Wait!’ ‘I will show you how’ and she showed everyone how to make one deep dish. ‘There’ said the teacher ‘now you may begin’.

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish and then he looked at his own. He liked his dishes better than the teacher’s but he did not say this. He just rolled his clay into a big ball again and made a dish just like the teacher’s. It was a deep dish and pretty soon the little boy learned to wait and to watch and to make things just like the teacher and pretty soon he didn’t make things of his own any more.

Then it happened, that the little boy and his family moved to another house in another city and the little boy had to go to another school and the very first day he was there the teacher said, ‘Today we are going to make a picture’. ‘Good!’ thought the little boy and he waited for the teacher to tell him what to do but the teacher didn’t say anything she just walked around the room. When she came to the little boy she said, ‘Don’t you want to make a picture?’

‘Yes’ said the little boy.

‘What are you going to make? ‘Said the teacher.

‘I don’t know until you make it’ said the little boy.

‘Why, any way you like’ said the teacher.

‘Any color?’ asked the boy.

‘Any color,’ said the teacher. ‘If everyone makes the same picture and used the same colors how would I know who made what and which was which?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the little boy, and he began to make a red flower with a green stem.


Influence - A Leader’s Energy Drink


Positive Influence by Methec

Do you ever feel envious of that successful work colleague who’s connected to everyone, whose projects and budgets get approved, and whose opinions are actively sought out because people want to know what they think? Don’t waste time being jealous. Rather, focus on improving your abilities in the art and science of influence.

Whether at work or in your personal life, your ability to make an appeal (to influence) based on logic, emotion or a sense of cooperation is essential for success. Influence and leadership are related in that anyone, regardless of having a job title or not, can be proficient at them. Influence is critical for building relationships, securing support (especially when you don’t have direct control), persuading other people to champion your idea, or when you need to spark someone’s imagination.

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. ~Kenneth Blanchard

People with first-rate influence skills combine interpersonal, communication and assertiveness abilities. The intent of influence is to build a network of win-win interaction between people, not to control or manipulate them.

To determine how effective your ability to influence is, ask yourself:

  • Do I get results through and with people, even when I’m not the boss?
  • Do I have the personal power to shape outcomes and cause things to happen?
  • Do people seek out my opinion?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, polishing up your skills in the following areas will help you increase your sphere of influence.

Become a perceptive observer. Watch what’s going on in your company or around you at home or with friends. Individuals with strong influencing skills examine, ask and validate.

Be knowledgeable and have a bias for action. If you want to have an impact on results, know your organization and its culture, as well as your job, inside and out. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Under-promise and over-deliver on timelines for getting things accomplished.

Note to self: finding a cool quote and writing it in your journal is not a substitute for Getting. It. Done. ~Betsy Cañas Garmon

Be visible by engaging and involving others. Actively listen to what people are saying. People who have highly developed influence skills first pull people to their ideas, and then push those ideas to the rest of the organization through other people.

Be self-aware. Understand and control your own emotions and actions. Know both your limitations and your strengths, and then position yourself to maximize what you do best.

Give, give, GIVE! When you give, people will give back. Never underestimate someone’s heartfelt desire to leave a positive mark. Make your own constructive contribution while seeing, and appreciating, the gifts of others.

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference. ~Tom Brokaw

Cultivate meaningful two-way relationships. Help before someone asks. Say thank you. Be there when people need you. Be a broker of ideas and information. People like to be around those who make positive things happen.

Be sincere and authentic. Approach situations seeking to find a mutually beneficial outcome; avoid the “I win, you lose” mentality. Assure that your words and your deeds are consistent and rooted in goodness. As Herminia Ibarra, a professor at the Harvard Business School says, “Integrity can be a source of power.”


Leadership Friday Favs 8.26.11

Photo by Armstrong Roberts

Listen for the laughter (Wally Bock on Three Star Leadership)

It’s short, sweet and to the point: the workplace needs more laughter. Well said, Wally!

