7 ways to stop failing

you learn not failStarting her own stationery store had been Shelbie’s secret dream ever since she was a little girl.

Her happiest career day was leaving her “big girl” PR manager job to open her shop; her saddest day was hanging the “going out of business” sign on the front door. Continue reading


Why are women not seen as leadership experts?

One day it hit me that very few women are included in the multitude of leadership guru/expert lists.*  Great women lead big organizations.  A number of women are noted writers and educators on the topic. So what’s up with the shortage of estrogen on the lists that garner all the attention?!

I decided to ask male colleague for his thoughts. Our intriguing exchange… Continue reading


Can’t get no credibility

Abby was upset her boss put her through a 360 evaluation process. She was even more unhappy after receiving the feedback. In fact, she was shocked, angry and disbelieving because there was absolutely no way she was unethical, thoughtless or lacking in credibility and integrity. How could people think that of her?!

In following the trail of bread crumbs to the root cause of her issues, Abby was amazed to discover it was her propensity for changing meeting schedules that had opened the door to the lack of trust, low satisfaction and poor performance that dogged her department. Continue reading


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




Women of power and woolly mammoths

Dr. Elaine Yarbrough is a long-time advocate for women. Her career includes over 25 years experience training, consulting, and mediating plus researching, speaking and promoting women and their power.

I had the privilege of participating in one of Elaine’s development 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 of Elaine’s priceless nuggets of wisdom for women everywhere to ponder, promote…and do:

Replace cat fights with support. Elaine believes that 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. Consider your 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 stopping the personal attacks and support other women instead. Do business with them. Reinforce their comments in meetings. Know each other’s stories. Have each other’s backs. Support, don’t tear down.

Be motivated by accomplishment, not approval. Elaine sites early education research showing how women are socialized to seek approval. When a little girl correctly answers a question, the teacher responds with “good girl!” However, when a little boy responds correctly, the teacher asks additional probing questions to expand his thought processes. What a telling difference. Stop seeking approval for being a “good girl.”

Pushback when gender slurs come your way. Elaine quotes 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 says, “start putting yourself up, not down.”

Women of power, it’s time to support one another, seek positive outcomes and toot your own horn!

Image from Emory University 

Wendy Appel’s New Book: InsideOut Enneagram: The Game Changing Guide for Leaders

I’ve met multitudes of amazing people through the miracle and magic of social media. Wendy Appel is one of them.  She’s a coach, consultant and woman of power dedicated to helping others be better leaders. Wendy has 20 years experience using the Enneagram to help people understand themselves as well as how they come across and interact with others. I thoroughly benefited from reading her book, InsideOut Ennegram:  The Game Changing Guide for Leaders.

Ever traveled to a new city and explored its riches and intricacies with a knowledgeable tour guide? It’s a totally positive experience.

Wendy Appel offers that same rewarding experience in her new book, InsideOut Enneagram: The Game Changing Guide for Leaders, for anyone on a journey to be a better leader.

Understanding one’s self – strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and shadows – is foundational for effectively leading others. The Enneagram is an beneficial tool for building that self-awareness. Wendy proves herself a master of helping us use the Enneagram to plumb the heights and depths of our own types and triads.

Having trouble relating to or working with a direct report, colleague or boss? The chapter “Dynamics and Distinctions” is a not-to-be-missed workplace crystal ball of discovery and insights. Believe you are who you are and can’t change? Wendy details the latest in brain science to dispel that myth and encourage you to spread your wings and jump off the cliff of self-discovery.

Years ago I had a boss who wouldn’t let me include the Enneagram in a three-day leadership development off-site for the senior team, saying it was too “woo-woo.” Too bad I didn’t have Wendy’s book to give him! It’s full of practical workplace examples and case studies. There’s plenty of content for those who respond to logic as well as those who relate to emotions.

It requires courage to take that journey within. With Wendy’s material and self-reflection exercises, you’re in the hands of a very capable guide. Be prepared to think, face the truth and have an uncomfortable moment or two. The new you that results will be well worth it.

Book image from Amazon



Real Simple Power

Today’s WomenBIG guest author is Sharon Becker, LISW, ACSW, licensed private practice therapist and passionate about women supporting women.

Remember the days of grade school when one student was picked as the line leader and the rest of the class had to form a straight line and follow the “leader?” That’s how our early impressions of leaders and followers were planted.

As women, we have fought (and continue to do so) to define new leadership roles in contrast to those created by men. Leadership involves the power of speech. It is the ability to create a voice to inspire rather than persuade or command compliance.

Women thrive on connection and our voices resound greatest when we speak as a collective. We easily access the energy (and, yes, call it power) that comes from sharing each person’s creativity, individuality and the unique qualities that we all possess. Leadership is bringing multidimensional perspectives to the table.

Our unique female ability to create bonds, discover common interests, and reach out with compassion and kindness are the new building blocks of leadership. Freedom to explore the questions and appreciate the importance of listening is critical to problem solving. Through this, we can understand problems from different vantage points and open the doors to new solutions. The goal of true leadership should be to foster and nurture the creative process toward our highest individual and communal aspirations.

So, how do we define leadership? It is not the exertion of control for personal gains and greater power. It is a simpler form of leading based on the true desire for all to gain. It is time for us, as women, to become the next generation of leaders to teach a new form of real, simple power.


 Image from Akron Urban League



Resiliency and Successful Life Change

Today’s guest author is Sharon Becker, LISW, ACSW, licensed private practice therapist and passionate about helping people through transition

Being a psychotherapist, I am fascinated by the process of change. Beyond what I do, my current passion for helping others, particularly women, to take advantage of the change process has exponentially grown based on my own personal experiences.

