Category Archives: Elise Mitchell

In The Turn

Innovation that Works: Jump-starting New Ideas in your Business this New Year

One of the things I hear leaders talking about more and more these days is innovation. Good thing, because it’s must-have stuff in today’s rapidly evolving business environment. If you’re not innovating, you risk falling behind.

Innovation keeps you in the game. And while we all boldly claim we buy into that thinking, in the back of our minds we’re asking ourselves: “How in the world can we get it done?” Starting new things sounds exciting, but it also sounds daunting and pricey. Yet it doesn’t have to be either.

As you set goals and make resolutions this new year, I’d like you to think about ways you can make innovation happen in your business. Here are a few practical ways we’ve tried to stay at least a half-step ahead of the changes in our business, and how we have tried to empower our team to be more innovative.

First, let’s get past the many excuses we don’t innovate:

  • Time and money – It seems like it takes too much of both.
  • Insular thinking – Am I only talking to those who think like I do?
  • Arrogance – I tell myself I already know what’s best and don’t need to try new things.
  • Commitment to the past – We’re pretty happy with things just like they are, (and, truth be told, I’m not willing to make change that’s needed to move ahead).
  • Fear of failing – What if I try and fail?…

Innovation can seem complex and risky. But at its core it’s quite simple: Innovation is about turning ideas into money. And when it’s done well it definitely pays.

Coming up with ideas is easy. The hard part is figuring out which ones to bring to life. Practical innovation is the key. You must take smart risk when you innovate to increase your chances of success. How?

Innovation mindset

Start by getting your mind right about innovation. Recognize it starts at the top –with you. I know it’s my job as a leader to think about what’s possible, not what is. When I get too pulled into the business, I can’t see over the next horizon.

To be more innovative, you must change some of the ways you think today. Don’t succumb to confirmation bias, which is reading and listening to things that simply affirm what you’re currently doing. Some of the best ideas come from stimulation we have in other parts of our lives, so spend time doing other things beyond work. For me, that’s running, riding a motorcycle, photography – really creative activities that free my mind from concerns and open my thinking to possibilities.

Another way to change how you think is by inviting people who bring unique perspectives and backgrounds to the conversation. Better leaders try to see things from a broad point of view. I love this quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The mark of a superior intellect is to hold two conflicting thoughts and not be paralyzed.” It reminds me not to be afraid of seeking out different ideas but be willing to live in the tension and roll up my sleeves to sort through them and find a way forward.

You can also simply look to other industries for inspiration. A lot of innovation isn’t radically new thinking; it’s taking things from other industries and applying them where you are. This is the “wisdom of objective thinkers,” who can help you see things in a new way.

Innovation process

Next, think about how you innovate. You don’t have to know what the innovation will be, you just have to know how to get to an idea. It will help you and your team to have a process of some kind to follow. A few suggestions:

Start by asking “How might we?…” questions. While I’m a big fan of leading through asking rather than always telling, I particularly like this one. Warren Berger developed this simple but powerful approach for creative problem-solving. You can open your mind to possibilities by starting the conversation in this way. The “how” part assumes there are solutions out there, and it gives creative confidence to the group – yes, we can find an answer. “Might” says we can put ideas out there that might/might not work, but either is okay when we are in brainstorming mode. And of course the “we” is that we are going to figure it out together.

A common design model used by innovators across many industries is the Double Diamond, developed by the Design Council. There are four steps — Discover, define, develop, deliver. The process can loop back around again to lead continuous improvement. The hardest part? Getting your team to “turn the corner” — to stop brainstorming and start refining and deciding on the final product.

An important step in the design process is experimentation. Or basically running a “test and learn” model, which are simply parallel pilots of your most viable options. This approach is far better than the funnel model, where you have 100 ideas that you narrow down to 1, but then after spending time and money on it, you find out it doesn’t really work. Better to have multiple initiatives under way simultaneously, culling those that are not working and leaning in to those getting traction. A guiding belief at IDEO is “Enlightened trial and error outperforms the planning of flawless intellects.” Couldn’t agree more.

You can also establish a “labs” initiative in-house, or work closely with a local accelerator or start-up incubator to get access to entrepreneurs who are creating new things or who can help you drive new ideas forward. Join their board, volunteer as a mentor for young entrepreneurs. THIS IS KEY – engage with others who are thinking about and trying new things. If it’s particularly promising, you can acquire the company as well as the talent.

Finally, start out with small innovation projects that have a chance to pay off early — small scale, quick payback projects. Get the early wins. They will help build the confidence, change the culture and over time create a larger and longer-lasting impact.

Challenge your team to think not just about starting up new products and services, but innovating the way you do business, too. Ask some questions:

  • How is our billing process – user-friendly and clear, or cumbersome and confusing?
  • Are we good at communicating regularly with our clients and in the way they want to be connected to us?
  • Is our organizational structure serving us well, or we need a different model?

These can be incredibly powerful innovations that could pay off faster and better than adding a new product offering.

Good luck, and here’s to 2018 being the year you make practical innovation pay off!