Eat Your Peas, And Do 10 Of These (Some Leadership Castor Oil) (Terry Starbucker)

Maybe it was the push from the impending hurricane, but we were into brevity and spot-on focus this week. Terry offers up both in his list of ten leadership that might not be the most glamorous yet are essential. “There are a lot of ‘peas’ out there that we have to just ‘eat’, because if we don’t, our leadership will suffer. It’s our Castor Oil – it doesn’t go down easy, but the dividends will make it all worth it.”

Women “Take Care”, Men “Take Charge”: Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed (2005 Catalyst Report)

For the past year, Dr. Anne Perschel (@bizshrink) and I have been partnering to conduct research into business women and their relationship with power. To-date we’ve canvassed 227 business women regarding their views about the topic. (We’re getting very, very close to releasing our white paper.) We referenced this study from Catalyst in doing our work. Catalyst analyzed ten essential behaviors required of corporate leaders to understand where women leaders are vulnerable to stereotyping. A fascinating read!

The Best Investment You’ll Ever Make (Whitney Johnson on HBR Blog Network)

Another concise post! Whitney makes a poignant appeal for leaders to stamp out pessimism. She offers several suggestions for balancing a focus on both task completion and relationship building. “One of the best ways to invest in the people who work for us and with us is to give them an opportunity to attain their fullest stature.”

Our quote of the week: “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” ~Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


Leadership Friday Favs 8.19.11

Leading Again for the First Time (Chris Souba, Dean The Ohio State University [go bucks!] Journal of Surgical Research 157, 139–153, 2009)

It’s all here: getting your identity all confused with your role, telling yourself empowering and/or disempowering stories, being mindful of your mental hard drives (what a great turn of phrase!), interpretative versus evidence-based decision-making, and even two views of reality. All great stuff as a either a primer or a review, depending upon where you are in your leadership journey. “The sustainability and ‘thrive-ability’ of our organizations, societies, nations, and world rest on changing the way we currently think.”

Roadmap to a life that matters (HBR post by Umair Haque)

Having spent a big chunk of the last year researching business and power, the folks at BIG believe the fabric of business is badly frayed. Umair’s piece filled us with peace…and hope and joy. “More, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier has built an economy that might just be in furious pursuit of mediocrity. Put what, why, and who you love ahead of what, why, and who you don’t, and your roadmap will begin to write itself.”

The Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ Blog Picks of the Week (Chris Young, The Rainmaker Group, Maximize Possibility)

OK, OK, including a collection of posts in a collection of posts is perhaps a tad odd. However, there’s such thoughtful content here that touches several of our hot buttons that we couldn’t resist! Insights on employee engagement, leadership values, job autonomy, ethical behavior and more. If you’re a leader looking for a few topics to introduce a thoughtful discussion in a staff meeting, those topics are here.

When You’re Thrown Off Course... (Jesse Lyn Stoner)

It’s been another volatile week on the stock market. The evening news is full of doom and gloom stories. You feel your attitude meter starting to dip southward. If your outlook could use a “pick-me-up,” you’ll appreciate Jesse’s telling of Terry Fox’s story. It’s a true tale of leadership, resilience and spirit. Warning: be prepared to be inspired!

Quote of the week. Gotta love this point of view!

A pessimist, they say, sees a glass as being half empty; an optimist sees the same glass as half full. But a giving person sees a glass of water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty. ~G. Donald Gale


Change - 3 tips for bringing others along with you

When we moved into our lowcountry home three years ago, the side yard was beautifully shaded with quintessentially southern crepe myrtle and magnolia trees belonging to our neighbor. Given that they lived here only a few months of the year, I felt privileged to enjoy the beauty of their landscaping year-round. Taking their lead, I fulfilled my gardening zest by planting lots of shade-loving flowers and shrubs.

All that changed recently. Crews with chain saws leapt through their yard, taking down tree after tree - including those beautiful myrtles and magnolias. What a loss…and what a difference. My shade-loving plants soon began withering and dying, unable to withstand the heat and light.

And here I am thinking about abrupt change, and the ripple effects it causes.

