Category Archives: Decision-Making

In The Turn

3 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills and Make a Bigger Impact

Paint Brushes

Do you remember a game from your childhood where you started with an unrecognizable collection of dots on a page, drew a line between them in just the right way, and an image emerged?

Connect-the-dots may be a simple pastime from your youth, but it’s also a metaphor for one of the most powerful capabilities of all successful leaders: strategic thinking.

Stop and think about a time you faced a situation where things were unfamiliar, disorganized, even chaotic. By carefully connecting the dots in all the right places – between people, ideas and resources – you created clarity and opportunity. Your strategic thinking skills carried the day.

Making meaningful connections that allow you to make smart moves is a beautiful thing, especially when it leads to “Eureka!” moments like finding the perfect solution to a pressing problem or developing a creative approach to a new initiative.

Why we don’t think more strategically

One of my coaching clients recently told me that connecting the dots was one of her greatest strengths. Her face lit up as she talked about an interesting new trend she had observed and how she enjoys tackling challenges that seem to stump others.

Then, with a deep sigh, she explained her most daunting leadership dilemma: Not having enough time to think like this.

“I’m too much in the weeds,” she told me, leaving precious little time to think about bigger issues and opportunities.

It’s not just lack of time. Leaders face many other challenges when it comes to thinking strategically:

  • Constant distractions such as meetings, phone calls and unexpected problems that you feel you must respond to.
  • Reasoning and analytical skills that have gotten a little rusty, making it that much harder to come up with solid solutions.
  • Lack of information or adequate resources to help fully understand the landscape when making critical decisions.

You can have a bigger impact

You don’t want to shirk your day-to-day responsibilities, of course, but you want to be more than a tactician. Most leaders want to be strategic thinkers and trusted advisors. Holding this kind of sway gets you invited to the table to work on the big stuff. As a result, your impact on your team, your organization and your industry can be far greater.

Strategic leaders know what matters most and focus on delivering high value. In a practical sense, they have the ability to:

  • See across the total enterprise and thinking collaboratively, not just about one team or business unit.
  • Focus on problems that have the greatest impact on key business goals and initiatives.
  • Spot important trends and know which ones will impact the organization.
  • Understand the competitive landscape and develop a strong positioning that attracts the best customers.
  • Envision where the business needs to go in a rapidly changing environment.
  • Develop plans to lead the organization into the future.

 How to think more strategically

To lead at this level, let’s start with some learnings from neuroscience research and how you can optimize your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain responsible for working through complex issues. Then we’ll take a closer look at some ways you can broaden your perspective and challenge status-quo thinking.

  1. Optimize Your Brain

It’s virtually impossible to think strategically when you multitask. Distractions such as email, phone calls, and visitors require us to shift gears too frequently to allow us to peel back the many layers of a challenge. To counter these distractions, find at least one two-hour block a week when you can work on a single pressing item without interruption. Literally, schedule it on your calendar.

When possible, especially on bigger projects, it’s best to leave your office. You will make more connections and have more of those coveted “Eureka!” moments when you can put yourself in a stress-free environment, not bound by time or place. Where is your “happy place” — a favorite room in your house, a cabin on the lake, a quiet spot in your local library? Go there when you need to think deeply.

You also will have more success solving difficult problems by putting yourself in a positive state of mind. Carol Dweck’s TED talk on how students overcome challenges underscores the value of a positive mindset. As you approach situations where you need to think strategically, remind yourself an answer is within reach.

Another way to optimize your mental performance is by engaging in creative, stimulating activities outside of work such as hobbies or working out. This puts your prefrontal cortex into a high-performing state often referred to as “flow.” This is because your brain releases just the right amount of adrenaline and dopamine – not too much, not too little. During these times, the brain often works subconsciously on solving problems. Be sure to make regular time in your life for hobbies and “flow” so you can encourage these connections to happen and allow new ideas to surface.

  1. Broaden Your Perspective

If you keep listening to the same things or talking with the same people, you’ll find it much more difficult to be strategic when it comes to tackling your organization’s bigger issues. Remember, new thinking comes when you connect the dots in new ways.

Start by thinking about the information you access now. How can you broaden your perspective by mixing it up, adding new resources or meeting new people? Here are some things to consider.

Resources — Look at the blogs, e-newsletters, research reports, websites and other things you read to ensure you have a blend of:

  • General business news locally, nationally and internationally.
  • Political, social and economic trends.
  • Industry-specific information.
  • Leadership advice, tools and techniques to develop yourself and those you lead.
  • Creative inspiration – poetry, novels, humor pieces, or anything that sparks a few “wows” and “cools” in your heart and mind.

Insights — Subscribe to an insights service that can provide trends about the attitudes and behaviors of your customers and stakeholder groups, as well as thoughtful analysis about the future of your industry.