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In The Turn

How to Keep Your Cool Under Pressure

Keeping your cool under pressure can be one of the tougher parts of leadership. Every day brings a constant flow of conflict, irritations, demands and uncertainty – plus the occasional cultural scoundrel who drives you crazy.

Some people are naturally less stressed by those challenges, but most of us can only take it so long before we feel like we’re going to explode.

What’s the secret to managing your emotional responses so you can lead with a cool head and a calm heart?

Neuroscience and behavioral research offer some useful insights and practical strategies for emotional regulation. I’ve picked three of my favorites to share with you here. You can use these techniques in common pressure-packed situations to help you keep your cool and think more clearly when you need it most.

 

SELF-AWARENESS

But first, it all starts with self-awareness. This is a fundamental leadership skill. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your own moods, emotions and motivations, as well as their impact on others.

Strong self-awareness leads to greater emotional regulation and self-control, which makes a lot of sense. Until you can step back and see what’s going on in your mind, you’ll never effectively lead yourself, let alone other people.

Neuroscience research over the past 10-15 years has produced some compelling data that shows how much control we actually have over our thoughts, feelings and reactions. We’re not hostages to our emotions; we get to decide.

 

HOW YOUR BRAIN WORKS

It’s also helpful to have a basic understanding of how your brain works so you can see how to manage yourself better. Two key areas of the brain are involved in emotional regulation:

  • Your prefrontal cortex, which is where your higher-level thinking, decision-making and understanding occurs; and
  • Your limbic system, which constantly scans the environment to identify threats (lions, tornados and angry colleagues) and rewards (money, chocolate cake and love). Emotions are automatic responses to threats and rewards.

Interestingly, when your limbic system kicks in, it drains resources such as glucose and oxygen from other parts of your brain, making it much more difficult to think clearly when you are in an emotionally charged state. You might be ready to fight or flight, but not think!

Your ability to control your emotions is central to your effectiveness as a leader. So, here are three of my favorite strategies for keeping your cool under pressure.

 

CENTERING

Think of this as standing at the center of yourself and being fully aware and in control of what you are thinking and feeling. Mindfulness is closely related. Neuroscience research shows that people who are more centered enjoy greater thinking capacity and less emotional reactivity in times of stress.

And a compelling study by Bain found centeredness to be the most important attribute of inspirational leaders. You must be able to center yourself before you can use your leadership strengths effectively.

  • Situation: Someone has disregarded your input in an important conversation. You feel disrespected.
  • Application: Stop, take a deep breath and get grounded (sit or stand in a solid and settled position). Tell yourself you recognize how you are feeling and you want to control your reaction so it’s effective, not emotional. Once you can think more clearly, determine the right strategy for resolving the situation, such as bringing your input forward in another way and speaking privately with the individual about his or her behavior.

NAMING

This is a basic cognitive strategy that simply involves putting your feelings into words. When a situation triggers you, calling out your emotion(s) actually minimizes your limbic system response. On the other hand, trying to hide what you’re feeling escalates your physical response, making it harder to think.

  • Situation: You’ve just learned an important project has gone off the rails, and you know the consequences of it failing are great.
  • Application: Calm yourself by saying what you’re feeling: “I’m frustrated” (or angry, confused, worried, etc.). If you can’t say it out loud, write it down, but get it out of your head. Once your limbic system is dampened, you can think more clearly and put a plan in place to pull the project out of the ditch and get it back on track.

 

REFRAMING

When you can reinterpret a situation to see the benefits that could come from it, you exercise one of the most powerful cognitive strategies. Victor Frankl is a noted author, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. During World War II, his survival often depended on his ability to think about his situation in a very different manner. Later in life, he wrote, Man’s Search for Meaning, which includes a powerful principle built on reframing. He instructs readers to find a redemptive perspective on suffering and challenge, which is often based on our beliefs and recognizing that good can come as a result of bad experiences.

  • Situation: Your budget has just been slashed for next year, but you’re still expected to deliver the same or better results.
  • Application: After centering yourself and naming your emotions, sit down with a clear head and start thinking about the opportunities you and your team have for reinventing how you work. Could you restructure the team? Change the workflow? Meet with the team to brainstorm new ideas, products or services to test? Unexpected pressure can push you to reach new levels of performance, efficiency and innovation. Ahh, so there are actually many benefits from your budget getting cut. Who would have thought?!

 

There are many other techniques, and I’ll dig into more in another post. In the meantime, see if these three could help you keep your cool under pressure so you can lead yourself and others more powerfully.

Please email me – elise@elisemitchell.com – with your strategies and success stories on keeping your cool. I would love to hear them. I promise to reply and will share some of them in another post if you’re willing.

P.S. Remember, you’re not a hostage to your emotions. You get to decide!

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In The Turn

Five Ways to Lead a Team to Breakthrough Performance

A high-performing team is a thing of beauty. When a team functions well, it’s like the engine of a finely tuned motorcycle – operating with maximum efficiency, speed and, more often than not, crossing the finish line before everyone else.

Taking a team to that level requires special leadership – someone with patience, grit, and the ability to ensure each part works with all the others so the engine can fire on all cylinders. That type of leader is a catalyst – someone who enables others to perform together in a way they never could on their own.

