Failure Is An Event…Not A Person

Jennifer Olney is the Founder of GingerConsulting, specializing in working with organizations to create brand strategy, graphic design and creative marketing programs. Additionally, Jennifer hosts the #bealeader™ community and weekly #bealeader™ chat exclusively on Twitter. She also serves as a business mentor to individuals and organizations in need of leadership development and training. Reach Jennifer on Twitter at @gingerconsult or on her website.

failure is an eventWe all fail. There is it. Simple and plain, no one has ever not failed in life. No one. It happens to all of us at some point in our journey. Not one of us can claim the moniker of perfection. We are imperfect in our own unique ways.

So I have to ask, why is it then that is so many of us take failure personally? Why do we take it to heart and attach “failure” as a label to ourselves? Processes fail, ideas fail, but failure is not a person. As I’ve said, no one is perfect, so why would we beat ourselves up for failures? Failures are a chance to learn what is not working, what isn’t “perfect” and change the game. If we didn’t failure how would know what success looks and feels like. Continue reading


5 reasons it’s OK to say NO

“I so want to tell him no, but I don’t want him to think I’m an awful person.”

From her distressed look, I thought my gal pal meant someone important to her. That guess was wrong — Heather felt she couldn’t say no to someone she had met a week ago!

At a cocktail party, she had mentioned having two articles picked up by two different national outlets. Doug — the fella in question here — leaned in to say; “My business has gotten off to a terrific start. I’d like to get some national press for the innovative work we’re doing. Interested in writing about it?” Continue reading


Ready to take a risk?

While discussing the differences between (and need for both) push and pull influence styles at a workshop on Power, Persuasion and Influence workshop I facilitated for a group of Fortune 100 executive women, one woman shared a moving observation with the group.  Her aha!?. While knowing which style of influence is to use is important, the core issue is one’s willingness to take the risk to influence, especially if the status quo is in question.

Her courageous take-away action item that day was to take the risk. She said she owed doing so to her colleagues, the organization and herself.

What a powerful moment.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Sometimes the risk is…being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when your colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian, and/or dancing with the elephant in the room. Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stakes gamble. Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University, “Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.” Risk-taking can yield great rewards and possibilities for learning provided you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

Research (Wallach,Kogan, Bem) shows that “women are more conservative when they make decisions under conditions of uncertainty; however, they are more extreme in their judgments when conditions are certain. This result is generally explained by reference to the constraining influences females are exposed to in the socialization process. Males are reinforced for exploratory (i.e., risk-taking) behavior; females are encouraged to be more conservative.”

7 questions to assess your readiness for risk taking

Risk-taking requires high EQ, PQ (political quotient), a thorough knowledge of your work culture and solid self-confidence.  To assess how ready you are to take a risk at work, ask yourself these questions:

1)    Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo? Are you prepared to accept possible negative outcomes? Are you willing to see your credibility erode? Are you equipped to lose your job?

2)    Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns? Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?

3)    Are you able to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company? Are you primed to be a role model and/or attacked?

4)    Do you have solid solutions already in mind? Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?

5)    Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?

6)    Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure? Will your self-esteem survive the hit? Can your ego resist the adulation of success?

7)    Do you have the will to see it through? Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Risk tolerance is extremely personal. Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone. Either way, be prepared, be thoughtful and do what’s right for you.

Image credit: Craft Brainiac



Do the Positive; Avoid the Negative

Amy's horse Poppy

As a little girl I dreamed of owning a horse but, alas, my parents did not share my dream. I was lucky enough to grow up near a horse farm, so I was able to be around horses as a child.  I always thought someday I would own a horse; but as I became an adult,  my priority was working and raising kids so I never seemed to get around to taking the time to own a horse.

Now as a forty-five year old woman, it is finally that someday and I am living that little girl dream with my horse Poppy. Because it has been such a long time since I had ridden a horse, I have hired a riding instructor, Lori. During my horseback riding lessons I am often surprised to hear Lori coaching me on  the same items that I work with my corporate coaching clients.