Conferences – Rethink the conferences you are attending. Consider swapping out for – or adding — something outside your normal that offers:

  • Speakers on innovation.
  • Futurists who can give you a better sense of how business and society are evolving.
  • Case studies on new business models.
  • Best practices on leading through change.

Competitors — Pick three competitors to benchmark and do a deep dive on what’s working. Study their websites; get on their email distribution list; download and study their whitepapers. Don’t copy what they do. Instead, look at the unique way they solved a problem or acted opportunistically. What do you observe? What lessons can you learn from their approach? How could this inform your thinking?

Other industries — You can learn a great deal from other sectors. Join a local or regional business group that includes leaders from outside your industry. By broadening your network, you’ll gain fresh perspectives on business challenges others are facing and addressing in different ways. Consider joining a national peer-to-peer organization such as Young Presidents’ Organization, Women Presidents’ Organization or Vistage that offers advisory boards, business research and speakers.

  1. Challenge Your Thinking

In addition to looking outward, take stock of some critical internal business issues. Following are a few areas to take a closer look at, along with some questions to ask yourself and your team.

Products and services

  • How is the marketplace changing? What market forces are impacting your industry?
  • Where are customers/clients shifting their spending? How does this impact your product/service mix? What plans do you have for new product/service development?
  • What are your clients’ biggest pain points? How do you know? How are you addressing these opportunities?
  • Do you have the types of clients you want? If not, who do you want? Do you have a cultivation strategy in place to attract those types of clients?


  • What is your company the best at? Are you in your “sweet spot?”
  • Are you positioning yourselves optimally in the marketplace?
  • Do you have differentiating products/services that set you apart from the competition?
  • Are you investing in staying at the forefront of your area of expertise?
  • Is your current branding reflective of the company you are evolving to become?


  • What business could you lose in two years? What would you replace that with and are you cultivating that now? (Plan B clients)
  • Do you have a client dependency issue?
  • Can you diversify revenue through new types of products/services/markets?
  • Are you on firm financial footing (revenue growth and profitability)? What goals should you set and metrics should you track to stay closer to your finances?


  • What talent will you need to carry you into the future? What jobs do you need to create that you don’t have now?
  • How will your talent mix need to change? Specialist vs generalist? Strategic vs tactical? AI vs humans?
  • What succession plans need to be in place for key positions?
  • How does your employee turnover compare to the industry? Are you investing appropriately in retention strategies? If not, what needs to change?

When you did those connect-the-dots visuals back in the day, it probably didn’t take long for you to begin seeing the pattern – bird, cowboy, doctor, frog, flower… It’s not always that easy or that clear for a leader. But seeing the patterns and creating a strategy for the future is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

So, optimize your brain, broaden your perspective, and challenge your thinking. Then see what emerges.

Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

A Maharaja, a Magician and a Tiger: Leadership Lessons from the Most Unexpected Places

Tiger sighting

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to India, a captivating place that is an explosion of vivid sights, sounds and smells. From the Taj Mahal and tuk-tuks (think motorized rickshaws), to saris, Bollywood and curry, there is only one India.

I had the privilege of speaking at leadership events in both New Delhi and Mumbai. Through these experiences, I gained a much fuller understanding of the economic opportunities India enjoys. I came away inspired by the accomplishments of the business leaders I met and warmed by the friendships I gained.

Travel can be a great teacher, and this trip was no exception. Yet some of the most powerful leadership lessons from this trip came in the most unexpected of places – while walking through the ancient palaces of the maharajas, meeting a 10-year-old magician in a rural village, and looking for tigers in the underbrush of the Vindhya plateau.

This is part one in a series on lessons I learned during this journey. I hope you learn as much from it as I did. Let’s start in the wild, which actually has some striking similarities to the workplace.

What tracking a tiger can teach you about leadership

Tigers are beautiful and rare creatures. The Bengal tiger is the national animal of India and can still be seen in the wild, thanks in large part to Project Tiger, a conservation program launched by the Indian government nearly 50 years ago to protect the animals from extinction.

We saw three tigers during a two-day visit to Ranthambhore National Park, a 108-square mile tiger preserve that is also home to crocodiles, leopards, peacocks and a variety of other wildlife. It was a thrilling experience to see a tiger up close – and I mean very close — in its natural habitat. On two different occasions, a tiger walked right in front of our jeep.

Tigers are the largest members of the cat family. They are predators at the top of the food chain, hunting deer, wild boar and monkeys, among many other things. Tigers are stealthy, camouflaging themselves in tall grass while they stalk prey. They are also incredibly beautiful and sleek, moving with a grace and calmness that can lull you into overlooking the danger at hand.

But spotting a tiger in the national parks is no easy task. Some visitors don’t see one until their fifth or sixth visit. Experienced guides and drivers who know the park well are your best bet, not just for their knowledge of the terrain, but because they have learned a secret that also holds many powerful leadership lessons.