What’s the secret?

Based on my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned from mentors and colleagues, here are five things you can do to help your team achieve breakthrough performance:

Find a common purpose

A common purpose, something that’s often overlooked when developing high-performing teams, results from the development of a set of shared team norms. These are the principles by which a team agrees to treat one another.

Your team members may have a set of individual values, but they need to define them as a group. Don’t dictate these values. Let it be an employee-led process that involves everyone in the decision-making.

It’s not hard to do this. Start the process by asking your team: what values does this group absolutely need to function at its best? Come up with a list of five to seven words. Invite small groups to work together to unpack the facets of each word.

Here’s an example from one of our values at Mitchell – trust:

Trust

– Honest, transparent, forthcoming

– Reliable, dependable: we do what we say we’ll do

– Treating others as you would like to be treated

As a next step, have each group share their thoughts with the overall team for feedback. Finally, create a final list of values and definitions with the entire team. These shared values can help drive a positive organizational culture and allow your team to rally around a common purpose.

Embrace selflessness

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” Great teams are in it for each other, not just for their individual success. You see this in sports all the time. Great teams typically have great players, and the superstars often are called on to make key plays at key times. But they win championships by playing together.

You can have a very talented team member. But how does that individual complement the whole team? And how does he or she provide the assist and create the environment where every player performs to their fullest potential? Most importantly, how are you modeling a selfless, team-first attitude?

Discover diversity

I’ve spent much of my career looking for ways to champion the value of women in the workplace. But team diversity isn’t just about hiring more women – or more people of color, or more of any one thing. It’s about inclusion and discovering the value of different experiences, different insights, different backgrounds, and different skills.

One mark of high-performance leadership is knowing how to invite and manage lively, diverse discussions. You have to know when to listen and when to end the debate and make decisions. You have to know how to share credit. And you have to know when and how to hold people accountable. Developing these skills allows you to assemble and lead the best team for whatever challenge your organization will face – and their diverse thinking will get you there faster.

Fill your gaps

A motorcycle consists of hundreds of parts, and each needs to perform its role to make the ride successful. Similarly, the best teams are ones that have individuals who complement, not duplicate, each other.

That’s why it’s so important to hire for your team’s weaknesses. You want people who can shore up the functions that you or other team members don’t really love or have the expertise to handle well. Take an inventory of the strengths of your current team. What gaps in knowledge, skill, perspective or capability do you have? What type of team member could you add the next time you have a hiring opportunity?

Listen to sincere feedback

Really listening to and empowering others will help you build a high-performance team. It will also help you mold better leaders for the organization and gets better business results. Too many leaders still want to tell their team what to do and how to do it. That command-and-control style of leadership breeds bureaucracy and slowness, and it discourages innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

The disruptive nature of business and the changing attitudes and expectations of the workforce have combined to make this style of leadership virtually obsolete. The world rewards adaptive leaders who assess challenges quickly and engage teams to manage through change together in real time.

As you think about your team, you no doubt see great strengths, as well as opportunities for growth and improvement. Fine-tuning your leadership will help you sharpen those strengths, build on those opportunities, and experience break-through performance that gets you and your team over the finish line.

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In The Turn

Why Do You Lead? 4 Things to Remind Yourself When the Going Gets Tough

Leaders often carry a heavy weight. While leadership has its rewards, the reality of the role can hit you pretty hard at times.

I’m sure there have been many nights you’ve laid in bed, wide awake, trying to think through an issue that was so complex, you weren’t sure any answer would be sufficient. Or you were so worn down from resolving conflicts, you couldn’t find the strength to put out yet another fire. Or you were missing so many family activities because of work, your children were surprised when you showed up at all.

That’s when the doubts creep in. You start to wonder: Is this worth it? Do the rewards of leadership outweigh the burdens?

We all face dark times as leaders. I can think of several crossroads in my career when I thought I just couldn’t do this anymore. Yet as I reflected upon the things that mattered most to me – such as having an opportunity to impact others, or building a company that was a force for good — I knew in my heart I was still in the game and wanted to try again to lead at my best.

What motivates you?

What about you? Why are you on the journey of leadership? I encourage you to think about this question beyond the traditional rewards of success, such as money, power and fame. These are well-deserved rewards for your hard work. But they don’t last, they don’t completely satisfy, and taken to an extreme, they can fundamentally change you into a person you don’t want to become. Answering the question in a different way will get you thinking at another level, about those things that have deeper meaning to you and are intrinsically motivating. This is more along the lines of having a clear sense of purpose for your leadership.

Having a purpose that is both aspirational by design and more meaningful than these other rewards can not only help you push through the tough times, it can lift you to heights you never dreamed possible.

But in the throes of challenge and change, it helps to simply remind yourself why leadership matters.

Why leadership matters

If you’re going through some tough times right now, take a look at these four reasons many leaders choose to lead. Hopefully some will inspire you and spur your thinking about “Why I Lead.”