Change is certainly a part of life and business, no denying that. Yet change imposed without notice and without warning increases the likelihood of resistance and pushback. If you’re a leader facing change, keep a few simple tips and pointers in mind to help your team navigate the bright light more easily and readily.

1) Communicate as much as you can - ahead of time. Bring people into the loop early in the process - both to secure their feedback (and insights you might not have considered) and to allow them time to begin the mental and emotional adjustment to what’s coming. They can handle it.

Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better. ~King Whitney Jr.

2) Explain why the change is happening. It’s so much easier to embrace change, or at least get aligned with it, when one knows the purpose and reasoning for altering the status quo. In the absence of facts, people create their own story - which may be totally accurate or completely off the mark.

Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history. ~Joan Wallach Scott

3) Embed the change. Structure the change process so there are some early, visible wins. Hold people accountable for using the new systems, models, skills, etc.  Have regular readouts on progress made, barriers overcome and tall buildings leapt in a single bound. Reward and recognize. Weave the new into the fabric of your culture.

If I have the belief that I can do it, I will surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning. ~Gandhi

Photo: Jessica Leigh

Seals, Sardines and Employee Satisfaction

“All you OD folks want to make things so difficult. Making my employees happy is simple. Just serve up pizza on Friday and you’re pretty much done with it.” ~Business Owner

Hey, everyone’s entitled to their opinions. And I disagree with this fellow!

Keeping employees motivated day-in and day-out isn’t the result of one-time events like parties, cookouts or passing out cupcakes on Tuesdays. Employees aren’t trained seals who will patty-cake to get their sardine!

Great leaders build a trusting and giving environment where employees motivate themselves because they feel valued, appreciated, and even loved!

  • Let your employees know you have their back.
  • Let employees make decisions.
  • Seek out and listen to their feedback.
  • Say I’m sorry and mean it.

And then pass out cupcakes on Tuesday and serve up pizza on Friday!

What’s your view? Do share!


Surviving and Thriving: 10 Simple Steps To Greater Resiliency, Empowerment, Happiness & Success

Today’s guest post is from Irene Becker, a fascinating woman of power who was the first female CEO of a Canadian steel company now turned author, consultant and speaker. Through her work at Just Coach It, Irene’s passion is to helping people work, communicate and lead smarter and happier.

1. Know and understand what you really want, and use it to build your self-confidence and self-esteem from the inside out. We are socialized to have goals and objectives, and even core beliefs and values that are often not our own. The journey to really HEAR our own voice, tap into our true purpose, get rid of false core beliefs and replace them with our true core beliefs and values is the road to building true potential, success and happiness.

2. Be the promise manager and CEO of your life. Do what you say, come through with the promises you make. Do not make a commitment that you cannot fulfill. Get rid of relationships with toxic people and frenemies who cannot ever really be trusted and whose values do not align with yours.

3. Lead with your Q strengths. Develop the whole brain thinking, emotional intelligence and spiritual strength to optimize your strengths while transforming stressors, changes and challenges into solutions that empower yourself and others.

4. Fail forward. Learn to use failures and challenges to build a positive sense of self. That’s right, practice seeing your failures with new eyes. Eyes that can help you use those failures and challenges to move forward faster, better and with greater confidence.

5. Take your ego out of the equation, stop personalizing. Refocus on your goal, your objective and your values.

6. Cultivate humor and optimism as often as you can. Take time each day for a good laugh. Yes, laugh it up. The research is in, and it is conclusive: laughter not only connects you with others, but it also helps strengthen the immune system and helps you tap into your right brain - your creative, communicative side. Find a way to incorporate humor and laughter into your day.

7. Take ME time - reflective time. One of the most important things you can do is find a window of opportunity each day to have ME time. Time that you spend with yourself, cultivating your relationship with YOURSELF. Me time is time when you need to nurture yourself, feel lovable and do something that helps you recharge, reconfigure and reboot your mind, body and soul.