Our group had hired just such experts, and we set out just before sunrise on our first safari. My husband, a friend and I rode together in one jeep; our traveling companions in another. Each vehicle was assigned a guide and a driver.

It was very chilly as we started out, and the road was bumpy and dusty. Our guide seemed quite knowledgeable and told us many interesting facts about tigers, their history and the country’s preservation program as we approached the entrance to the park.

Once we passed the guard station, we headed for the zone we had been assigned to for the morning and began our search. We drove up and down hills, passed several watering holes, and stopped to birdwatch a bit. We saw peacocks, deer, two crocodiles and a mongoose.

But no tiger.

On several occasions, our guide instructed our driver to simply stop and turn the engine off. And we just sat. The first time or two he did this, I was frustrated. I didn’t understand – why are we sitting? The other animals are beautiful, but we came to see a tiger. Shouldn’t we be driving around? Shouldn’t we try to cover more ground to increase our chances? Why would we stop and do nothing?

It didn’t take long for our guide to notice our confusion. You can drive and drive in hopes of seeing a tiger, he explained, but this obvious strategy often wastes time and energy, and it ultimately tries the patience of the team. You’re also making unnecessary noise, kicking up dust and, most importantly, racing by the very clues you need.

Your best bet, he said, is to stop, watch and listen.

Trying a different strategy

When a tiger is on the move, he told us, other animals are the first to notice and they give a call about the approaching danger. Sometimes their alarm is very noticeable, like a monkey’s shriek while it climbs frantically into the tree tops. Other warnings are subtler, such as a bird’s cry made at a slightly higher pitch, or a Sambar deer’s short quick bark twice in succession as it turns to run.

The calls can be right in front of you, or far away. If you’re not watching and listening carefully, you’ll miss them.

It sounded like a plausible reason for the sit-and-wait strategy, but, I’ll admit, it was a little hard to buy into this approach. While the minutes ticked by, I couldn’t help but think we should get moving, try to cover more ground and move into more open spaces to increase our line of sight. Do something – anything – seemed like a more productive strategy and one more in tuned with my destination instincts.

But the effectiveness of his approach was proven in dramatic fashion.  After riding around for some time, our guide instructed our driver to slow way down, and he leaned out of the jeep. On the side of the road, he spotted fresh tiger prints in the dust. Once we got close enough to them, they were unmistakable.

We followed the prints along the road until they disappeared, then drove a bit until we reached a low spot near a dried creek bed, trees thick on either side. The guide instructed our driver to turn off the engine. We sat and waited. Other jeeps and guides had gathered nearby as well. No one said a word.

And then we heard it – the animals gave their calls. The treetops came alive as monkeys began swinging wildly from the branches and chattering loudly. Birds flew from the trees, calling out. The boss was on the move. Where exactly and moving in what direction was anyone’s guess. But we knew something big was about to happen.

My heart was in my throat. The anticipation of a sighting was absolutely thrilling.

Our guide spoke swiftly and pointed to where he wanted our jeep to be positioned. The driver threw the vehicle into reverse and quickly backed down the road to an opening in the woods. It was clear our guide was relying on his instincts and 20-plus years of experience at that critical moment to anticipate where the tiger might emerge.

And, in fact, she did, in all her glory, right beside us. I captured priceless video of her jumping effortlessly over a rock wall and sauntering into the clearing, turning around just long enough to cast a curious glance at her audience. Simply amazing.

Leadership lessons

Needless to say, we were beside ourselves with excitement and couldn’t stop talking and looking at pictures (and video) while we drove back to our camp.

It wasn’t until later in the day when the excitement had died down and I could think more deeply about the experience that the lessons came home to me. While luck and timing played a part, as is always the case, there were several reasons for our success that we can apply to our own leadership journeys.

Here are three.

Lesson #1: Recognize the warning signs

Our guide was experienced and knew the warning signs, both subtle and overt. He knew how they could help inform our process and improve our chances. If he hadn’t, we would have been like many of the vehicles we saw wandering aimlessly around the park whose guide seemed too busy with the “cover more ground” strategy.

How many times have you been unaware of — or simply ignored — warning signs that could have helped you anticipate problems? It could be something as subtle as a slight change in the attitude of a trusted teammate. Or an off-hand comment made by a colleague. It could be as overt as competing interests among colleagues that start derailing an important project. Or a top contributor deciding to leave for another job with no real apparent reason.

If you’re paying attention, these signs can alert you that something bigger is brewing. But you must learn to identify and recognize the signs, or you can run straight into trouble that is far more difficult to recover from.

Lesson #2: Know when to stop, watch and listen

Although we covered a lot of ground and looked in likely places, our guide resisted the temptation (and subtle pressure from us) to spend all our time driving around in hopes that we would simply run into a tiger. If we had used that strategy, we would have missed at least two of the tiger sightings we had.

