• Read What We Can Learn From Elizabeth

    Leadership

    What We Can Learn From Elizabeth

    It was a hot summer day in London, the day of my naturalization.  I trekked down to the registrar office in Wimbledon with a few friends, including the two that had sponsored me for citizenship.  It didn’t take long for the formalities, considering I’d paid the extra fee for the private ceremony.  I was the only one to be sworn in. “Do you swear allegiance to the Queen, all her heirs and all her successors?” the officiant asked. “I do.” And it was done.  I was officially a dual citizen. Then the officiant pressed a button, and the music to “God Save the Queen” boomed through the office.  My guests all stood up abruptly at attention as if on cue.   We sang loudly and somewhat awkwardly to a large cardboard cutout of Queen Elizabeth that stood in the office.  I have to admit I thought that was a bit weird.  But over time I’ve noticed the amazing quality that Elizabeth had to inspire reverence, even in the most unlikely of subjects. Americans have often had a strange fascination with the British monarchy.  We may view the concept as outdated and irrelevant, but then flock to the gossip that surrounds sagas like Charles and Diana, Harry and Megan and the antics of Prince Andrew. And yet, in the background, beyond the chaos and the drama, silently running for seventy years, was Queen Elizabeth.  There are many now that will write about her life as a way of honoring her, I don’t profess to know much about her. But I am intimately acquainted with her legacy.  And that’s the interesting thing about great leaders.  They leave one. great leaders know who they are These are questions I often ask when I’m facilitating a leadership development course.  Simple questions on the surface, but usually the most difficult to answer.  We’re often so caught up in the minutiae of the day, we don’t take the time to reflect: Who am I? What kind of leader do I want to be? What are my values? What is my mission and purpose in life? How do I want others to experience me? What legacy will I leave? I think Queen Elizabeth knew the answer to these questions.  And as a result, she showed up, year after year, with a stoic calmness, a beauty, a grace, a clear sense of duty, that was invaluable to her subjects in times of trouble. and more importantly, they know who they’re not A great leader brings people together in times of hardship, in times of stress, in times of confusion and conflict.  They’re able to do this not because they have some sort of magic formula that will make everything all right.  There is no such thing no matter how many leadership books you read or Ted Talks you watch that process to have the perfect pill.  Great leaders can do it because they’re grounded in their own sense of self-worth.  They know who they are and more importantly in the […]

    September 11, 2022

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    3.8 min read

  • Read Feeling resentful about something? Think about this.

    Difficult conversations

    Feeling resentful about something? Think about this.

    Giving feedback is never an easy task.  I’ve recently mused about this topic quite a bit, and written a blog recently on the art of straight talk, which highlighted the three elements that are critical to doing this well. And then there’s real life.  It’s one thing when it’s a colleague.  It’s another thing when that colleague is also a very close friend.  My friend Jenny and I have known each other for years, and we’ve also collaborated on a number of projects.  She’s one of my favorite people, she’s funny, insightful, hardworking, caring and full of entrepreneurial spirit.  She’s commonly the ideas person in our dynamic duo, and I work behind the scenes to help execute her ideas. Lately I’ve been experiencing some frustration relative to what I’m calling the whiplash effect.  She has a grand idea, I rush behind the scenes to make it happen, and then it gets shelved. we create resentment when we don’t speak up And so, a couple of glasses of sparkling rose into a business lunch we were having the other day, out it came.  I shared with her my frustration, and the grief this had been causing me.  It wasn’t a perfect delivery as far as feedback is concerned.  I didn’t follow each of the straight talk steps in perfect unison, but then again perfect is the enemy of good.  I was still scared, even though she’s my friend.  I was scared especially because she’s my friend and this relationship really matters to me. I fully expected her to listen, and she did.  I fully expected her to acknowledge the frustration and the mixed messages she’d been sending, and she did. What surprised me was the text she sent me later on.  “I’m going to do better.”  And she expressed sincere concern for hurting my feelings and sending mixed messages. I had to ask myself why I was so surprised.  And then I had a realization.  I’m not used to people owning things.  I’m not used to reciprocity in relationships.  And this isn’t because I think other people are inherently selfish, or I was picking horrible people to surround myself with (although in some instances I could have done a better job on that front).  In the past I often took the path of please and appease rather than assert myself and share my concerns.  I took that path because I was desperate for people to like me, to have a ton of friends in my network.  Unconsciously, this was a hidden measure of success.  Interestingly it didn’t matter whether I liked them. I got used to giving more than my fair share.  I got used to not sharing my voice or truth on things, then feeling resentful, and rather than expressing it, shoving it down and shaming myself instead.  Then I’d have to find ways to numb the pain.  Or it would spill out in other passive aggressive ways and ultimately pollute the relationship. when we know our worth, we can […]

    September 2, 2022

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    4.1 min read

  • Read Your values matter in life and leadership.  Here’s why.

