6 ways to get your leadership big on

The team at BIG isn’t big on new year’s resolutions. They’re gone faster than the time it takes for us to munch our way through a bag of gumdrops. We are big, however, on commitment. Commitment to personal improvement, ongoing learning, exploring, making a positive difference that lasts, and developing others. Why? Because when people feel confident, involved and valued…magic happens.

People build connections, character and confidence to lead BIG. They learn, take risks and work BIG. They inspire themselves as well as others to grow wings and embrace possibilities beyond what they thought or dreamed possible. They give back, believe in themselves and live BIG.

This kind of BIG has nothing to do with size and everything to do with heart…with meaning…with caring…with thinking more about we and less about me. 

Daniel Maher said “confidence is courage with ease.” Achieving this level of personal grace requires getting your BIG on. That means:

  • Understanding your strengths and knowing how to use that knowledge for leading, guiding, teaching and encouraging others
  • Knowing that the small things do make a BIG difference, so don’t be afraid to start small. The important thing is getting started
  • Recognizing that you may be holding yourself back from BIG things because you’re thinking small. Don’t be afraid to take the BIG leap forward toward your dreams - jump and grow your wings on the way up

Audrey Hepburn once said that “the best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” To help others get their big on,

  • Let them know that it’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to hold back from trying because they’re afraid of failing.  That’s a lot like spending your life in a rocking chair. The ride may be comforting but you won’t get very far
  • Agree to be their accountability partner. Meet up periodically to learn what they’ve done, then encourage them to keep going
  • Help them embrace and practice the polarities of life: things like being both confident and humble or focused on both task and relationship

Grab some big, bold, brave thinking and start living your best life, full of confidence and courage…and help others do the same.

Here’s to you!



3 ways to make sure compromise isn’t a 4-letter word

Gosh, I didn’t get the memo. Did you? You know, the one that says compromise isn’t an acceptable option? I’ve always thought compromise is a natural part of life, love and leadership.

Somewhere along the line, it seems to me that compromise (defined by Merriam-Webster as a settlement of differences by consent reached through mutual concessions, one of those “playing well in the sandbox” skills my mom taught me) got confused with capitulation or collusion.  Today, compromise is portrayed as selling-out or being a weakling.

Life (and my mom!) taught me to know what’s illegal, immoral and unethical. Not compromising one’s values and beliefs there makes perfect sense, yet many of the situations we face every day don’t reach that status. Expecting to get one’s way all the time, on everything especially on things that aren’t illegal, immoral and/or illegal, is a recipe for gridlock and an unhappy life. Aren’t most things about give-and-take? Isn’t life richer that way?

So the next time you’re faced with a situation when you aren’t the sole decision-maker, and you feel your spine getting stiff and you attitude getting rigid, stop and reflect on what real compromise is.

Real compromise is…

Sharing in both the process and the result. Compromise isn’t about domination and/or submission. It’s about an informed and intentional process in which two parties put everything on the table, have a frank dialogue, and jointly discover and/or create a solution that serves the best interests of both.

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious. ~Sun Tzu

Being flexible on what’s a “must have” versus what’s nice to have. I once had an employee who went to the mat on using Times New Roman font in a training manual when the rest of the project team preferred Arial!  Being willing to collaborate with others, to play in their sandbox and they in yours, usually results in a richer outcome than one could have produced on their own. Plus there’s an added benefit of broadening your horizons based on learning from others.

Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ~Edmund Burke

Willingness to think in broader terms of “we” and “others” rather than  just “me” or “I.” Most of us bring distinct ideas of how we want things to be. Yet it’s important to be able to distinguish between “mission critical” components where’s little to no wiggle room and those items on which there’s space to flex.

A project manager who is willing step back from the team and allow others to add their ideas, as well as their labor, to make the project come along may sacrifice her own pet ideas for the good of the whole. That is compromise of the highest order. And it is also known by another name – leadership. ~CIO Magazine

What say you?


Leadership Friday Favs 9.16.11

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve (Jim Collins, HBR article)

Some days it seems as if it’s the egotistical chest-thumpers who grab, and get, all the glory. Then, one meets a leader who can’t say enough good things about his/her team and deflects/defers any contribution of their own to the firm’s success. Refreshing! Being humble doesn’t mean one is a doormat, and Jim Collins provides some great insights on this in this classic post.

Tone Tools Design Goodwill in War Zones (Dr. Ellen F. Weber on Brain Leaders and Learners)

Having handled labor relations and contract negotiations for many years, the story Ellen uses to demonstrate brain power to resolve conflict totally resonated. In this content rich post, she offers not only a 10-question climate tone survey but also 25 “walkways into brain-powered tone tools.” Fascinating insights into how much more we can be, and do!