Destination leaders often go full throttle in pursuit of their goals, and sometimes our drive pays off. Other times, we can become so single-minded in our focus that we pay little to no attention to anything or anyone around us when that’s exactly what we need to do.

Have you found yourself thinking you were too busy to have meaningful conversations? You missed a breakdown happening right in front of you because you were looking past it? You were so committed to your own strategy that you weren’t willing to stop and consider someone else’s approach that could have led to a better result? You gave in to pressure from others to deviate from a strategy that you believed would be more effective?

How much better could you lead if you tried a “stop, watch and listen” strategy every now and then? Here’s what that could look like:

Stop — Take time to think more deeply and enhance your own cognitive abilities by:

  • Practicing mindfulness every day – just five minutes using a free app on your phone like Insights Timer will increase your ability to focus and help you stay centered.
  • Scheduling some “think time” on your calendar at least once a week to dive deeper into a pressing issue or complex project you’re facing.

Watch — In meetings, practice watching others to determine their state of mind by:

  • Observing body language that could signal dissatisfaction or unrest such as minimal eye contact, being distracted, choosing a seat that is unnaturally far away.
  • Seeing how someone greets others or says good-bye as they leave the room
  • Noticing their facial expressions as they react to certain topics or comments.

Listen — In your one-on-ones, ask two or three new questions to prompt discussion on more meaningful issues and to allow you to listen more intentionally to your team. For example:

  • What’s keeping you awake at night right now?
  • If you were sitting in my seat, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give me?
  • What is one thing I can do for you?

And in phone calls with customers or clients, practice listening to gain a deeper understanding by:

  • Noticing their tone of voice to anticipate how they are feeling.
  • Jotting down critical thoughts and words they share with you to help you synthesize and understand the bigger picture.
  • Asking open-ended questions to draw out more details that could fill an information gap in your mind about a situation.

Lesson #3: Use what you learn to make better decisions

Our guide was adept at watching and listening, but he also knew how to use that information to his advantage. He gambled on where to park our jeep by watching the direction the animals were moving and relying on his instincts and experience.

You will never know exactly what to do every time. No leader does. A difficult situation arises suddenly, things begin to unfold in real time, and a decision must be made quickly. It can be scary, especially if the stakes are high.

You can improve your chances of making better decisions at critical moments, however, as you become more adept at assessing situations and applying insights. Among other things, this requires you to:

  • manage your emotions effectively when the pressure is on;
  • apply fundamental elements of critical thinking such as accuracy and relevance to devise viable solutions; and
  • have the courage to make the decision, even if you’re unsure it will work.

Making decisions at critical moments takes practice. But if you are more intentional about your overall decision-making process, you’ll find it comes easier in pressure-packed situations. And you’ll likely enjoy more satisfactory outcomes.

I hope these three leadership lessons help you lead at your best. More to come on lessons learned from maharajas, maharanis and a 10-year-old magician.



Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Create a Personal Board of Directors and Accelerate Your Career

The meeting was over, and I returned to my office feeling extremely satisfied with the results. Then I heard a knock on the door and looked up to see a co-worker who had come to gently set me straight.

As it turned out, what I thought had been a successful meeting regarding a major decision instead had left others confused about my thinking and concerned about what was ahead. I thought I had done a great job of communicating and inspiring, only to learn I hadn’t taken the time to provide some much-needed context. In my eagerness to drive the decision, I had left out valuable details to earn buy-in.

We’ve all had situations when our self-awareness gets lost in self-denial, Or in my case, lost in my own POV. Realistic self-assessment is incredibly difficult. We’re either too easy or too hard on ourselves, and neither is good.

  • When we’re too easy, we begin to think our way is the best and only way, and we disregard the diverse views of others. We become overly confident, take chances we shouldn’t and think we’re more effective than we really are.
  • When we’re too hard on ourselves, we question every decision. We’re more hesitant than we should be and don’t trust our instincts enough. We need too much validation, don’t feel worthy of respect and suffer from the imposter syndrome.

Either way, we are not leading at our best and those around us suffer as a result.

The biggest problem: Getting feedback

It takes hard work to strike the right balance and have a fair appraisal of ourselves so we can play to our strengths while continually striving to improve our weaknesses.

The biggest problem is we often don’t get the feedback we need to inform our self-perceptions. It’s challenging for others to tell the truth or share less than flattering observations with us, especially if we’re in a position of power. We often don’t get accurate, honest comments about how our words, actions and intentions are perceived.

One of the best ways to gain regular, meaningful feedback is to put together a personal board of directors – a team of mentors who will tell it like it is when we need to hear it most.

