Vulnerability is a virtue

Wow, what a moment. It stopped me dead in my tracks…in a very good kind of way.

We were two-thirds of the way through a workshop on stepping into one’s power with confidence and grace when she took the floor to share her epiphany. She described a personal weakness that had haunted her for years, something she was peripherally aware of yet firmly believed had no impact on her life or career.

She told the hushed room how — just a few moments ago — she suddenly understood how this weakness had indeed played a major role in how she held herself back.

She radiated joy. Understanding. Self-awareness. The strength of vulnerability.

Are you strong enough, courageous enough, to be vulnerable?

We chase perfection. Wear ourselves out keeping up appearances. Faking it until we make it. Are you ready to jump off the hamster wheel and admit your soft spots?

1. Acknowledge that sometimes the best answer is “I don’t know.” The world is awash with data, statistics, references, resources, etc.. Keeping up is impossible. It’s a sign of strength to say you don’t have the answer but will get one.

2. Admit to something you’re not good at. A gal pal recently teased her colleague Karen about the plain vanilla formatted Excel spreadsheet she had shared with the group. Karen ‘fessed up that going beyond the basics in Excel was way beyond her skills, and my pal generously offered her help. Karen could have covered up her lack of knowledge with a flimsy excuse that she didn’t take the time to make the document look nice, but how untrue and hollow that would have been. Now the two of them have the opportunity to learn and share together.

3. Confess to what you don’t like. If long emails, endless meetings or coffee gatherings aren’t your thing, say so and offer an alternative. Don’t suffer in silent resentment, tactfully speak up.

4. Share you scares you. Driving across bridges scares the beejeebers out of me. It would take a crowbar to pry my fingers off the steering wheel. At first I was hesitant to tell my passengers of my fears, afraid they would think me weak and silly. Now I warn those in the car with me that they’ll see me clutch the steering wheel, stare straight ahead and not breathe until we’re safely across. No one thinks less of me, although I do get teased about why I keep moving to cities with lots of bridges.

5. Shine a light on what is dark or goes bump in the night for you. Nearly ten years ago, a boss described me as Aunt Polly; and his words troubled me for years. I immediately got the chauvinistic overtones but there was something more to it that I couldn’t put my finger on. It wasn’t until I shared how his words were velcro’d into my mind that the answers came. I had to be weak before I could be strong.

Are you ready to get your vulnerability on?

Image courtesy of Let’s Graph



Use Your Gifts

This inspiring guest post is from Heather Stubbs who puts her work and life experience as a stage and concert performer to good use today as a speaker and presentation skills trainer. Here Heather describes some recent work she has done with disabled young women…what a joyful story of hope and helping!

Most people perform everyday tasks with barely a second thought. For people living with an intellectual disability, tasks such as cleaning, shopping, cooking and using a public transportation system are serious challenges. Community Living is an organization that teaches people with intellectual disabilities to meet these challenges, helping them integrate into the larger community and achieve a level of independence.

The Peterborough, Ontario, branch of Community Living plans to raise its profile and educate the public about its work. Knowing that good speaking skills are vital for getting a message across, the administrators engaged me to help prepare their “Ambassadors” for the upcoming presentations. I will spend an hour and a half with each of two very different groups over four Thursdays. The speakers will include not only the members of Community Living Peterborough’s Ambassadors (staff and Members), but also the self-advocate leaders of the “Young Women’s Group.” These are women, mostly in their twenties, with varying degrees and types of intellectual disabilities. I fell in love with them from the first moment!

Several outstanding qualities showed immediately in everyone in the group. Without exception, every woman was utterly herself. Some are shy, some are outgoing, but, unlike people with greater intellectual capacity, who sometimes try to project an image of how they want to be seen, these women are not trying to be anything but who they genuinely are. How refreshing to know that the person you are talking to is the one who’s really there! It’s lovely to watch how consistently good natured and supportive of one another these special women are. They know they all face the same challenges, and they understand the value of encouragement. Would that we all had such understanding!