  • It’s a calling Many leaders feel called to their role, that they are in a certain place at a certain time in their life when they can make a meaningful contribution. I have often felt I was drawn to the business world not just through my natural curiosity and interest in business, but also because I wanted the opportunity to lead using my values and my faith to guide me. I wanted to find a different way to lead that was more rewarding and effective than leading by fear or stepping on others to get where I wanted to go. Do you feel called? And if so, to do what?
  • You are a catalyst As a leader, you are in often in a position to create opportunities for others because of the knowledge, contacts, and wisdom you have gained. You can make a decision to hire someone and give him or her an opportunity that could change the course of their career. You can choose to thoughtfully and intentionally coach someone who is under your wing, investing in their professional development and helping them grow as a leader. You can put in a good word for someone or make an introduction that would give them a professional relationship they might not otherwise gain on their own.How can you be a catalyst for someone else? What can you offer to do for someone deserving of an opportunity you can provide?
  • You get to build new things When you are driven by a goal or a mission that compels you, you can go through almost anything. Building something new can be that kind of motivator, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of its importance.One of the most rewarding responsibilities of leadership is mobilizing a team and leveraging resources to build new things. Products, services, programs, companies – many of the things you have the opportunity to create can bring real value to others. Customers have a new solution that makes their life better because of your ability to bring something to market. Employees have a meaningful job and a workplace because of a company you helped build from scratch. Your community is a nicer place to live and work because of a non-profit initiative you helped bring to life.What are you building? Can you see the value of it? What can you do to remind yourself and your team of how their daily work is making a difference for others?
  • You can be the change Leadership affords one of the greatest opportunities to have impact in the world — on people, companies, causes and society. As a leader you will find yourself in unexpected situations where you can make a difference, if you have the courage and conviction to do so.You will have opportunities to take a stand for something right when no one else will. You will have the choice to make tough decisions with heart and empathy for others, living up to honorable and worthy principles such as fairness, respect and kindness.It’s a privilege to lead. The question is what will you do with the platform you have? How can you shape the future and be the change you want to see?

There are many other motivations you might be thinking about. Write down your ideas and continue to reflect upon them. Create your own list of “Why I Lead” (see bonus exercise below.) Use this as an encouragement during tough times and most importantly, to help you stay on your leadership journey, no matter where the road leads from here. The best is yet to come.

BONUS Exercise: “Why I Lead”

Clarifying your purpose involves many things, such as identifying your passions, your talents, your values and considering other forces at work in your life. But you can get one step closer to knowing your purpose by defining what motivates you most.

If you’re ready to think more deeply about what motivates you to lead, I’ve got a brief exercise for you.

  1. Review the list above “why leadership matters” to consider some common reasons people choose to lead beyond the traditional rewards of money, power and fame.
  2. As you read through the list, write down whatever thoughts come to mind. Perhaps one or more of the reasons will resonate with you or spur some thinking of your own.
  3. Keep your notes in a safe and readily accessible place such as Evernote, your phone or a journal.
  4. Reflect upon your ideas, then set them aside. Come back to them in a few days and refine your thinking further until you have come up with your own list: “Why I Lead.”
  5. Use this list as an encouragement during tough times and to guide your thinking about your next leadership opportunity. Feel free to update the list over time as your motivations will change.

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In The Turn

The Authentic Leader’s Toolkit: 5 Ways to Cultivate Greater Authenticity in Your Daily Leadership

Do you know someone at work who comes across as a fake?  One of the worst mistakes you can make as a leader is trying to be something you’re not. Any positive results are almost certainly short-lived. And when it’s carried to an extreme, you can become a destination leader who is focused on someone else’s destination.

Authentic leadership is a powerful – and increasingly more common – style of leadership built on the idea of being who you are, and then striving to become the best you can be.

But how do you bring your best – and whole – self to work?  Let’s take a closer look at what makes someone an authentic leader and how you can cultivate greater authenticity in your daily leadership style.

 

Qualities of Authentic Leaders

When you think about what makes an authentic leader, what qualities come to mind?

Transparency, Great listening skills, Self-awareness, perhaps?

Authentic leadership can be defined in many ways, and it is a style of leadership that has been studied for a number of years. It was first introduced in the 1960s as management theorists were thinking about what makes an authentic company. Then in the early 2000s, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, wrote two books on the subject: Authentic Leadership and Discover Your True North.

In his first book Authentic Leadership, Bill George defined the concept as leaders who had the ability to incorporate certain characteristics into their leadership style:

  • Purpose– Authentic leaders have a deep sense of purpose for their leadership, they really search to understand their focus and what they can uniquely contribute
  • Values – They are true to their core values, they know what they believe in and live up to that consistently in all they say and do
  • Head/heart– Authentic leaders lead with their hearts as well as their heads, they are willing to show some emotion and empathy
  • Relational – They invest in others over time, they are loyal and patient with people, and they strive to do what is right and best for others not just for themselves
  • Self-disciplined, focused on getting results– Authentic leaders work hard and help others stay focused on the most important goals that must be accomplished

As you look at George’s list, how does it sound to you?  I like it, but I also wondered: Does this mean every authentic leader has to be the same?

 

Be Yourself

No, definitely not. That would be the opposite of what being “authentic” means. There are all kinds of leaders, each person has their own style and voice. So we can each strive to attain these qualities George outlines, but we don’t have to exhibit them in the same way.