Wendy Davidson, the president of U.S. Specialty Channels for the Kellogg Company, introduced this idea to me several years ago, because she believes her personal board has been invaluable to her highly successful career. I couldn’t agree more.

Benefits of a personal board of directors

Consider some of the countless ways a personal board can advance your career. They can:

  • Offer practical advice about how to tackle new opportunities to increase your chances of getting key decisions right the first time
  • Serve as an informal coach who can provide wisdom about challenging situations or interactions with others
  • Share subject-matter expertise to expand your understanding on a specific topic
  • Point you toward resources and tools that will further your development and learning Introduce you to people to help expand your network
  • Hold you accountable for changing an attitude or behavior impacting your professional performance
  • Offer diverse points of view and different life experiences to challenge your thinking and broaden your view of the world
  • Provide “big picture” perspective about your career as you consider job opportunities or career moves

How to form your board

The concept of a personal board of directors isn’t new, and most leaders I know see it as a great idea. But many never give the time and energy it takes to form and take advantage of such a board. So, how do you actually pull it off? It’s not as hard as it seems, but it does require a bit of thinking and planning. I’ve mapped out a simple process with these three steps to establishing a personal board of directors:

1. Assess your biggest needs

Start by listing of your five biggest challenges/needs — things that are potentially holding you back in your career or impacting your work/life balance. Some examples:

  • Unfamiliar with practical financial principles that impact my strategic thinking abilities
  • Not managing my emotions effectively under pressure
  • Not enough knowledge of front-line operations
  • Working too late in the evenings on a regular basis
  • Feeling confused and overwhelmed by complex decisions

If it helps, turn these challenges into simple “goal statements,” such as:

  • Develop a working knowledge of the most useful financial principles for my role
  • Keep my cool more often when I am facing deadlines

2. Identify prospects

Once you have a better sense of your needs, think about who could help you most. Consider asking people who:

  • Are in a position you aspire to have someday
  • Come from another company in your industry (that you don’t compete with)
  • Come from an entirely different industry
  • Are experts in an area you need to learn more about
  • Can feed your spirit and encourage you to invest in yourself
  • Are willing to be brutally honest to help, not hurt
  • Will always have your best interests at heart

List each prospect’s name, organization, area of expertise, and which one or more of your five goals can they help you with. Make sure you have current contact information for each prospect.

Make as long a list as you like, but an ideal personal board has 3-5 members. You’ll need more prospects since everyone may not be able to help.

3. Make the ask

Once you have your list, take some time to write a short script or a few bullet points to guide your conversation so you can articulate your thinking clearly and succinctly when you call each prospect.

For example, you’ll want to explain why you are forming a personal board of directors, what is involved if someone agrees to join and how each person could help you with one or more of your five opportunities for growth.

Here’s an example of what you could say and why you need to say it:

  • I’ve been evaluating my career, identifying my strengths and my opportunities for growth. I’ve set some specific goals for myself that I believe will further my career. (establishes that you have done your homework)
  • I greatly admire what you have accomplished, particularly ___________ (name something related to one or more of your five areas for growth). This expertise and your career success would be invaluable to me. (explains why you are asking them)
  • I have decided to form a personal board of directors and would love to have you as a part of this team of super mentors for me. (clarifies your plan of action)
  • What that simply means is I would like to connect with you once every few months to ask for your advice or seek your expertise when I know it could make a big impact on me. I would like to treat you to lunch or dinner, or we could arrange to meet by phone/video call, too – whatever is easier for you. (tells them how much time would be involved on their end)
  • I would like your help as I continue on my developmental journey. Would you be willing to be on my personal board of directors? (makes the ask)

Start with your top prospects and work your way through your list, ensuring that you create a board with diverse strengths and expertise. Make notes of the feedback you receive to help shape how you bring your board to life and what their preferences might be for how you engage with them. Even prospects who cannot take the time to join your board now will likely have some advice for you.

TIP: Don’t fear ‘the ask’

One piece of advice Wendy shared with me is not to be afraid to ask. Many times, we worry that asking for help is a burden to others. Wendy reminded me that looking to others for advice can be a compliment. You’re saying, “You have something that I can learn from, and I’d like you to be a part of my career moving forward.”

Next steps

A few suggestions on next steps:

  • Once you have secured the agreement of and feedback from your board members, send them a thank-you email or hand-written note.
  • Look ahead on your schedule to identify times you can connect with them in person or by phone/video. Make a note to reach out to them several weeks in advance so they can make time to meet.
  • Prepare for each meeting so you can give them an overview of what’s going on in your career. If you have a specific request, let them know the topic in advance so they can think about how to help.
  • Always send a thank-you note any time your board members help you. Let them know the result and the impact they have made.

If you want to take a deeper dive on this topic – to hear the full story about how and why Wendy created her board, and how she used this throughout her career – read Chapter 3 in my book, Leading Through the Turn.