Just last week she instructed me to make my horse Poppy trot whenever he was behaving poorly. You see every time Poppy and I passed the barn door he would pull on the reigns and act spooky. Lori coached me to make Poppy focus on some positive behavior so he won’t think so much about what is scaring him; make him trot and he will forget about what is making him nervous and stop his negative behavior of pulling on the reigns!

Earlier that very day I had said something very similar to a coaching client. My client, an accomplished salesperson, was working on cracking a tough account.  She was worried because this account had issues with a product she had sold them earlier in the year.  As we were preparing for her sales visit, she mentioned that when she gets nervous she tends to talk a great deal.  She was concerned because she knew she would be nervous on this visit. So I asked her, what is the opposite of talking too much? She said listening well. I asked her what things does she do when she listens well. She said I ask questions and take notes. We then made an elaborate question guide and note-taking instrument. I told her to focus on the doing the positive (listening) versus the negative (talking to much)!

It is a simple lesson, really, when we put energy into what we do want to have happen because it takes the energy away from what we don’t want to have happen. This is true for Poppy as well as for all of us!

My question to all of you is what do you put energy into? Is there anything negative you are doing that you could avoid by putting energy into the positive?



When assumptions can lead you wrong

Ever send an email or leave a voicemail and not get a return message? If so, did you write that person off as a total bum because they failed to respond? If so, you just leapt to the top of the ladder of influence.

  • Chris Argyris, business theorist and Harvard University professor, developed the model.  Peter Senge popularized it in the The Fifth Discipline.   The ladder of inference is a thought process model.  It begins with the data that we observe and/or experience and ends with the actions we take based on how we interpreted the initial data.

About the ladder of inference

Got a picture of a ladder in your mind?

  • The base of the ladder of inference is the actual data or experience — just the objective facts of what happened.
  • The first rung up the ladder is the data on which we choose to focus. (This is the phenomenon that results when the four people who saw an accident offer four different stories of what happened.)
  • Rung number two is affixing meaning to what we’ve experienced or observed.
  • The next step is creating assumptions.
  • We then draw conclusions, followed by developing new beliefs or affirming old ones.
  • Last comes our actions — what we do based on our beliefs.

The ladder in action - an example of how it works

Three days ago you left a voicemail for Susie asking her to call you, and you haven’t heard from her. You figure she’s ignoring you and assume that she isn’t interested in what you have to say. You conclude that there’s no point in doing business with her, believing that people who want to work with you will be prompt in getting back to you.  You act by crossing Susie’s name off your free-lancer list.

Obvious — yet incorrect

The ladder of inference is quite easy climb! We take data and apply our personal filters (beliefs, values, past experiences, etc.) to make sense of what’s happening.  What we have to remember is that this is a one-person climb.  While the conclusion we reached seems blindingly obvious to us, there was just one set of data points — our own. And our personal filters along the climb up the ladder of inference may have led us to an incorrect assumption.

To assure that you’re reaching the right conclusions:

  • Test the observable data.  Could there be something wrong with my phone or Susie’s?  Did I call the right number? Could Susie be out of the office and have forgotten to change her voicemail message? Might I have hit the wrong message delivery number?
  • Gather more data.  A follow-up phone call or email to Susie:  I see you haven’t returned my call and wanted to check in to see if everything is OK. Ask others if they know where Susie might be.
  • Challenge your assumptions. Why would Susie not want to do business with me after that great introductory meeting we had? Could I be over-reacting? Are there extenuating circumstances on her part?

Spending the little extra time it takes to question your assumptions along the way can alleviate lots of embarrassment and incorrect assumptions at the top of the ladder of inference.

Ladder of Inference Diagram from Isee Systems, Module 5




Is your resume past its expiration date?

A West Coast gal pal sent me her resume, asking me to do her a favor and look it over.  She’s frustrated - been looking for a job for six months, has sent out over 200 resumes and has had only two interviews.

Resumes are a lot like fashion – certain elements go out of style.  The last time she had looked for work was 1995, and her resume content and format were vintage 1995.

If you’re in the same situation as my gal pal, pull out your resume and compare it to this list of 1995 oldies-but-not-goodies and see how your resume stacks up.