At age forty, I changed career paths, discovered new skills I possessed that I would never have imagined and began to view the world through different lenses. What changed? It was more of an unfolding. External parameters and expectations, which were once a safety net, now felt limiting and restrictive. The more I let go of my fear (which is always essentially rooted in our need to maintain the “status quo” and find external approval), the easier it was to approach challenges with curiosity, creativity and flexibility.

Life is, without a doubt, complicated and often compromising. So, why are some people more successful at navigating the tides of change? What blocks others?

Women, too often, do not receive the necessary support and positive reinforcement to strive to reach their greatest potential and beyond. How can we build confidence, drive and tenacity in women that will enable them to reach these goals? The answers lie in asking the questions.

  • Are you willing to be courageous and persevere in the face of change?
  • Would you take a risk to live without regrets?
  • Can you imagine life with added dimension and depth that you create?
  • What would it take for you to make this commitment to yourself?

As women, we must learn to trust ourselves more, compete with each other less, and stop using men as a barometer for our success. Our many strengths including the ability to “rise to the occasion” (whatever that might be) with flexibility, empathy, compassion, and sensitivity are gifts. Collectively, we must support one another in learning to use these talents and become the leaders of change.


 Art source: Don Dixon Space Art, The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke


3 ways to master the positive power of speaking up

As a woman in business, have you heard yourself say these things?

“I just hate it when an interviewer asks me to tell them about what I’ve done. It makes me so uncomfortable to talk about myself.”

“I couldn’t possibly put that on my resume. It’s bragging.”

“I know my work is better than several of my colleagues, but ask for a raise – no way!”

A University of Arizona study showed that both men and women speak an average of 16,000 words a day. Yet getting most women to use some of those daily words to talk about their accomplishments and abilities is, well, darn near impossible. Linda Babcock, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon, observes “I saw women accept the status quo, take what they were offered and wait for someone else to decide what they deserved because…as a society, we teach little girls that it’s not nice or feminine or appropriate for them to focus on what they want and pursue self-interest.”

Learned behaviors can be unlearned, relearned and applied in positive ways. As part of their Centennial Women in Leadership Series, Ashley Hall (an all female educational institution in Charleston, SC) presented a panel discussion on women’s compensation in which I participated. Emily Hollings, a 2005 Ashley Hall graduate was in the audience. Moved by the messages shared that evening, she took a hard look at her professional situation, prepared her case, asked for a raise – and received it!

Emily offers this advice to women in similar circumstances, “I can relate to those polite, modest girls, especially when it comes to money, but it’s important to realize and to keep telling yourself it’s not rude to ask for more and to play up your strengths. Be relentless about your strengths because that’s the ultimate factor in getting your raise.”

Making your voice heard is learning how to be your own tactful and professional PR firm. Clay Shirky, an associate professor at New York University, observes, “Self-promotion is a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well.” Remember, we’re talking assertiveness here – clear, direct, calm, truthful and thoughtful discourse – not aggressiveness or arrogance.

Amp up your personal courage and learn a few techniques to make your voice heard:

  • Say you’re sorry when you truly have something to apologize for instead of making statements like “I’m so sorry to take up your valuable time with this” or “please forgive me for having to bother you with this.” Instead be direct and say “Let’s schedule some time to talk” or “There’s an issue we must discuss.”
  • Lose the wimpy words that weaken your message and/or diminish your authority, e.g. saying things like “I think I have a question” or “hopefully I’ll be able to get the job done.” Demonstrate your confidence in your abilities by simply declaring “I have a question” or “I can get this job completed, and completed well!”
  • Make a list of your accomplishments: every successful project you’ve handled at work, praise your boss has given you, awards and recognition, processes you’ve improved, money that you’ve made for the company, promotions, etc. This list isn’t bragging. It is simply facts – facts about your performance that you must be comfortable discussing in job interviews, at work and while networking. A key element of many jobs is promoting the organization. If you can’t promote yourself, a prospective employer is right to doubt your abilities to promote them.

Jill Muti, Head of School at Ashley Hall, sums it up best, “When a woman enters the workforce today, it’s imperative that she be confident and capable of advocating for herself.”

What other advice would you offer?

Image source: The Artist’s Business Digest




Feeling Little in a Big World

Sharon Becker, LISW, ACSW is a licensed private practice therapist with over 25 years of counseling experience. She works with individuals, couples and families, specializing in the treatment of depression and anxiety problems, substance abuse and transitional life challenges in women. Sharon also leads women’s groups and workshops on empowerment, leadership and self actualization.

Sharon Becker

Once upon a time, the world was big and I was little.

But, that was then and this is now. In my 50’s, I still fall into feeling little from time to time. We all do. That feeling lies in the core of my gut, and I can feel the anxiety throughout my body when it’s activated.

The good news is that the feeling passes with time, and I can rekindle my flame with greater strength and wisdom that has come with age and experience. I am also no longer afraid to go there.

We often confuse fear of the feelings with the feelings themselves, like the boogey man under our bed. This becomes exacerbated by denial, avoidance and numbness which further feeds the fire and allows it to grow.

Why do some of us have the courage to follow the path of growth while others remain stuck?

A question through the ages, no doubt. Most importantly, we must recognize that there’s no simple answer no matter how hard we wish for one. I often joke with clients who come to me for counseling that “if only I had my magic wand.”

Building resiliency takes courage and commitment. Perhaps, there is a different value to feeling “little” that we can capitalize on. If we allow ourselves to feel “little,” we can return to that part of childhood that allows us to dream.

Let this spirit inspire each of us to take the “baby” steps in our journey. Wonderful treasures like personal dignity and integrity awaits you.