I am proud to say Wendy is on my personal board of directors, and I am on hers. Her impact on my leadership journey has been profound, and it is an honor to help her whenever I can. Imagine how your personal board of directors will impact the trajectory of your career. Don’t be afraid to ask!




Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

Setting Smarter Priorities: 5 Steps for Creating More Margin In Your Life

It happens innocently enough. Your boss hands you an extra assignment that turns out to be a major undertaking. Or a colleague takes a leave of absence and you’re asked to absorb his workload. Or you agree to chair a youth sports league fundraiser because you feel guilty you haven’t been that involved lately.

Before you know it, you’ve got too much on your plate with too little time to get it all done. While you could do a beautiful job on any one of these obligations, the total soaks up every last bit of white space in your life, leaving you little to no margin. You feel anxious and overwhelmed. You worry you may no longer be able to keep up if something doesn’t let up. And you know if a problem arises, everything could come unraveled.

If this frenetic pace sounds all too familiar, you are not alone. Good leaders are in high demand, and chances are you’ve been handed things or asked to lead because you get things done.

It’s good to be a willing leader – and being asked to lead affirms our “achiever” status. But it’s not good when the volume impacts our ability to produce good thinking and solid execution. It’s even worse when the stress jeopardizes our health, our state of mind, and negatively impacts our outlook on life.

We need more margin in our lives, especially as the demands and the pace increase. That’s why it’s important to develop discipline – and a system – for capturing, evaluating and prioritizing the responsibilities you take on. When you are intentional about thinking through what you do and why you’re doing it, you are in a better position to manage your schedule, minimize your stress and maximize your joy.

A Different Approach I’ve been guilty of taking on way too much for a lot of my leadership journey. As I have learned to become a destination leader with a journey mindset over the past several years, this has gotten better. Recently, I decided to try a new approach to evaluating my workload and setting priorities with the goal of creating more margin in my life.

So far, it’s really working, and I am far happier with how I am handling the projects I’m leading. I have more energy and focus around my work and greater clarity about what’s a need-to-have vs a nice-to-have. Most importantly, I have created more space for family and more downtime for myself. Here’s how it works.

Step one: Evaluate your responsibilities Start by making a master list of everything you have on your plate for the next 90 days. Write each item down on the left-hand side of a page. Include both work and personal responsibilities – I group them together so it’s easier to see that I’ve considered all aspects of my life.

Across the top of the page, write the following criteria, creating a column for each. Then working your way down your list, rank each criteria for each responsibility on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Impact – How big an impact will this assignment make? Is it going to prevent or solve a major problem? Will it help to further a key organizational goal?
  • Growth – Is there an opportunity for me to grow my knowledge, skills or expertise?
  • Relationships – Who cares about this project? Who was the requester? Who else is engaged? Who will be impacted by my efforts?
  • Time – How much of my time is really required? Will one quick hit do it, or is continuous engagement needed? (NOTE: Be realistic; we tend to underestimate how much time something will take to get it done well.)
  • Role – How important is it that I take the lead? Am I uniquely qualified, or could someone else just as easily take this on? Can I play a supporting role? Can I delegate this as a development opportunity to someone else?

Here’s an example:

Step two: Set your priorities Tally up your scores for each responsibility, putting a mark beside your highest scores. Look for a natural break point in the scoring to divide into two lists:

  • Top priorities – projects that scored the highest because they are more important to you across multiple criteria;
  • Secondary priorities – lower-scoring projects, which could be considered “nice to have” but not “need to have.”

If it helps, consider your work and personal items separately so you can ensure responsibilities from both parts of your life make the top-priority list.

Step three: Protect your time Once you know your top priorities, review your weekly and monthly schedule. Identify ways to protect your time so you can focus on these more important projects. For example:

  • Block out time each week so you are assured of having uninterrupted thinking and work time.
  • Mark “do not disturb” on your calendar periodically to prevent meetings and calls from creeping on to your schedule.
  • Set a time when you will reply to email and calls in a batch so you are not constantly interrupted.
  • Recapture time for your priorities by cutting down on things like social media or binge-watching Netflix.

Be sure to block time for important family obligations, connecting with friends and investing in your personal well-being, such as health and mindfulness activities. This is part of the margin you want to reclaim for your life. If you don’t intentionally create time for these things, they’ll fall off your schedule very quickly.

Step four: Prune your list Now that you have a better feel for how much time you need to devote to your top priorities, consider your secondary priorities. Do a stop/delegate/wait analysis:

  • What can you stop or say “no” to doing altogether?
  • What can you delegate to someone who can move it forward for you?
  • What can you push back on your schedule to tackle another time?

As you ask yourself these questions, think about what you’d rather be doing when you create more margin in your life. Use that vision as motivation to prune more things.