8. Build constructive discontent - your ability to stay grounded in the head of an argument, and to feel unpleasant feelings and not be held hostage by them. That’s right, you can learn to develop your ability to feel an emotion and not be held hostage by it by learning to step back and ride the wave, by becoming the participant observer and letting the emotion pass by, just watching and refocusing on your true goals and objectives.

9. Stop reacting - start responding. No matter what happens, you have the choice to be the cause or the effect. When you react, you are been the effect; when you respond, you are being the cause. Developing your ability to respond is a learned skill that grows when you develop critical competencies like constructive discontent.

10. Find your happiness set point - your “J” spot (joy spot). Recapture the child and heart, and start to re-discover what really makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Once your survival needs have been met, material acquisitions are terrific, but they cannot and will not create sustainable fulfillment. Only you can work to re-discover what your joy factor - your happiness set point - is by doing things that will help you nurture and sustain your love of self from the inside out.




Coaching Challenge: Getting to Yes

Today’s guest post is from Jane Murphy, a partner in Giraffe Business Publishing LLC and Giraffe LLC, a consulting firm that designs custom solutions to help organizations improve the management capabilities of their people. Jane also leads Giraffe’s coaching engagements, working with clients to solve business and leadership challenges. Jane has been principal and co-founder of several publishing ventures, including KIDVIDZ, which won numerous awards for its special-interest videos. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation National Video Resources. She has co-authored several books, including “What could happen if you do nothing? A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.” Jane speaks and writes regularly about coaching in the workplace. Visit Jane on her blog, Coaching Mojo for Managers.

Every day at work involves some kind of negotiation, whether it’s simply when to schedule a conference call, or a more complex issue such as where to cut costs on next year’s budget. We wrestle with the pros and cons and usually come to consensus…or someone simply acquiesces and moves on.

However, there are occasions when issues become really thorny. Someone digs in and won’t budge. “Getting to yes” is subverted by getting nowhere.

In this case, an individual is often identified as the problem: “He’s so stubborn and won’t listen to what I think should happen.” “She thinks she knows all the answers, but this is more complicated than she realizes.”

Coaching can help move people outside their comfort zone and beyond their “positions” by letting them deal with difficult personalities and find common ground. Managers who coach individuals and teams through these difficulties can guide a problem-solving process that may have benefits beyond the roadblock issue: the outcome may include greater self-awareness, improved communication, cost and time efficiencies, and more.

Art by Coaching Mojo for Managers


Coaching conversations can help to reframe a situation, enabling someone stuck in a position to look at it from another perspective and consider others’ viewpoints. For example, coaching can help someone with a negative outlook to see the pros instead of the cons: what is working rather than what isn’t; what opportunities are out there vs. what barriers may exist.

Anticipating and planning for hurdles

Coaching might include role playing the worst that could happen, giving a “glass half empty” person the chance to test the likelihood of all those downside possibilities. Then there’s the opportunity to anticipate the upside, and how to make it happen.

Appreciating different styles

Coaching can help us better understand our work and communication styles, and those of co-workers. We can identify particular strengths and call upon them to facilitate cooperation. Appreciating different styles can open the way to better ways of collaborating and communicating, so all parties are heard and understood.

Thinking deeply

Finally, coaching’s emphasis on engaged listening and deliberative questioning enables the coachee to think more deeply about threads and patterns—when his coworker has not been unpleasant, when she has been more collaborative. Identifying these positive patterns can encourage more successful interactions going forward.

Thinking more deeply can also provide better insight into what triggers difficult exchanges in the first place, and ways to avoid those triggers in the future. Small behavior changes are the stepping-stones to healthier, more collaborative working relationships.

Because coaching is solutions-focused, managers who coach can help their people recognize and accommodate different styles and points of view in working to a common goal.

What have you found works in working with difficult personalities?


Leaders: Are You Missing the Real Problem?

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this group,” exclaimed Roger. “Their heroic efforts once again made all the difference. Without them working into the wee hours of the morning to fill the customer’s order, we would have missed the shipping deadline.”

“That certainly sounds like dedicated and caring employees. Are you planning any recognition for them?”