    Authenticity, Leadership, Life Direction and Purpose, Mindfulness

    Your values matter in life and leadership.  Here’s why.

    A discussion about values can often seem like an artificial conversation.  It’s a nice to have, not a need to have, right?  Something I do once at a training course because the facilitator forces me to do it, and then I shove the paper they’re written on in a desk drawer and forget about it and go on with the rest of my business. Values can help or hinder our growth and development What’s interesting to understand about values is they can help us or hinder us.  And that might seem counterintuitive, because aren’t values a good thing?  The answer is, it depends.  Let’s say I value accuracy.  If I place too much emphasis on accuracy, I might find myself overworking reports, overworking data, to an extent that’s unnecessary for the task at hand.  Many of us trip ourselves up this way and forget the tried and tested 80/20 rule. One value that I tend to hear a lot from clients is trust.  Trust is an interesting one because we often gravitate towards it if we’ve been hurt in the past.  Maybe our parents got divorced and it eroded our trust in them.  Maybe a spouse or partner cheated on us, and the result was devastating, we can never trust again.  Maybe a business partner stole money from us, or a family member wronged us.  The list goes on and on. Based on these life experiences we then conclude that trust is the most important thing in any relationship, and we cling onto it for dear life.  We suspiciously look for signs that someone might be untrustworthy.  We fear that our worst nightmare will come true, and then it does.  We reinforce this idea by telling ourselves things like, “the only person I can trust is myself.” Fear based values versus conscious based values Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not wrong to value trust.  But it’s worth thinking about the relationship you have with your values.  Did I consciously choose to value trust because it’s important to me, or am I desperately clinging to this value out of fear?  And if I’m clinging to a value out of fear, how might that be blinding me?  How might I then be unconsciously creating the situation I fear? For years I clung to authenticity.  It was my biggest personal value.  And when I think about my personal history, that makes perfect sense.  I grew up in a household where conformity was valued, and I often felt like I could never be myself or loved for who I am.  I had to fight very hard for the right to just be myself.  I even prided myself at one point of being the proverbial black sheep of the family.  I was so concerned with losing my “authentic self” that it inadvertently blinded me to choices I might have liked but wouldn’t even consider because they seemed on the surface to be too conforming. A few years ago, I gave up authenticity as my most important […]

    August 11, 2022

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    3.9 min read

  • Read The Problem with Feedback

    Communication

    The Problem with Feedback

    The other day I got my student feedback from a course I teach each semester on Managing without Authority for a local university. I opened it up, excited to see what the students said, and my eyes were drawn to the one respondent that disagreed the course was valuable, and also disagreed I was knowledgeable.  In the free form feedback it said: “Too much reliance on students and not the teacher. We spent more time talking in groups than being provided real insight on managing without authority. If we asked a question, it was not answered and instead thrown on the class to answer.” My heart sank.  And the mind monkey took off.  I’d been outed.  Because when I look deep at my own inner saboteurs, the one that screams the most is “You don’t know enough.” We Fixate on the Negative Feedback So that comment really stung.  I’ve often noticed this tendency in life, where we humble human beings fall into negative confirmation bias.  We look for the things that confirm our worst fears.  Our worst fears are then confirmed, and we fixate on it.  Never mind the 18 other people that strongly agreed that the course was valuable.  Never mind the copious comments on how engaging the course was, how much they liked the case studies, my humor, the breakout groups.  Never mind that these 18 thought I was knowledgeable.  In that moment none of it mattered.  This one individual in the six years I’d been teaching for this institution had finally seen the truth of me.  The game was up. Unfortunately, I had opened this email in the middle of an important 3 day meeting I was participating in.  And then I cursed myself for opening something that could be potentially triggering at a moment I needed to concentrate most.  It took some effort, but I managed to steer myself back into the meeting and reground myself.  Yay for mindfulness techniques!  I spent a few moments practicing some deep breathing, focusing with my eyes on a few objects in my office that bring me joy and are beautiful to look at.  Slowly but surely the dissonance faded away and I regained my composure. When will we be enough? But it got me thinking…it’s interesting this tendency we have to need to prove ourselves.  We obsess about the big presentation that’s coming up, how we must be prepared and have the answer to every potential question under the sun that might be asked.  We stress about the quality of our work.  Is it good enough?  Will people think that I’m credible and I know what I’m talking about?  We stress about the quarterly performance review; will I be rated above average or exceptional?  And what does it mean if I’m not? But here’s the bottom line – When do we get to enjoy things?  When we know enough?  Because that’s a fool’s game.  Enough is never enough because there’s always something new to prove, someone new to impress, […]