Step five: Take action Finally, implement your decisions as soon as possible. Here’s a tip: If you’re finding it hard to say “no,” try saying “not now.” I have a friend who often says, “I have a high interest in that project, but low availability.” Your primary goal is to protect your time for the immediate future, so you can:

  1. Accomplish your top priorities; and
  2. Create more margin in your life for connecting with family/friends and investing in your personal well-being.

Additional Resources for Getting Your Life More Organized Do you fear your tendency to be disorganized is contributing to the problem? Ask yourself if either of these statements describes your life:

  • You have half-done to-do lists scattered throughout your life, yet you can’t seem to get anything meaningful done.
  • You try to file things away mentally instead of capturing them in a master list. Neuroscience research tells us you can only hold four or five thoughts in your head at any one time, which explains why we tend to forget so many things we intended to do.

If these statements are true for you, you need to put “getting more organized” at the very top of your priority list. Here are some additional resources:

  • Getting Things Done, a best-selling book by David Allen, sets out a tried-and-true approach for capturing, organizing and taking action on your to-do list.
  • Keep your master list in one place so you can access it wherever you go. Consider tools like:
    • Evernote
    • Wunderlist
    • – Using the Notes function on your phone
    • – Keeping a written journal – there are many popular products on the market such as productivity planners, Maruman or Moleskin journals

Here’s to a more organized and rewarding 2018 that allows you to focus on your top priorities while creating greater margin in your life.

Any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you – email me at



Copyright (c) 2018 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

From Unproven to Unprecedented: How to Get Buy-in For Something That’s Never Been Done Before


Doing something new and different sounds exciting. But it’s almost never easy. In fact, it can be downright lonely as you work to convince the world of the beauty and wonder of your great idea.

It’s always harder than it seems in real life. Whether you’re launching a startup or creating a new approach to a persistent problem, it takes more than a passionate speech to get buy-in from influential champions for your cause. If it’s new, it’s unproven. And risky. And no matter how much you believe in it, your passion will only take you so far.

So, how can you win over customers, influencers and decision-makers for something that’s never been done?

I had the privilege of building a company from scratch, so I’m very familiar with the inevitable challenges of launching something new. And my good friend Lauren Wesley Wilson founded ColorComm, a business community for women of color in the communications industry. So, we sat down recently to talk about what it takes to go from unproven to unprecedented success.

Here are 6 takeaways from that conversation you can apply to your own launching pad.

1. Meet an unmet need – This is one of the best places to start when thinking up new concepts, so look for the opportunity to position your idea in this way. Show how your solution delivers something unique, or how you can do it better, faster or cheaper than an existing solution. Lauren saw that women of color lacked opportunities in the communications industry. While supporting women in business isn’t new, focusing on women of color is. Lauren developed a vision for ColorComm, shared it with others and generated a lot of interest for meeting an unmet need.

2. Adapt and evolve – Very rarely does a successful idea look the same from launch to maturity. Most go through numerous revisions and adaptations, responding to market dynamics and customer feedback. We certainly have pushed – and still push – Mitchell Communications to evolve to serve our clients’ ever-changing needs. You have to, or you’ll get left behind. Once she had ColorComm up and going, Lauren learned the importance of listening to her supporters to find ways to improve the organization. “At the beginning, I was focused on realizing my vision,” said Lauren. “But over time, as I listened to others, I heard them bring new ideas forward. For example, they wanted resources and a community to help them when they faced challenges in their careers.”

Lauren used that feedback to develop new services for members that led to more business opportunities, advanced programming, and a talent initiative.

3. Earn trust – Overcoming the skepticism of others is one of the biggest obstacles when launching something new. Demonstrating your credibility and reliability is particularly difficult if people don’t know you or haven’t worked with you. They’re taking a chance on you, not just your product.

David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor, created the trust equation as a powerful way to illustrate what it takes to earn trust:


Each of these factors is critical to earning trust, but reliability can be particularly important if you don’t have a long track record. If that’s the case, start with a smaller ask that has a quicker payback and then deliver an early win.

In the early stages of launching her big idea, Lauren said she focused on showing others they could count on her, that she could do the work, and that she had staying power and determination.

“Many new organizations are not sustainable,” said Lauren. “People wonder if you’ll be around next year. You have to show some results as quickly as possible to give them confidence to invest in you for the long-run.”

4. Move with speed – In the early stages of a project, move quickly to seize opportunity, especially when the competition is stiff. This requires you to be available, responsive and accessible.

In the early years of Mitchell Communications, we often turned projects at breakneck speed – sometimes overnight, if needed. This was a competitive advantage because our competition, while more established, was too big and too slow.

Lauren said that type of agility also helped her build an effective team, earn sponsorship support and recruit top executives for her board.

5. Deal with “no” – There are those who simply won’t share your confidence in your idea, and that can be hard to take. That’s why founders and innovators must be resilient and thick skinned.