“Well, I’m not sure. This is the fourth time this month they’re pulled out the stops and made it happen. They know I appreciate what they do.”

Heroic efforts? Fourth time this month? Goodness, does anyone have their eye on the ball?

Fascinating, isn’t it, how caught up we get in the crisis hoopla, forgetting to ferret out the root cause of needing all those heroic efforts.

Ian I. Mitroff, organizational theorist, consultant and Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California authored Smart Thinking for Crazy Times.  In his book, Dr. Mitroff details five basic types of solving the wrong problem and offers solutions for avoiding misguided outcomes.

5 No-No’s for Problem-Solving

1. Picking the wrong stakeholders. This happens when we focus on just a few interested parties, forgetting about, ignoring and/or failing to consider others who have a stake in the outcome.

Want to avoid wrong solution #1? Take and/or make the time to thoughtfully do a stakeholder analysis. A stakeholder is someone who has a vested interest in the outcome and/or who might be positively or negatively impacted by what happens.

2. Narrowing one’s options. This is one-note thinking: honing in on only one possible solution and failing to consider a broader range of options or alternatives.

How to side-step this trap? Don’t settle for just one definition of an important problem. When problems are called ”important,” there’s usually more than one way to skin the proverbial cat - consider at least two very different formulations of the problem.

3. Picking the wrong language of variables. This happens when we use “a narrow set of disciplines, business functions, or variables in which to express the basic nature of a problem.”

Duck this outcome by using your head to manage and your heart to lead. As Dr. Mitroff writes, “Never produce or examine formulations of important problems which are phrased solely in technical or in human terms alone; always strive to produce at least one formulation which is phrased in technical terms and at least one other which is phrased in human terms.”

4. Narrowing the boundaries/scope of a problem. Err on the side of being inclusive and expansive in defining the scope of a problem.

Elude this issue by broadening “the scope of every important problem up to and just beyond one’s comfort zone.”

5. Ignoring parts/systems connections. This is what Roger did: he focused on just part of a problem rather than the whole system, “ignoring the connection between parts and wholes.”

Stay out of trouble by not fragmenting problems into isolated tiny parts. Follow Senge’s lead and look at the whole system, as sometimes the  interactions between important problems are more important than the problems themselves.


10 ways to win “bad boss of the year”

If, for some reason, you have a hankering to earn the moniker “Bad Boss of the Year,” remember to add these ten things to yourdaily ‘to do’ list and be a (real) winner.

1. March in the front door, proceed directly to your office, make no eye contact with anyone or engage them in conversation. Hey, you’re the boss. People should know that you have big, really big, things on your mind. You don’t have time for silly little pleasantries like saying “hello” or asking someone how they are.

2. Summon people to your office, right this very minute, and don’t bother telling them why you want to see them. Worry is good. Fear is better. You’ll tell them the subject when they arrive - why should you have to repeat yourself, for goodness sake.

3. Bask in the glow from the higher-ups when “your” good idea produces success. Quickly push your employees in front of the bus when “their” idea fails.

4. In John’s performance review, gloss over his performance and tell him how great he did. In the succession planning meeting with your peers, publicly announce that he’s a loser and on the fast-track out the door.

5. Hand out work assignments using as few words and directions as possible. You pay people to figure it out, right?

6. Demand that you approve every decision, no matter how large or small, before anything happens. Only you know best; that’s why they pay you the big bucks.

7. Set aside special time for the department tattle-tale to rat out co-workers and spill all the juicy juice about the latest office gossip. An informed boss is no doubt a good boss.

8. Flip-flop, either publicly or privately but both is best, on the important directive you briefly outlined yesterday. Don’t want anyone getting too comfy or set in their ways, do we?

9. Make sure your team members do not get assigned to cross-functional project teams or any other venue where they might hob-nob with people from other departments or levels within the company. Who knows who they might meet or god forbid, even impress.

10. Demand innovative thinking yet publicly humiliate anyone vulgar and brash enough to generate a new idea.

Here’s a call to make this “to do” list as long as we possibly can…add at will and share mightily so others can add their “best” suggestions, too!