Our first session centred on standing with good posture and looking people in the eye. Making direct eye contact is noticeably difficult for most people with intellectual disabilities. We worked in two groups of four, and each participant met eyes with one other member of her group and said, “Hello, my name is So-and-so.” With no input from me, the women expanded their statements to include telling something they liked. Graduating from the small groups to the full group, we did some pretending. “What would your face and body look like if you felt really sure of yourself speaking to the group? Would you smile?” Most of the women discovered they could stand tall in front of the group, smile and say their name and something they liked.

This was new territory for these people. Even though they had never done anything like this before, they were willing to expand their vision of what they were capable of. Most of them were able to gather their courage and explore the new skill of speaking to a group. Please bear in mind that some of these women have difficulty forming words at all!

For me, focusing on giving enjoyment to the audience instead of getting their approval was a huge factor in eliminating the fear of being onstage. For my second session with the Women’s Group, I wanted to go further in building their self-confidence, so I got them doing role play. The idea of giving to an audience was a bit too abstract at first, so they worked in pairs, pretending to give each other an actual gift. I emphasized that when they speak to an audience what they give is their friendliness.

The women have a tremendous sense of fun, and there was a good deal of laughing and horsing around during this session. The fun worked its magic, though. In the first session, two women were so shy they could not say their name in front of the whole group, although these were all friends they knew well. Even with encouragement, they simply would not do it. This time, one of them stood up, said her name, and said that she spoke for Community Living and the Status of Women Canada, and that Community Living helped her meet everyday challenges. The other needed the support of a friend standing beside her, but she did speak to the whole group. Not only that, but both of them enjoyed the experience so much, they each did it two more times, faces beaming, and speaking more firmly and clearly each time.

Truly, these are miracles! I feel honoured to have been present for them. We have two more sessions to go. I’m enjoying working with both groups, but it’s the members of the “Women’s Group” who fill me with joy. How thrilling it is to see their willingness to stretch themselves and explore new experiences! Their courage and openness stand as inspiration to those of us blessed with full capacities. Let us, like them, use fully whatever gifts we have been given.



Why aren’t you at the table?

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Doretha Walker, past president of the Charleston, SC Center for Women Board of Directors, columnist, blogger and educator. Doretha’s words of inspiration and information are always a delight!

Are you in the same place that you were a few months ago while others seem to be advancing? Are you patiently or impatiently waiting for your blessings from God to drop down into your lap? Why aren’t things going the way you want them to?

The other day I was ecstatic when a friend asked me to be on her team of trainers. Honestly, when she told me about the project months ago I sat there waiting for her to ask me to be a part of it. She didn’t and I sat in front of her disappointed, yet said nothing. I waited for her to approach me and eventually she did, but what stopped me from asking her? I did not ask because she was supposed to know that I was one of the best people she could have on her team. She was supposed to want me. Crazy, huh? Yes, it was.

There is no rule that says we are supposed to sit and wait for opportunity to knock. There rule is that those who pay attention to what the universe provides and rise up and at least make an attempt to seize the chance to succeed win. And if the attempt does not work out, there is no shame, but what if it does? What are we throwing away by not being our best selves, by not stepping into the light?

I am a certified life coach, so you would think that I would know about these traps and avoid them yet, many times I walk around wondering why I did not get the invitation to be at the table when I should be doing all that I can do to create my own opportunities and sit as the head of my own table inviting others. I should not be sitting and waiting for someone to notice me or to read my mind and neither should you. So don’t be surprised if I knock on your door and if you knock on mine, I promise to let you in.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. ~Milton Berle

Don’t wait to strike while the iron is hot; make it hot by striking. ~William Sprague


When did humility fall off the leadership agenda?

Humility by Chidi Okoye

Setting: leadership development offsite workshop

Participants: 25 high potentials from a variety of companies

The topic: how leaders balance confidence and humility in context of Jim Collins’ level 5 leadership (“transformative executives possess a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”)

The bottom line to this session blew me away:  only five people believed humility at work was an important leadership attribute. Talk about things that make one say “hmmmmmmmm!”

Collins wrote:

My preliminary hypothesis is that there are two categories of people: those who don’t have the Level 5 seed within them and those who do. The first category consists of people who could never in a million years bring themselves to subjugate their own needs to the greater ambition of something larger and more lasting than themselves. For those people, work will always be first and foremost about what they get—the fame, fortune, power, adulation, and so on. Work will never be about what they build, create, and contribute.