For example, you may be very passionate and demonstrative in sharing your purpose while others will show this through dedication and hard work.

We all have many different values as leaders. Or we may have a unique sense of purpose for our leadership that is unlike other leaders. That’s good, and again, really illustrates that we can – and should— bring our uniqueness into our leadership.

What can you do to be a more authentic leader?

 

Authentic Leadership Toolkit

Interestingly, George’s second book True North, considered this question of whether there is a cookie-cutter mold for authentic leadership. He and his team interviewed 125 leaders between the ages of 23 and 93 to find out how they were becoming authentic leaders.

While many of them were very different, there were some similar things they did to be uniquely themselves.

Based on their study findings and a few of my own thoughts on authentic leadership, here are a few tools and tips on how you can bring your most authentic self forward in your leadership journey.

 

  1. What’s your story?

You can use your own unique life experiences to inform your style. Your childhood or perhaps a defining event that has shaped who you are today. What if you were applying for a promotion at work and I asked you to tell me about something that happened to you that helped define who you are today – what would you tell me?

It’s important to have a way to share your life story and to have clarity yourself about who you are today because of it.

 

  1. Define your values

Use your personal values to guide your actions and decisions. Have you ever written down your values?  Most people have four or five words that really capture what they believe in.

I encourage you to go through that process if you haven’t already. Find some think time to reflect on this over the next several days, if you can, and jot down a few words.

When you put all the words together, does that capture the essence of what means the most to you?  I think you’ll find this to be a really powerful experience to help define your authenticity as a leader.

 

  1. Listen to your inner voice

It’s critical that you learn to listen for and to your own voice rather just the opinions of others to guide your leadership path. Authentic leaders have a strong internal drive and clarity that can be louder than the voice of others.

I have a friend who was being marginalized at work due to a merger; she decided to do something about it. She became board chair of a major non-profit with some high-profile aspects of it. She also applied for and was accepted into a fellowship program that gave her exposure to other community and business leaders.

These things helped change how she felt about herself and helped her take back her future, regain some control over her own development as a leader. Eventually, this move led her to a very prestigious job as a CFO in a prominent organization.

 

  1. Keep both feet on the ground

Leaders who lose touch with reality and stop listening to honest feedback from others struggle to remain authentic. Instead, you should rely on your trusted advisors, family and friends to help you stay grounded. Let them help you maintain a sense of humility.

They can also help you find some balance between your personal and professional life. Sometimes you lean into family, sometimes into work. Each will let you know when they need you. We should give each other permission to respond in order to keep both parts of our life nurtured and growing.

 

  1. Live a full life

You also need to find time for you – to have a hobby or personal interest, to find a way to maintain your physical, mental and spiritual health. Engaging in the things you love allows you to stay in touch with your true self. Finding joy in our personal passions is essential if you’re going to make it all the way on this leadership journey without burning out.

 

Becoming an authentic leader may require a change on your part, plus some time and effort. But having a learner’s mindset is the key. When you’re willing to learn as you go, you will continue to grow and become the best you can be.

 

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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:

Source: trustedadvisor.com

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.”

BONUS

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

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In The Turn

6 Ways to Own the Room and Project Confidence as a Speaker

You look around and see all eyes are on you. Your heart is beating quickly. You’re having trouble catching your breath. The sense of fear and dread is overwhelming.

Although it feels like you’re facing judge and jury, it’s really just your turn to present at a meeting. For many people, though, that’s just as bad – if not worse.

Public speaking is one of the least liked and most feared leadership responsibilities. Few of us come by it naturally; most have to work hard at becoming competent and confident in front of a room.

But how you speak publicly matters. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of the book “Executive Presence: This Missing Link Between Merit and Success,” exuding confidence and demonstrating gravitas when you speak are critical components of your executive presence. Presence alone won’t get you promoted, but its absence will impede your career momentum and trajectory.

What’s at stake

How would you rate yourself as a speaker? Are you at your best front-and-center, or do you feel like you’re going to be sick by the time you step to the microphone?

Near the top of most leaders’ wish lists is a desire to own the room when they speak. We want to be our best because the stakes are often high when we are front and center:

  • Others form perceptions of us – Is she smart? Can I trust him? Is this someone I admire and respect? Business decisions are made — Performing well in that moment can determine important things, such as whether or not you get your team’s much-anticipated plans for a new project approved.
  • Business decisions are made – Performing well in that moment can determine important things, such as whether or not you get your team’s much-anticipated plans for a new project approved.
  • We want to avoid embarrassment – A very common fear in the business world is public failure. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of others. This is particularly true when we are presenting to those whose opinion matters most, which is often our peers and supervisors.
  • Career-making moments happen – Your boss may simply decide you’re just not “executive enough” for that next promotion.

Owning the room

Whether you are making a formal presentation, participating in a group discussion, or having a one-on-one with your supervisor, there are definitely things you can do to present yourself in a self-assured manner.

Here are six ways you can improve your presentation effectiveness and own the room.