When Employees Misinterpret Managers (Ben Horowitz)

While the Get Your BIG On team thinks the title of this post is misleading, it’s the central premise of what happens when there’s over-focus on numbers that counts. It’s a great remember for leaders to really think through what they want. “It’s important to supplement a great product vision with a strong discipline around the metrics, but if you substitute metrics for product vision, you will not get what you want.”

The curse of motherhood (Building Gender Balanced Businesses)

“Men and women are treated equally and the pay gap is rapidly shrinking but the overall picture is somewhat disheartening, especially for women who plan on having children. Any time off work can strike a crippling and permanent blow on future earnings and the solutions aren’t obvious.”

Survive and Thrive-Ten Steps (Irene Becker on The 3Q Blog)

If your self-confidence needs a boost, Irene offers ten ways to “build self-esteem and self-confidence from the inside out by celebrating your passion, purpose and potential.”

The quote corner. A quote that made the GYBO team reflect this week: “It is said that it is far more difficult to hold and maintain leadership (liberty) that it is to attain it. Success is a ruthless competitor for it flatters and nourishes our weaknesses and lulls us into complacency. We bask in the sunshine of accomplishment and lose the spirit of humility which helps us visualize all the factors which have contributed to our success. We are apt to forget that we are only one of a team, that in unity there is strength and that we are strong only as long as each unit in our organization functions with precision.” ~Samuel Tilden


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?


Leaders: be humble and seek first to fully understand

My reaction to the request was immediate, visceral and not pleasant. Why on earth would the workshop facilitator ask the group to split up by gender? This wasn’t fourth grade phys ed where sex and strength would play a role. My paradigm: leadership knows no gender distinctions, so why was this necessary?

My mind closed. I didn’t hear the first instructions. When everyone stood up and grabbed their chairs, I had no idea what was happening. I blindly followed the women next to me across the room and added my chair to the circle of women’s seats, still fuming at the gender division.

There must have been directions to think about something, given the silence and pensive expressions. After several minutes, the facilitator for the women’s group opened the floor for comments.

The deeply insightful and moving comments offered by the first two, then three, then four female participants set me back on my heels. This was meaningful stuff. My pique at the-girls-versus-the-boys separation was petty.

Because one of my personal hot buttons (women’s issues) had been hit, I had rushed to judgment, failing to seek first to understand. Fortunately, I only lost five minutes of what turned out to be an extraordinary two-hour exercise.

My seek first to understand lessons for the day:

1) Be curious. Gather information objectively. Understand what’s being asked and the context in which it’s being asked.

Be curious, not judgmental. ~Walt Whitman

2) Hot button or not, extend the benefit of the doubt. Presume good intentions, not ill.

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. ~Marvin J. Ashton

3) Check your personal filters to make certain your own assumptions aren’t blocking the way for all the facts and/or data. I leapt to the top of the ladder of inference in a single bound!

Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. ~Don Miguel Ruiz

4) Listen actively and with empathy to what’s being said. Assure that what you are interpreting is really being said. Focus on the speaker, not what’s swirling in your brain.

You can hear without listening, and you can listen and not hear. ~Daniel Barenboim

5) Be humble and look for lessons to be learned!


Thinking in Pairs…Leading through the Power of “and”

Today’s guest blogger is Margaret Seidler, a nationally recognized Organization Development consultant, master trainer, and author based in Charleston, SC.  As one of only twelve certified Polarity Management Masters in North America, central to Margaret’s work is Polarity Management®, a set of principles and method to guide people in tapping the power of “both/and” thinking for better, more sustainable results.

 Polarities are interdependent pairs of Values, often competing, that need each other over time to gain and maintain performance.

I looked for a magic bullet to improve my leadership abilities after a 360° Assessment that was, shall we say, less than stellar. What made a pivotal difference and accelerated my own abilities was a set of principles and a mapping tool introduced by Dr. Barry Johnson in 1975.  It was called Polarity Management, and I found it a straightforward way to document my wisdom and to shine a light on my blind spots.

The Power of “and” (both/and) thinking has been tapped only in the last few decades by U.S. business leaders who recognize the advantages of being able to understand and manage polarities. Today the references are growing.

From what I’ve learned, leaders can be more successful by recognizing and experiencing polarities within themselves first, before attempting to manage those polarities that exist within their own businesses, organizations or communities. Why? This brings both the leader’s Heart and  Head into the equation. It embeds the learning on the inside before applying it to the outside world.

Before I knew the polarity principles and map, I often came to situations with an “either/or” mindset, strong in my convictions and beliefs. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that I learned about “both/and” thinking being a strong match for certain complex situations in life.

For decades, I was a “can do” manager, I valued getting the work done, Task.  So whenever I came into a new job, productivity would shoot up and my boss would be thrilled…only to find out, within several months, that employees were now getting burned out and feeling under-appreciated for their hard work. Since hard work (Task) was my sole focus, I continued to emphasize to all to work harder and smarter!

Next, employees began complaining that I didn’t care about them, there was much talk around the water-cooler. Eventually, productivity dropped due to those chats, long lunches and rising absenteeism.

