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.



7 Leadership Gifts

To fulfill the promise of using your head to manage and your heart to lead, may your holiday stocking bulge at the seams with these seven gifts!

Connection. Connect with your purpose and passions, then work them into your daily living in doses large or small. Take and make the time to connect with others.

Communicate. Engage in two-way dialogue, share freely what you know and actively listen with your head and heart to what others have to say.

Capability. Dare yourself to stretch the limits of your potential and to inspire those around you to do the same.

Celebrate. Smile, laugh, have fun – it feels good and is good for you and those around you!

Courage. Take a stand for what’s good and what’s right, even if doing so is unpopular.

Character. Choose to be a person of integrity, never afraid to be found out. Show care and compassion for all.

Commitment. Dedicate yourself to finding connection, communicating, reaching for your potential, celebrating, and being courageous, sincere, caring and authentic!




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


Dreams, magic and women supporting women

How Far by Robin Norgren

When people feel supported…magic happens. There’s newfound confidence. Opportunities burst out where obstacles had existed before. Dreams take practical forms and begin coming true.

And to make all this happen, sometimes all you need is for someone to believe in you and your dream.

Through her Walker Phenomenal Spirit Award, Doretha Walker is doing just that - believing in people, helping them make their dream come true - and supporting other women as well.

Doretha’s story about why and how she started this award is an inspiring lead BIG and give BIG message.

I am Doretha, and the Walker Phenomenal Spirit award is my dream. The fund was born because I wanted to provide a source of money for women to fulfill their dreams. At the time, I was contemplating going back to school and could not find a place to get grant money that did not require me to fit into a box. I was not unemployed, on welfare, abused, homeless, gay, a single parent, or any of the other labels that generally apply in giving money to women. When I first conceptualized this award, I did not have any money to create a fund; but when I received a bonus at work, suddenly I did it. It is as simple as that.

Also, after thinking of the legacies left behind by Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, I wondered what my legacy would be. I decided to build it while I was alive.

I was not exactly sure what this award should look like and was even more unsure if people would accept it and support it. When I heard Oprah say that it was our duty to give back and to stop living our lives small, I knew I had to do it. I could not let my dream sit in my heart and fester. I had no excuse not to do it this time.

The poem by Langston Hughes, A Dream Deferred, sums it up nicely:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over-like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

No dream should ever expire due to being unfilled. No dream should ever be deferred indefinitely. Dreams are what enable our souls to fly. This award is my dream and I hope to make other women’s dreams come true for many years to come.

The Walker Phenomenal Spirit Award offers a $1,000 one-time grant to a woman aged 35 years and older to help fund a project, activity or event that fulfills a heartfelt desire. Applications will be taken from October 1 - November 18, 2011.


Ready to dance the people/principles/profits tango?

A small company, in economic distress, engaged a research firm to help explore options for salvaging the business. The research firm suggested a series of small group meetings with employees to gain their perspective.

The company was somewhat reluctant to do so,  yet decided to give the employee sessions a try, hoping to hear suggestions for improving productivity which they considered key to their survival.

The first question asked in the employee sessions was “tell us how to improve (name of the firm) so they can remain in business.” A few concrete suggestions for improvements to work flow and production schedules were offered. However, employees at all levels of the organization – from administrative assistant to warehouse to shop floor to management – were fixated on talking about how badly they believed the were treated by top management.

Consider these comments, illustrative of 80% of the feedback:

  • “My boss makes me feel like a piece of equipment, something to be used and discarded at his whim.”
  •  “The only thing senior leadership cares about is the numbers. If your results are good, it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are; and  some of them are pretty despicable.”
  • “When I reported a safety problem, my boss said I could quit if I didn’t like it. She said there were plenty of other people who would be happy to take my job.” 
  •  “The guys in the ivory tower don’t even know us folks on the shop floor exist. We’re just a way for them to get their bonuses.”