Here are the reasons given by workshop participants for not being interested in humility:

  • means you’re weak and incompetent
  • isn’t a leadership trait that would cause people to follow you
  • you won’t be given key assignments or promotions
  • you’re an introvert, can’t be counted on to speak up
  • your opinions are wishy-washy
  • means you make yourself vulnerable which doesn’t have a place at work

I’m fascinated by this feedback…what say you?


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.”


Tackling imposter syndrome

Eden held a senior director job title, received glowing reviews, and her educational credentials and reputation were impeccable. Yet she felt like a failure. She lived in constant fear that her lack of ability would be discovered. That she would be exposed as the incompetent fraud she believed herself to be. Eden was surprised there was a name for what she felt – the impostor syndrome, a term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.

Image by Corbis

While not an officially recognized condition, imposter syndrome is defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Eden, an amazing woman, lacked self-efficacy. She didn’t believe she had the ability to pull together her social, physical, thinking and behavioral skills to accomplish her goals. The presence, or lack, of self-efficacy determines how you feel, think and motivate yourself as well as how you behave.

Confidence is courage with ease. ~Daniel Maher

Without confidence in our own abilities, it’s very hard to have courage. Having confidence in what you accomplish can remove the sense of failure and the irrational fear of being found out that so plagued Eden.

Albert Bandura, a Canadian psychologist and author of Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, regards the self-efficacy as:

the foundation of human motivation, well-being and personal accomplishments. Unless people believe that they can bring about desired outcomes by their actions they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. A wealth of empirical evidence documents that beliefs of personal efficacy touch virtually every aspect of people’s lives – whether they think productively, self-debilitatingly, pessimistically or optimistically; how well they motivate themselves and persevere in the face of adversities; their vulnerability to stress and depression, and the life choices they make.

Bandura identifies four sources for building self-efficacy:

1) Mastery experiences, best described as your successes. Success is the most robust source of self-efficacy. As Oscar Wilde says, “Nothing succeeds like success.”

How do you get more successful experiences?

• Evaluate your performance just as you would another’s – looking specifically for accomplishments. Don’t be modest – apply an objective eye toward successful outcomes, e.g. when you improved an operating process, when someone you mentored was promoted, when your management resulted in significant bottom line improvements, when your involvement improved a community function, when you helped someone see through the darkness and regain their footing. These are all successes.

• Write down your past successes as well as the knowledge, skill and/or abilities involved. Know, and accept, that you do have the requisite competencies to make things happen.

• Establish specific, short-term goals that challenge you, yet are still attainable, and work diligently to achieve them. Move past thinking into action and results. Give yourself credit for making the results happen.

2. Modeling experience, defined as observing other people who are similar to you succeeding at a task. Seeing their success can strengthen your belief in your abilities to affect a similar successful outcome.

How do you get more modeling experience?

• Surround yourself with people committed to making their goals a reality.

• Select well-known people whom you respect and whose interests, career goals, etc. track with yours, and watch what they do to make success happen for them.

• Avoid the “Debbie Downers” and being sucked into their downward spiral of belief that comes from talking only about failures or what’s wrong.

The final two elements of Bandura model – persuasion and emotional state – coming up in part two!

What say you about lacking belief in your achievements? How have you helped others believe in their abilities?


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


10 Rules for Saying “I”

“I” is a tricky word. At one end of the word use continuum, it conveys authenticity, caring and courage. It draws people in. At the other end, it’s grating, shamelessly egotistical, commanding and off-putting. It pushes people away.

As a leader, it’s up to you to decide if you want to pull people toward you and your ideas, or push them away.

10 Rules for Saying “I”

Utter “I” when…

1) The idea you’re presenting is solely and completely your own, not one iota poached from anywhere or anyone

2) You’re the one totally at fault and responsible for making amends

3) You want feedback on how you’re doing

4) You, and only you, did all the work - every single itty-bitty piece of it

5) Your department made the mistake of the century

6) You’re sharing your personal opinion, speaking exclusively for yourself

7) You’re listening and asking clarifying questions to help solve a problem

8) It’s one of those situations, like a job interview or requesting a raise, when tooting your horn (truthfully and sincerely, of course) is most appropriate

9) You’re sticking up for yourself, confidently making your position clear and perhaps sharing self-knowledge to do so