  • Objective statement.  If the first thing after your name and contact information is a sentence that reads I’m looking for a company where I can use my [whatever] skills to advance my career, your resume is in trouble.  Objective statements are about your personal goals. Employers today want to know what results you can deliver for them.
  • Paragraph formatting.  If there’s a long single-spaced paragraph under the name of each employer where you’ve listed all the tasks you did and awards you received, well, that info is better for a blog post [maybe]  than a resume.  Recruiters and/or hiring managers have hundreds of resumes to read.  Documents that like look a novel aren’t going to pass the 30-seconds-to-grab-my-attention test.
  • Accomplishments that are really job descriptions.  Does your resume contain items like Regularly attended management meetings or Responsible for handling the budget? If you’re seeking a management job, of course you attended meetings and worked with a budget.  Today your resume must distinguish you from the crowd.  Do so by writing that you Instituted new budget controls that reduced office supply expenses by 5%.
  • Imprecise language.  Does your resume contain statements like the following: Assisted with new product report preparation, responsible for correspondence, or coordinated schedules? Broad statements like these don’t paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind of what your contribution was. While you know what sort of work you did, your resume reader doesn’t. You know that you spent days pulling together data about the new product your team designed and launched to record sales.  All that grand detail is lost on the reader who only sees assisted with new product report preparation.
  • A memoir. Listing your hobbies, 20-year old awards from the high school science fair or that you were a cheerleader in college most likely aren’t relevant to the job for which you’re applying. You need key words to both get past the automated resume reader systems and to get on the hiring manager’s radar screen because your  experience is relevant to their needs.
  • References provided upon request. It goes without saying that you’ll provide a list of references if or when the prospective employer asks for them.  Use that extra line or two of space to include another accomplishment.

Submitting your resume to an organization is much like meeting someone for the first time – you only have one chance to make a good impression.  Make yours a good one!

Photo from FlavorWire

File the stereotypes; seek first to 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, ever attuned to gender stereotypes, closed. I didn’t hear the first instructions (OK, I didn’t listen). 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 and stereotype 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.

Seek first to understand lessons 

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!

Image from Parents GoodyBlog



Are you having these 5 courageous leadership conversations

After working 20+ years in Corporate America, I felt my soul and kindness slipping away. The relentless focus on the bottom line and the you’re-only-as-good-as-your-last-set-of-numbers mentality had extracted a personal toll, only part of which was visible to me. I left before I lost that last precious shred of humanity.

The length of my “corporate detox” surprised me.  I had expected a transition. Moving from a Fortune 100 VP position with vast resources to a first-time entrepreneur is a hefty leap.  I knew I had changed over the years.  A gal raised in the Midwest had much to learn about Corporate America - its rules, both spoken and unspoken.  Many times I had to learn leadership lessons on the fly since I was the only woman on the leadership team. Over the years, I resisted drinking the corporate kool-aid, to the delight of some bosses and the chagrin of others.

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

David believed a good leader (one interested in the art and discipline of leadership) continually engaged in five courageous conversations to stay in touch with their values, humanity and others.

Have these 5 courageous leadership conversations with…

1. The unknown future.  Occasionally  ask the experts and those in the know:  What do you think will happen in two years, five years, tomorrow? How do we get ready?  What will be so new that we must rethink and reframe what we know and do? What must we  start/stop/continue for success?

2. Customers, vendors, employees, etc. These groups represent the organization’s future. Ask them: What can we do for you? How can we serve? Where are we falling short? What do you need from us that you aren’t receiving? What must we start/stop/continue for success?

3. Different parts of the organization. Ask these groups: How can we collaborate to create positive outcomes for our customers and shareholders?  How can we achieve those goals without sacrificing employee engagement? What must we start/stop/continue for success?

4. Your work group and colleagues. Ask those who work with you every day: How can I, should I communicate with you? How should I work with you to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes? What is it that we want to accomplish together for the organization? What must I start/stop/continue for success with you?

5. Yourself.  As David says, it’s this leadership conversation—the one on which all others are predicated—happens with that “tricky moveable frontier called yourself.” Ask: Am I living my purpose and passion every day? Are my professional skills where they need to be to handle future challenges? Am I personally prepared for what’s coming? Can I handle it? Do I want to handle it? What must I start/stop/continue for my success?