1. Serve the audience with an “adviser’s mindset” – Start by reminding yourself: It’s not about you; it’s about them. Set aside your constant worry about “what’s at stake” and focus your attention on meeting the needs of your audience. That’s why you’re speaking after all – to share something useful with them. If you can effectively give your audience what they need to hear, the “what’s at stake” list will take care of itself.

2. Know your material – When you prepare for a presentation, you must give yourself plenty of time to develop and learn your material. I start days – usually even weeks — in advance to flesh out my content. I think through what objections my audience might have that I need to overcome, what points I believe they need to hear in order for them to think, behave, decide, reflect in the way I want them to.

Once I have my content organized, I refine my notes or script, read it through numerous times, and practice out loud at least 4 or 5 times. The point is, I prepare well enough that I know my material inside and out. It’s ingrained in my head, and in fact, much of it is memorized by the time I speak.

When you know your material this well, your confidence soars – because you know exactly what you have to say, where it comes in the presentation, and what’s next. You never worry about losing your place or forgetting a key point, because you know it that well. Plus, most of the time you can have your (well organized) notes or script to prompt you if needed.

3. Believe in your message – Too many speakers shy away from putting any real energy into their presentation. Their voice is flat, their face is creased with worry, and they’re more focused on their PowerPoint than the audience. You’ll never own the room if you present like this.

Instead, bring some passion and confidence to your presentation, which is easier to do if you believe in your message. Even if it’s just quarterly performance numbers, challenge yourself to ask and answer:

  • Do I firmly believe in what I have to say?
  • Does my audience need to hear this?
  • What else would help them understand a deeper truth?
  • Is there a bigger goal that could be accomplished through this presentation that I am passionate about?

Then don’t just state the obvious. Say something that matters. Provide some context or perspective that sheds new light. Ladder up to a bigger message or important takeaway that your audience should get from you. Have a clear point of view.

Finally, bring this powerful content to life with a poised delivery. Stand tall. Smile. Use eye contact with the audience in every part of the room. Gesture to underscore a point. Walk around. Pause for emphasis to let something sink in. Your body language and demeanor telegraph your confidence (or your fears) just as much as your words. When you truly believe in your message, your energy will be there and your delivery will reflect that.

4. Speak only when you have a meaningful contribution to make – This is a critical tip for projecting confidence in small-group meetings. Think about that one person who talks so frequently that everyone just tunes them out. To avoid that kind of reaction when you speak, learn to be a thoughtful and intentional communicator in group settings.

What does that look like?

  • When you want to speak up, don’t simply restate what others have said; offer something unique. Ask a question that will help enhance the discussion and help the group consider new information.
  • Share an example or case study you know of that will bring forward a valuable learning.
  • Acknowledge someone in the room who you know has expertise that should be included.
  • Pick your battles. Don’t be the constant whiner or nay-sayer that brings everyone down. Go along with group decisions and be supportive whenever possible. Then when you have an important objection or alternative to offer, you’ll have more credibility to sway the group your way.

5. Grab their attention with a story – Our brains are wired for narrative. We love nothing more than for someone to say “I’ve got a story to share with you…” It makes us want to lean back, close our eyes and go on a journey.

Storytelling is a powerful presentation technique that anyone can use to their advantage. Compelling stories grab our attention, reveal an insight, and help us remember a speaker’s message. I often use my love of motorcycling to bring my messages to life and make them more memorable. You know how to tell stories, too. The trick is finding the right story to tell AND tying it to your overall message.

Start by brainstorming a creative way to underscore your message. For example, reaching a big goal could be illustrated by a story of a remarkable achievement such as the Iron Man competition or a famous scientific discovery. If your overarching message is the importance of teamwork, share a story from the world of sports or your own company’s history.

Once you have a relevant story, introduce it early on in your presentation. Then tie it to your overall message by saying “The same is true for us” or “What we can learn from this is…” Then weave the theme throughout your presentation, using creative imagery or references just enough to tie it all together.

6.Get to the point – Unless you’re telling a well-crafted story, don’t be verbose. People lose patience with speakers who can’t get to the point in a timely manner, especially in meetings.

Naturally, you need to strike a balance with including useful supporting information, exchanging niceties and building rapport with others. But in general, stick to the issue at hand. Make your point or ask a question, and that’s it.

When you learn to be concise, others will be more willing to give you time to speak and consider what you’ve shared.

I hope at least a few of these tips are helpful. I encourage you to give them a try on your next presentation. Then let me know – I’d love to hear how you increased your confidence and got one step closer to owning the room.

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In The Turn

Last Crop in Fallsville: A Lesson of Love and Compassion

Like you, I’ve been inspired by the many kindnesses shown to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Neighbor helping neighbor.

But it shouldn’t take a crisis for us to show love and compassion to those around us.

I have a favorite story about a chance encounter years ago when I was learning to ride a motorcycle – and it happened on Labor Day Weekend. It taught me a lesson I’ll never forget about the opportunity we have as leaders to impact others for good every day. Please enjoy…

“By the fall of 2009, I could confidently say I had made the turn toward a journey mindset that brought balance to my destination style of leadership. I wasn’t there—I’m still not there—but I was on a better course.