When the research firm relayed the interview results to the company’s senior management team, the CEO quickly ended the meeting and fired the research firm on the spot, saying they had obviously botched the assignment.

Beware the warning signs

If you’re a manager in an organization where company performance needs improving:

  • Try to remember the last time someone in senior management walked the shop floor, asked questions of employees and really listened to their answers. If it’s been more than three months, schedule a walk around asap.
  • Ask yourself if you have been ignoring the early warning signs of employee distress — things like turnover. Employees not sharing information with you, their boss. Low morale. Whispering that stops when you walk by.
  • Explore how senior management truly thinks about employees:  are they viewed as assets or a means to drive profit?
  • Are employees who share bad news dismissed as tidily as the research firm?
  • Do you feel valued?
  • Do you trust your superiors, your CEO? Do they trust you?

What say you?


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.


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


Techniques for building your confidence

Today’s guest post is from Hillary Hutchinson, M.A., M.Ed. Hillary is a certified career coach who helps people manage major life and work transitions. She believes in being happy, helping people create strategic roadmaps to a fulfilling career, and has a specialty in academia. You can contact her via her website.

Why is it that so many of us doubt our own abilities? Until you own your excellence, you will continue to doubt yourself and perhaps stop yourself from taking on new challenges that you most certainly could accomplish. If you are always afraid of saying something stupid or doing something stupid, you might not even be willing to try new things.

Confidence is something that can be learned. Becoming more confident can make you more successful. Success breeds success, adding to your sense of confidence. This creates a powerful, inextricably linked cycle of success, confidence, success.

Confidence comes from real, solid achievements, which no one can take from you. This is not the same as self-esteem, which may be built on nothing more solid than nice words said to you. Solid achievements are built upon a “can do” mindset, then actually doing. Envision success. In other words, say to yourself each time a new opportunity arises, “I can do this,” let go of any negative thoughts about failing, and do it.

One way to get in a positive mindset is to look back on your life and identify past achievements. It doesn’t have to be job related:

  • Did you successfully raise children?
  • Volunteer to chair a committee at school or at church?
  • Buy a house on a shoestring?
  • Learn to play an instrument for fun?
  • Come up with a solution to a scheduling problem?
  • Join an adult soccer team?

Every one of these things is an accomplishment. Your achievements don’t have to be life-altering. Even small achievements are achievements.

Here are some tips on how you can work on building your confidence:

1. Get yourself a notebook and create an “Achievement Log.” You can do this today. Start your log by identifying at least 10 things you have accomplished in your life so far. Here are some more suggestions: Think about the tests you have passed, the times where you did something that made a difference in someone else’s life, or any tasks or projects you completed. Once you get started, you might find it hard to stop at 10!

Put your Achievement Log somewhere you can look at it often. Commit to looking at your list of achievements each week, reminding yourself of the success you have already experienced. Sit up straight while reading and your posture will send your brain success messages, too. The log can be a reminder of what you are capable of and what is yet to come. You can celebrate what you accomplished in the past week and grow your list of successes by adding new ones. Tip: If you are feeling down, re-reading the log can be a great way to lift your spirits.

2. Think about the personal strengths you have exhibited in your accomplishments. If it’s difficult for you to look at yourself objectively and recognize your strengths, try placing yourself in the shoes of a friend or family member. What strengths would these people see in you? What would they consider your talents to be? As you identify your strengths, make sure you take the time to really acknowledge them. Is it easy for you to be organized while people around you remain scattered? This is a natural strength. Enjoy a few minutes of being proud and reflecting on your talents.

3. Think about the things that are really important to you, and what you want to achieve in every area of your life: Work, personal, social, health and fitness, and anything else that is important to you. Make sure you add some deadlines to keep yourself on track. Setting and achieving goals is a key part of building and sustaining confidence.

When you have set your goals, fear, doubt and uncertainty may rear their ugly heads. At this stage, you need to manage your mind. Learn to recognize any negative self-talk and replace it with confidence-building talk, such as “I have already achieved much, and I can do more.” “I can use my knowledge to help myself, my colleagues and my family.” Make a clear and unequivocal promise in your mind that you are absolutely committed to achieving your goals, and that it is in your power to do so.