10) You want to let someone know how much they mean to you


Leadership Friday Favs 8.12.11

The perils of bad strategy (McKinsey Quarterly, June 2011 by Richard Rumelt. Requires free membership)

Wondering whether or not your organization has a solid strategy? If you have doubts, read Richard’s stimulating article to ascertain whether your firm has bad strategy masquerading as a good one. “Like a quarterback whose only advice to his teammates is ‘let’s win,’ bad strategy covers up its failure to guide by embracing the language of broad goals, ambition, vision, and values. Each of these elements is, of course, an important part of human life. But, by themselves, they are not substitutes for the hard work of strategy.”

9 Things Successful People Know (Success Magazine)

Frank I. Luntz has defined nine elements he believes are necessary for success. While we disagree with including perfectionism on the list, the other eight have merit and a worth a look-see to determine if you have those competencies. The discussion questions at the end of the post help direct one’s thinking and self-reflection.

Jason Fried: Why work doesn’t happen at work (TED Talk)

If you or your boss or anyone within your organization is hung up on the value of office face-time, grab a solitary cup of coffee or glass of wine and listen to Jason share why most of us get so little tangible work done at the office. I’m betting you’ll never think about M&M’s the same way again!

Don’t Let the Bear Market Ruin Morale (BNET by John Baldoni)

With all the turmoil in the financial markets and across the world, it’s highly likely that your employees are feeling fear and uncertainly at work. John offers three easy to implement ideas for re-assuring your team. “When times are uncertain, people look for strong leadership. Make certain with your people that they do not need too look far for it.”

Thought of the week. If you’re a parent or work with young people, you’ll find this quote inspirational. “Reverence is an emotion that we can nurture in our very young children, respect is an attitude that we instill in our children as they become school-agers, and responsibility is an act that we inspire in our children as they grow through the middle years and become adolescents.” ~Zoe Weil


Time and civility: it’s not all about you

A prospective job candidate called a recruiter friend of mine requesting to change the location of their interview. The candidate asked to meet at the downtown library which was only a few blocks from a meeting she was attending earlier  in the morning. The recruiter agreed even though it meant she had to drive 45 minutes to get there.

It’s the day of the interview. 11 AM is the scheduled interview time. The recruiter left her home at 9:50 AM to allow extra time should there be traffic/other delays and to park.

The recruiter heads to the library meeting room.  11:10, 11:15, 11:20 AM all pass by. There’s no call or text message from the candidate. My friend calls the candidate twice and gets voicemail both times. The clock continues ticking. 11:25, 11:30, 11:35 AM.  Still no show, no call.

Has there been an accident? A mix-up in time? A change of heart about the job? The recruiter doesn’t know whether to be worried or annoyed.  She spends the time reading resumes.

It’s now 11:45 am, a full 45-minutes after the designated interview start time. The recruiter decides to leave. She calls the candidate  to leave a message that she’s gone. Just as the candidate’s voicemail begins, in walks the candidate, sporting a full coffee from a well-known barista.

“Ah, sorry to be late. Traffic was worse than I expected, and of course I had to get some coffee. I’m sure you understand,” breezily declares the candidate.

Sheesh, thinks the recruiter, neither a “hello” or a smile accompany the pronouncement.

“Good morning, Leslie. I’m surprised you’re late. Didn’t we schedule this interview downtown since you had another meeting here?”

“Oh yes that’s right. That meeting was cancelled yesterday. I guessed I get downtown in 20 minutes but that didn’t work out. You know how it is.”

As my friend told me later, she sure did know how it was - that the candidate had all the technical skills in the world but was sadly lacking in interpersonal abilities. The candidate failed to show awareness of her actions on others, respect,  or an appreciation for others’ time. Attributes important in relationship-centric times. Guess who wasn’t offered the job?

Hey, we all get caught in traffic or even all the stuff that’s in our heads (or on social media!), and time slips by. If no one is waiting for you, eating up time is fine. However, when someone else in involved in the time equation, then it’s another story.

It’s not all about you any more. Then it’s time for a little kindness, a little respect, a little civility. All those delightful salves which keep interpersonal contacts well-oiled and tell the world what your character really is. Is your story a good one?