So when Labor Day weekend rolled around that September, I had no problem rolling away from my work and enjoying a ride on my bike.

Raye and I met his father, a good friend, and another couple just as the sun came up for a beat-the-heat ride through the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Our self-appointed navigator was born and raised in these hills, so we fell in line behind his Harley as we started out from Fayetteville. The general plan—after a pit stop for biscuits and gravy in Huntsville—was a ride through Newton County, a sparsely populated county with winding highways that are quite popular among cyclists.

The first hour or two of our ride took us through small towns, some beautiful rural areas with tree-covered hillsides, sprawling farms, and tiny churches with inspiring signs like, “We use duct tape to fix everything. God used nails.”

By mid-morning, we decided to stop at a bend in the road called Fallsville. The small gravel lot had a lone white building with a single glass door, and three old-timey gas pumps. No credit card swiping here. You’re gonna have to go in, which was our intention anyway. We needed a stretch.

We discovered the only available restroom didn’t require a key—outhouses apparently don’t need that much protection. As we laughed about this, I noticed not far from us an old pickup sitting under a tree. An overall-clad gentleman was perched on the edge of the passenger’s seat with the door standing open.

Sprawling around the truck were piles of plump green-striped watermelons. I didn’t need a cutting to know they’d been picked at the height of their juicy glory. I decided to wander over for a visit, and Gentleman Gene, as I think of him now, broke into a smile at the prospect of a buyer approaching.

“How’s business,” I asked, curious if he had—or if he really expected—to sell any melons that day.

“Picking up,” he said. “They’re beauties, and better than anything you’ve ever tasted.”

Certainly a convincing argument, especially on a hot summer day.

“You raise pretty melons,” I agreed as I looked them over.

He got out of his seat and leaned on the side of the truck. The entire bed was filled with dozens more melons.

“I’m just trying to get whatever I can for them today,” he went on. “They’re not mine. They’re my neighbor’s.”

Gene, as it turned out, was a proud farmer who just couldn’t stand the thought of letting perfectly good watermelons rot in the field. So he had driven to his neighbor’s house that morning and convinced him to let him load up his truck and come to the gas station to try to find a home for as many as possible.

“Why wouldn’t your neighbor bring them himself,” I asked. Seemed like a nice but strange thing to do, hauling off your neighbor’s bounty. Was his neighbor lazy, tired of eating melons, tired of giving them away?

His answer caught me off guard. “He’s just not up to it this year. He’s got cancer pretty bad. He’ll never make another harvest. This is his last crop.”

A new appreciation for the melons flooded over me, and their natural beauty just shone. Gorgeous shades of green, smooth round skin, plump centers. Just the way they were at rest on top of each other looked as if someone had carefully placed each one in a certain spot to catch the morning’s light through the trees. I began taking pictures of them.

Gentleman Gene went on to tell me how his neighbor had lived off the land his whole life, reaping what he sowed and scraping together enough along the way to feed and clothe fourteen children. An experienced chef after a fashion, he had taught all the women in the area to make homemade sorghum molasses. Gene grinned, “I think the most he ever made in a year was $1,200. Some of it from his melons.”

No doubt.

Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of motorcycle engines. I looked past him to our group. They were putting helmets on and folding maps. Time to get going again. I thanked Gene for his story and apologized for not being able to take some melons with me.

“They don’t make saddle bags big enough for melons,” I said. “But I want you to do something for me.” He leaned forward. “Please tell your neighbor you met someone today who thought these were the most beautiful melons she had ever seen. That she took pictures of them and promised to share their beauty with others.”

He laughed. “That will make him smile, and I haven’t seen him smile in a long time.”

As we rode away, I thought about fall, but not with the welcome anticipation I’d felt that morning. Harvest is a time of plenty but it’s also a time of endings. I never used to think about things winding down in life; I was always too wound up. But of course there is a time of harvest that comes for us all. The real question is what are we harvesting?

Gentleman Gene had done his neighbor a favor, but he’d done one for me, too. It may have been the last crop, but it won’t be one that’s forgotten. ”

P.S. You’ll find this story at the end of Chapter 12 in my book “Leading Through the Turn.”

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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.

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In The Turn

4 Ways to Achieve Greater Work-Life Balance and Become a Happier, Better Leader [BONUS]

One aspect of leadership I am asked about more frequently than almost any other – by both men and women – is work-life balance. That elusive, sometimes mythical concept that it’s possible to have a career, a family, and a life.

Can you really have it all?

As I point out in Leading Through the Turn, I believe you can have it all, just not all at the same time. But many of us still struggle with the idea of work-life balance. Why? Frankly, not much about life feels in balance:

  • Our leadership experiences are often mentally and physically exhausting.
  • We constantly give in to the temptation to focus on destinations with little to no regard for the journey of life.
  • We tend to compartmentalize things like work, family, and hobbies, rather than seeing them as interrelated.

But there is a better way. It looks more like work-life blending, a true integration of both parts of life.

Jane Lin-Baden, my good friend and colleague, is one of those leaders who artfully weaves work and personal interests into her life. Jane is the Asia-Pacific CEO for Isobar, a digital agency that is part of Dentsu Aegis Network, our global parent company. She oversees 2,500 people in 13 countries throughout the region. She’s led eye-popping revenue growth, and she and her teams have won countless awards.