What I learned was that I had to continue my strong focus on Task and supplement that value with another value, Relationship. What a blind spot I had for so long! Once I incorporated both Task and Relationship into my management approach, productivity went up and so did employee satisfaction. A winning combination!


Girl Power and Woolly Mammoths

Dr. Elaine Yarbrough was the featured speaker this past Monday evening at the Entrepreneur Networking Event presented by the Charleston Center for Women.  Elaine’s career includes over 25 years experience training, consulting, mediating as well as researching, speaking about and promoting women and their power.

I had the privilege of participating in one of Elaine’s training sessions several years ago and still use what I learned.  She has the unique gift of presenting challenging information in an engaging and low-key humorous way.  (When a taxi driver told her that men were meant to lead since they were the hunters and women were the gatherers, Elaine told him she couldn’t recall the last time her husband shot a woolly mammoth for dinner!)

Some priceless nuggets from her riveting presentation for women everywhere to ponder, promote…and do:

Replace cat fights with support.  As Elaine pointed out, the cat fights for which women are infamous are “rooted in being chronically low-powered.”  Without the power to fight those with more power, attacks are aimed at one another. Elaine asked the audience to consider their own behavior: Do you make catty comments about what another woman said or wore or did?  Do you join in the office cat fights?  Claim your personal power by supporting other women.  Do business with them. Reinforce their comments in meetings.  Know each other’s stories.  Have each other’s backs.

Be motivated by accomplishment, not approval.  Elaine sited what happens in early education as part of how women are socialized to seek approval.  When a little girl correctly answers a question, the teacher responds with “good girl!”  When a little boy responds correctly, the teacher asks additional probing questions to expand his thought processes.  What a telling difference. So, find your affirmation in working issues through to a positive conclusion instead of seeking approval for having behaved as a “good girl.”

Pushback when gender slurs come your way.  Elaine shared results from a political study showing that female candidate’s approval ratings went up when they challenged gender slurs directed at them.  Approval ratings dropped for female candidates who didn’t pushback.  As Elaine said, “start putting yourself up, not down.”

OK, power women,it’s time to get our girl power on!

Are you ready to support one another, seek positive outcomes and toot your own horn?!


The both/and dance of leadership

A version of this post first appeared on the Lead Change blog.

I marvel at the amount of time spent:

…on seeking to define and/or differentiate leadership and management.  How about we just do the work, focusing on people, principles and results; and not get hung up on labels?

…trying to prove that a specific list of leadership characters traits is the one and only. Can we agree that the list of worthy traits is long, that most are needed and that our time would be better spent leading than in creating a finite list that tomorrow’s business needs will change?

…espousing that one can only lay claim to being a leader if they have followers. Let’s we agree to disagree here and respect each other’s opinion, OK?

…vehemently asserting that leadership is only measured by results.  Can we agree to disagree on this one too, yet respect each other’s opinion?

…attempting to prove that managers do things right and that leaders do the right thing.  Can we say that supervisors, managers and leaders do things right and do the right things?

Life is big and complicated and fun and challenging and full of ambiguity. So are those things we call leadership and management and supervision.

Rarely is life and/or leadership an either/or end game. It’s usually more of a both/and dance in which we balance opposing and contradictory ends of an infinity loop.  In Built to Last,  Collins and Porras phrase it beautifully as “avoid the tyranny of the OR and embrace the genius of the AND.”

What say you?



Misguided Priorities or Just Bad Management?

“Kathleen was way out of line. Going to her boss to complain about her performance review was over the top. We had no choice but to write her up.”

“Why didn’t you have a choice?”

“We can’t have our executives burdened with such mundane matters.”

“Did Kathleen talk to her boss about her concerns?”

“Of course she told him about her disagreement during the review.”

“Anything after that?”

“She wrote a five-page letter two days after the review and asked for a follow-up meeting with her boss.”

“What happened in the follow-up meeting?”

“It hasn’t happened yet.  We’ve kept her boss pretty busy with our annual business strategy and budget planning that’s done every year at this time.”

“How long has it been since Kathleen gave her follow-up letter to her boss?”

“Let’s see, we’ve spent the last two months really focused on the strategy and budget work.  Her review was before that, so it’s been maybe three months.”

“Is that a normal time gap for your organization to respond to employee issues?”

“Well, maybe not normal but it certainly hasn’t been the longest. We’ll get to her issue when the budget planning work is over.”

Advice for a troubled leadership team

Oh, my goodness! What a host of riches for making changes to improve process, better engage employees and even minimize the risk of legal action:

  • Consider an open door program so employees with issues have a place to go
  • Revisit how priorities are set determine
  • Leadership training for how to balance task completion and relationship building
  • Having someone or some department serve as the advocate for employees
  • Conduct risk management training - a five-page letter has “sought legal counsel” all over it

What other going-forward advice would you offer this HR manager?