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

Hmmm….what say you?


Diagram from Red Ice Creations



Performance Management and Goldilocks

The Situation

“I don’t know what to do with Tammy. Every time I try to talk to her about doing her job better, she cries.”

“When that happens, what do you do?”

“Well, I feel bad so I try to comfort her.”

“Tell me how you do that.”

“I find myself saying ‘now, now, calm down. It’s not that bad. It’ll be OK.’”

“Does that stop the crying?”

“It usually takes a little while, but it works.”

“After she stops crying, what happens next?”

“By then we’ve usually used up the allotted time so she goes back to work.”

“So when do you discuss what performance improvements she must make?”

“Well, now that you mention it, we’ve never really gotten that far.”

Performance Management Lessons from Goldilocks

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation where your sympathy pulled you right into the matter almost as if you were an active participant instead of the boss?

If so, there are some nuggets from none other than Goldilocks that can help you get the right balance between compassion and empathy. Effectively handling these performance management situations requires that you not be too hard or too soft, but just right!

  • Too hard. Coming across as cold-hearted, aloof or unfeeling to an employee’s plight lands you squarely in the bad boss corner. Dismissing, making light of, mocking and/or ignoring an employee’s emotional reaction sends the message – whether intended or not – that you don’t care. Taking an uncaring approach doesn’t solve the problem – it creates a whole new set of issues.
  • Too soft. When you start feeling their pain and allow their emotions to become your emotions, you’re in trouble. You end up like the manager in the above story who never deals with the situation. And, while it’s always good to ascribe good intentions, you have to hope that you aren’t being manipulated. When you fail to assert the correct leadership response, you aren’t helping the employee, your organization or yourself.
  • Just right. For those employees who get emotional when you want to talk about their performance, it’s appropriate to feel empathic to their situation. Understanding and acknowledging their feelings demonstrates that you have heart and do care. Offer a tissue. Allow adequate time for them to express their emotions, then gently and tactfully steer the conversation back to the issue(s) that prompted the meeting. By dealing with the situation in a compassionate yet composed and straightforward manner, you serve the best interests of the employee and your organization.

As reported by the Behavioral Coaching Institute, “Research shows that by acquiring emotional management skills and techniques, managers and leaders can more readily create positive and productive results in every aspect of their lives.”

So apply the Goldilocks principle and get performance management just right! What other advice would you offer?

Chart from Apriori, Inc.



From dreams to reality

Kym met Tessa two years ago at a networking event. Tessa ran a small flower design business and was considering becoming a personal trainer. Kym offered to introduce her to a friend who was a personal trainer so they could compare notes. Tessa told Kym she would let her know if she wanted the introduction to happen. She never did.

Six months ago, their paths crossed again at a community event. When asked to share what they did, Tessa said she was a floral designer who really wanted to be a personal trainer.

A week ago they were seated together at a luncheon. A table mate asked Tessa what she did. Tessa replied that she ran a very small and getting smaller floral design business but her dream was to work as a personal trainer.

Is your story similar to Tessa’s — thinking and hoping yet not doing?

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with vision is making a positive difference.” ~Joel Barker

3 tips for moving from wishing and hoping to action

Without dreams our lives lose luster. Yet without action, dreams always remain dreams. If you see a little bit of Tessa in your situation:

Revisit your intentions. Is what you keep talking about something you still want to do, or has talking about it become a habit?

If the dream is still alive, do something. Today. Right now. Schedule an informational interview. Request a brochure. Make a phone call or send an email. Sign up for a class. Buy a book on the topic. Just do something about that dream right now:  make it real with action and outcomes you can see, touch, hear.

Find an accountability buddy. Share your dream with someone who also has a dream. Commit to each other what you’ll do to make the dream come alive. Make a pact to report to one another the concrete action you’ve both taken. Give each other the “danger zone signal” if/when you slip back into talking about what you plan to do instead of doing. Real friends don’t let friends live on pipe dreams.

What’s was one thing you did today to move your dream closer to reality? What other tips and pointers have worked for you in making your dream come true?

Photo from Spark & Hustle