    July 20, 2022

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    3.7 min read

  • Read The power of assumptions: 4 simple questions to ask yourself to make sure your team really knows what they’re doing

    Leadership

    The power of assumptions: 4 simple questions to ask yourself to make sure your team really knows what they’re doing

    The power of assumptions There’s a saying about the word assumption.  That assume makes an ass of you and me.  Get it?  It’s not the most polished of phrases, but it tends to be true, if you think of the times in the past when you’ve been embarrassed or caught out or a project or deliverable that otherwise missed the mark. I was reminded of it today while facilitating a session to a group of team leaders.  I asked them to think about several questions as they relate to their team and their leadership.  The goal of my inquiry?  To get folks thinking about what assumptions they have made about their team’s understanding of purpose, the overall vision, and the plan. 4 Simple Questions To what extend do we: Know how our work matters to the organization and our customers? Have a clear shared team purpose and do we talk about it? Agree explicitly on what our priorities are and decide what we will and will not do to manage workload? All have a shared understanding of the intent-based outcomes of each of our key deliverables? I had them rate themselves on a scale of 1-5, 5 being high on each of these questions and discuss. What was interesting was the discussion that ensued.  Each leader reported back they had work to do in this area.  In many cases, we take it for granted that 1)  our direct reports know what the purpose of the team is, 2)  know what the team priorities are and 3)  understand the outcome and intent we are so keenly focused on. Except the fact of the matter is often they don’t.  Then they start making assumptions about what is or isn’t important.  And spend time on things that aren’t really value added or driving the overall mission and vision of the team.  There’s a huge hidden cost to this in organizations. Don’t wait for the audit I remember back to my days in internal audit when I would turn up to do an audit of a business unit and I’d start interviewing stakeholders.  I’d ask individuals on the same team to define what success looked like.  20 interviews and 20 completely different answers later, I’d write an audit finding about the lack of clear success criteria for the unit.  Just because you think you know what it is, doesn’t mean that it’s translated.  It reminds me of that childhood game called “telephone.”  A group of people sitting in a circle, and one whispers into the ear of the next the secret which goes around the circle.  What comes out on the other end rarely bares any resemblance to the original message.  It’s up to you as a leader to constantly be checking in, to understand the extent to which others on a team really get the vision and mission that’s been laid out. As a leader, you’re in a position to influence these things.  But we often dive so quickly into the doing, we […]

    June 16, 2022

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    3.3 min read

  • Read The Power of a Great Question

    Leader as Coach

    The Power of a Great Question

    We all know we should ask good questions.  The problem is that a lot of the time we don’t do it.  We default to the things that are more comfortable. When I’m teaching coaching skills to leadership, I often have them do a very simple exercise. Advice versus open ended questions In pairs, they take turns listening to a colleague, but in the first round, they do it with the hat of a mentor.  They can give advice.  And boy do they.  These conversations typically descend into, “here’s what I’ve tried that’s worked.  You should do this.”  I hear loads of closed ended questions, lots of yeses and nos as they probe their colleague for what they tried and what they didn’t try. In the second round, they can’t give any advice, and only can ask open ended questions.  (An open-ended question is one that can’t be answered with a yes or a no just in case you were wondering.). They really struggle with this one.  But during the debrief, the folks with the issue typically report that the latter exercise, the one where only open-ended questions could be asked, was the one that really expanded their thinking or got them to see something from a different perspective. Why are open ended questions so powerful? I’ve often seen the light bulb go off after I debrief this exercise.  If I’m asking an open-ended empowering question, the person on the receiving end comes to their own conclusion, not the conclusion that I think could be best for them.  The benefit of this is that the person being questioned takes more ownership of whatever the solution is.  Have you ever had a great piece of advice which you willingly gave to someone and just couldn’t understand why they didn’t take the idea and run with it?  Well, it may have been great for you, but it probably wasn’t great for them.  The ability to create one’s own solution creates natural by-in in the problem-solving process.  It gives the person with the problem a sense they also have autonomy, which is something that greatly motivates folks and many of us desperately crave this in our work.  I can’t tell you how many coaching clients I’ve had who are looking to leave a job who say they don’t have enough creativity in their work.  They feel micromanaged.  They feel condescended to.  It’s not surprising considering it’s sometimes just easier in the short run to “tell” someone how they should do something.  The problem is that this way of communicating creates loads of longer-term issues. Powerful open-ended questions also create engagement.  If I’m telling someone what I think they should do, how engaged do you really think they will be in the conversation?  Asking a powerful open-ended question opens the dialogue, I am engaging this person on a deep level, getting them to think critically and creatively about the issues they face.  And if you don’t think engagement is important, think again.  According to Gallup, […]

    May 11, 2022

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    4.3 min read