But she’s also a wife and mom who enjoys boxing and making custom cosmetics. When we visited recently about the challenges and joys of leadership, Jane shared four guiding beliefs that help her successfully integrate work, family, and personal passions. These are things any of us can incorporate, regardless of where we are in our leadership journey. Read on, and I promise you’ll also discover plenty of tips for becoming a happier, better leader.

1. Be your best self (and help others do the same).

One of Jane’s primary goals – “to be my best self and to help others do the same” – reflects a selfless approach to authenticity that helps everyone involved achieve greater balance.

Being your best, both personally and professionally, leads to a more holistic view of life and a healthier perspective on how to balance the different demands you face. It also makes it so much easier for others to really get to know, understand, and follow your leadership.

And “helping others do the same” allows you to more readily create an atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation for the differences in others. Learning to respect the various talents and life choices of teammates is particularly important as everyone strives to find some sense of balance between their work obligations and personal responsibilities.

“It’s important to remember that people can be in very different stages of growth and development,” Jane said. “Everyone has their own pace, and maintaining a healthy pace is crucial for a sustainable work-life experience. Leaders must help everyone be their best no matter where each person is in their personal and professional journey.”

2. Pursue your passions.

Find the time to invest in other parts of your life. This can come through hobbies, volunteer work, or other activities. We typically seek things that interest or challenge us. When we follow our hearts and pursue our passions, a boundless joy and deep sense of satisfaction complement the rewards we already receive from our work. I was inspired by how Jane integrates her many passions into her busy life. The breadth of her activities reminds us not to limit ourselves, and to look for the ways our hobbies help develop us as leaders.

  • Jane trains volunteers who assist people dealing with tragedy in their lives. Her focus on helping the brokenhearted enables her to bring empathy to the workplace. Compassion is not something found on a P&L, yet it’s a quality of many great leaders.
  • Boxing is a hobby Jane enjoys, not merely for the exercise but because it enhances her concentration skills and her ability to think on her feet. In the heat of the battle, you must keep your wits about you. You must be completely focused on what is happening and alert to the unexpected, a critical leadership skill especially in times of great change. Boxing also reinforces Jane’s belief in aiming high. When throwing a punch, you always look slightly above the point where you want to hit.
  • Jane’s love of art lives through her interest in making custom cosmetics. She enjoys the creative aspects of this hobby, which was influenced by family members who have backgrounds in chemistry. She’s created her own formula and can customize the products for friends. Thinking creatively can significantly enhance your problem-solving capabilities and enable you to bring fresh, new ideas to your work.

3. Learn from lowly tasks.

Some of the most valuable experiences in your leadership journey come from unexpected challenges and unpleasant tasks. These character-shaping moments can pay big dividends by helping you become the leader – and the person – you want to be.

Jane shared a story about a valuable lesson she learned from a rather lowly assignment while working at Sotheby’s London in her first job after college.

“I loved art,” she told me. “And I always wanted to have my own auction gallery. My very first assignment was to clean up their archive room, where they stored almost 80 years of auctioning history files. Nobody wanted to go into that room. I remember telling my mom I was too educated to be doing something so mundane.”

So Jane turned it into a post-grad research assignment.

“I decided I would lock myself in that room for six months and go through every file to better understand the industry and figure out if this was the career path for me,” she said. “I wanted to do my best and make sure that when I left that room, I would know more about it than anyone else.”

That six-month journey taught Jane the importance of tenacity, humility, and optimism. Even the lowliest of jobs has value and should be done to the best of your ability. This particular experience helped her as her career blossomed, particularly when she faced challenging situations. But she also applied those lessons in her personal life, which contributed to greater balance.

“I believe we are given certain obstacles in life specifically to refine our character,” she said. “We all must face an archive room. You must make the most of a difficult situation and learn whatever you can from it. As a leader, you are also in a position to encourage and support others who are going through something similar whether at work or at home.”

4. Make good choices. Much of leadership is about making choices and finding the best path forward. This is especially important when striking a balance between your professional and personal life.

You can’t take on everything and always expect to be your best. You must be selective, delaying or turning down some worthy opportunities so you can focus on others. Being selective about what you take on at work allows you to reserve time and energy for family and personal pursuits. Likewise, being intentional about your personal obligations allows you to minimize unnecessary stress when time demands and schedules collide.

Jane makes choices at work easier for herself and her team by establishing a clear vision and goals. This enables everyone to keep their focus where it should be and to say “no” to things that only distract from reaching those goals.

At home, she involves her family when making major decisions about her career. For example, when Jane was offered the CEO role, she sat down with her family to weigh the pros and cons. “I needed them to know what the trade-offs would be, because we are a team and I knew we were going to go through them together.”

The lesson here is powerful: Life is short, and how we spend our time has a great impact on those around us. We are accountable to more than just ourselves. We are also accountable to our teams at work and to our families at home. Consider both when you make key decisions.

Download our leadership cheat sheet outlining these four guiding principles and 13 tips for becoming a happier, better leader here.

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