Building your confidence is a process. Applying these principles will help your sense of confidence to grow, and then your success will follow.







Leadership Friday Favs 7.8.11

Some very interesting content this week…

asking questions

Footwashing for Leaders (Leadership Now, Leading Blog)

Sometimes when things are going very, very right at work, and you’ve been dubbed the golden boy or girl, it’s easy to begin believing in your own myth. Slowly hubris creeps in, smothering humility. This short post, along with the links it contains, is a great reminder of keeping “humbition” in your lexicon.

When a Leader Aims to Please (Maggie Craddock on HBR Blog)

Would you characterize your style at work as a pleaser? A charmer? A commander? An inspirer? Maggie shares research from her latest book, drawing links to these styles and how a boss handles (or not) the disruptive employee. Some interesting thoughts to noodle here.

The Golden Rule of Listening: How to Speak Loud and Clear without Opening Your Mouth (Tim Eyre on The People Equation by Jennifer V. Miller)

Tim reminds us that sometimes we say more when we say nothing and listen instead. He offers five valuable gifts one gives by speaking less and listening more. ”If for no other reason to listen more and talk less, remember the pay-off of the golden rule: If you listen to them, they will listen to you. If you want others to take your ideas to heart, then you must offer them the same courtesy.”

Barriers and Gateways to Communication (Carl R. Rogers and E.J. Roethlisberger)

Some things are indeed timeless…with a thoughtful style of communicating being one of them. Some of this research is nearly 50 years old. Yet it still resonates…and reminds us that business engagement relative to connecting with and engaging employees still has a long way to go.

Leading Change in the 21st Century: The Power of Letting Go (Aad Boot on Leadershipwatch)

Aad opens this thoughtful post with a hunting story, using it as a great metaphor for leaders who have trouble letting go. He offers up three principles for creating win-win outcomes. ”Not being able to let go of your past, of your past success, of clinging on to it, almost always creates Win-Lose situations! It is blocking the opportunity to develop and grow.”

Thought of the week: ”It is high time we realized that it is pointless to praise the light and preach it if nobody can see it. It is much more needful to teach people the art of seeing.” ~ C.G. Jung


The 7 C’s – A Mid-Year Leadership Checkup

Wow, it’s amazing that half a year has whizzed by!  Now is a great time for leaders to look back over those six months with a mini-assessment for lessons learned and wisdom gained. Then, take your insights and put them to good use in the second half of the year, focusing on using your head to manage and your head to lead.

The 7 C’s



Have I established my goals, both what I want to do and what I want to be?
Am I aware of my strengths, and do I put them to good use?
Am I tuned in to how I come across to others take that into account in how I interact and communicate with them?
Have I identified my purpose and passions?    
Do I take and make the time to fuel my purpose and passions in my daily living, either in doses large or small?
Do I make it a priority to make the time to connect with others so I understand their point of view?
Do I regularly engage in two-way dialogue?    
Do I share freely what I know to keep others in the loop?
Do I actively listen with my both my head and heart to what others have to say?
Do I stretch myself to the limits of my potential?    
Do I inspire those around me to do the same?    
Do I practice tough empathy on myself and those around me?    
Do I regularly smile and laugh and have fun both at work and at play?
Do I frequently recognize the accomplishments and contributions of others?
Have I mastered how much control I give to my inner critic?    
Have I learned to constructively work with ambiguity?
Do I give myself, and those around me, permission to learn through failing?
Have I chosen to be a person of integrity, never afraid to be found out?    
Do I treat those without power with the same respect I accord to the powerful?    
Do take the stand for what’s good and what’s right, even if doing so is unpopular?
Have I dedicated myself to finding connection, communicating, reaching for my potential, celebrating, and being courageous, sincere, caring and authentic?