“You’re not going to appeal to everyone,” said Lauren. “Accept that fact from the beginning, and instead concentrate your efforts on searching for your audience. It can be scary to champion an untested idea, but you have to put yourself out there.”

If you are authentic and your passion shines through, the naysayers won’t get you down and your confidence will spread. “This will win others over,” Lauren said, “and trickle down to your team.”

6. Take smart risk – It’s tough to know when and how to take risk when starting something new. So much is on the line. Lauren’s experience shows you must consider several things:

  • Your intuition – Follow your gut. There are times you will just know it is the right thing to do.
  • Balance your emotions with reasoning – There are times you will want something so badly. But some of the most important factors — like timing, audience, resources – aren’t there yet. In that case, you must be patient and wait for a better opportunity.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail – Fear of failure is one of the biggest reasons people don’t take risk. But you can’t fixate on it. Lauren learned to think of failure as a catalyst for growth. “If we fail, how can we recover quickly, learn from our mistakes and never make them again. We’re hurting ourselves and our organization if we don’t learn. That’s just how you grow.”


What’s the best piece of advice a mentor ever gave you?

Focus. Don’t get caught up in distractions or try too hard to prove yourself. Concentrate on doing what is most important. You know what you need to do. Do it. — Lauren Wesley Wilson



Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Make the Toughest Calls of Leadership [BONUS]

The buck stops here. How true. President Truman knew it. And all great leaders embrace it. We can (and should) empower others to make decisions whenever possible. But leadership will always involve making the toughest decisions.

Having the authority to make decisions is one of the most rewarding parts of leadership, but actually making the tough calls is seldom easy.

Think about a time when the odds were stacked against you and the risk of failure was high. You didn’t have all the information you needed, yet you had to make a decision. Your team was waiting, and your organization was depending on you to provide direction. What do you do?

When we face the most complex and critical decisions as a leader, we need to recognize the fears and emotions that often hold us hostage and then lean into three powerful “must-haves” for great decision-making.

Recognize the Enemy

A wide range of emotions can cloud our judgment and hold us back when we find ourselves in those crossroads moments that we’d often rather avoid but must face as leaders.

Difficult decisions can make us feel:

  • Overwhelmed – A tidal wave can hit when the potential consequences of a decision we face are significant, we are unprepared, or we feel like we are in over our heads.
  • Anxious – Becoming overly stressed often leads to poor decision-making. The more anxiety we feel, the less likely we’ll have a clear enough head to make the best choice possible. Neuroscience shows anxiety suppresses the activity of pre-frontal cortex neurons, which play a pivotal role in cognitive functions such as calculating risk/reward, problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Indecisive – We sometimes feel paralyzed by too little or too much information. We might be unclear about which criteria we should use to help us decide. Or we might see multiple solutions that all look good.
  • Cautious – We’re hesitant to share information about a decision with others because we’re not sure things are going to turn out the way we want. We’d rather stay quiet, hedge our bets, and leave people to wonder what we decided and why.
  • Pressured – We feel pressured to decide in a certain way by others who have a stake in our decision.
  • Challenged — Similarly, no matter what we decide we know we’ll experience push-back from those who will disagree with our choice. Perhaps they will even challenge us publicly and inappropriately.

Fear rests at the heart of all these decision-making roadblocks. These fears don’t just make decisions harder than necessary, they cause us to question our instincts, project self-doubt and feel out of control. We’re then more prone to make poor decisions, and we risk losing the respect we’ve earned from others – something no leader wants.

So how do we avoid that?

Lean into the Fundamentals

Great leaders are willing to embrace uncertainty as a part of the journey, but they don’t walk down that road unprepared. They lead with authority and confidence because they know and practice the essential fundamentals that help them overcome their fears and make sound decisions.

Here are three must-haves of decision-making that have helped me deal with my most complex and challenging leadership choices:

  1. Process – Establish a tried-and-true decision-making process to help you make and manage any type of decision, but particularly more complex ones. This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. It means you’ll have guideposts and guardrails to move you forward and that you’ll make exceptions by design.
  2. Clarity – Learn to manage emotions that cloud your thoughts during decision-making so you can think clearly and rationally. The process will help with this, but you also need to do the hard work of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. This is an area where other trusted leaders can hold you accountable and help you see when your emotions are stifling your common sense.
  3. Consistency – Create patterns in your decision-making that minimize surprises and build trust. Having a standard process and managing your emotions will help you determine in advance how you will handle certain types of decisions so you can create greater consistency in your leadership.

What if you don’t have a process, or you’re looking to improve the one you have? Well, glad you asked.

I’ve created a free download that includes a detailed decision-making process, as well many of the benefits you will enjoy when you have this type of framework in place. Take a look. And here’s to better decision-making in your future.



Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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