Category Archives: Elise Mitchell

In The Turn

Career vs Family? 6 Ways to Make Your Most Important Relationships Last

I’m crazy about my kids. Our daughter, Mackenzie, and son, Jackson are both starting their final year of school and busy planning their futures. My husband and I are proud of them and love being with them.

But I wasn’t always so sure they would love being with me.

There was a time when all I thought about was winning at work. This was several years ago, when I was busy building my company and putting nearly every bit of my time and attention into that. Things were going well at work, but my relationships at home were suffering.

The either/or lie

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve heard this story from countless other leaders around the world who think it’s an either/or decision. Either you build a successful career, or you have a happy home life. But you can’t have both.

Wrong. The either/or choice is a lie. It isn’t the only option. “Yes and…” is a much better choice. But that requires you to make different decisions about how you spend your time. You can’t just lean into work. You have to lean into family when they need you, too.

Thankfully I learned this lesson. And as you probably know by now, I became a destination leader with a journey mindset – someone who still strives to reach her goals, but someone who has also learned to savor life.

As it turns out, when I invested more in my family, my business thrived, too. In fact, we grew more than 500% over the next five years. I eventually sold my company to a global corporation, which brought us opportunities and benefits we could never have imagined.

Enjoy the ride

One of the ways we can enjoy the ride of our lives is by having and keeping fellow journeyers, first and foremost our family and friends.

But relationships don’t just happen. You must nurture them, or they won’t last. Here are six ways you can show others you care.

1. Dashboard conversations

When Mackenzie was a teenager, our most meaningful conversations happened when we were riding home late on Sunday nights from her weekend cheer competitions. I kept the radio turned off and my phone on mute. The quiet, along with the glow of the dashboard lights, allowed her to open up and ask me questions about life, love, friends, faith – whatever was on her mind.

I treasure those conversations to this day, and I learned the importance of being available so we could connect when she was ready. Relationships grow one conversation at a time. Be sure you are ready to stop, listen and engage when someone special wants to connect with you.

2. Planning regular time together

Many people plan a “date night” with their significant other. This is always a great idea, but here’s another suggestion too. My father used to take me for a “root beer float date” every Thursday night when I was a senior in high school, and I loved having his undivided attention for just a few hours. If you are a parent/aunt/uncle/grandparent, try scheduling one-on-one time with the young people in your life. Let them pick the place or activity. Be sure to tuck your phone away so you can be fully present – unless you’re taking a selfie with them!

3. Showing up

No one wants to be around someone who works all the time, or thinks about work all the time. You can’t just be physically present; you have to really SHOW UP.

This means resisting the temptation to look at your phone throughout dinner, or making work the topic of every conversation. You can’t arrive at your child’s soccer game yet spend the entire time on the phone behind the bleachers.

Arrive, be present and stay focused on the moment, or you’ll find you’ve missed all the moments that mattered.

4. Slowing down

As a destination leader, you probably move at a rapid pace most of the time. You must slow down and live life at others’ pace every once in a while, or find a happy medium you can all live with.

This looks like taking time to read with your children. Or going for a walk in the evenings with your spouse. Or cooking a meal with another family member and delivering a plate to an elderly neighbor together.

Whatever others enjoy doing, carve out some time to do it with them at their pace.

5. Making sacrifices for others

Many times in life you must scrap the map and go with a detour that is better for your family members than it is for you.

Some husbands move for their wife’s job without knowing what’s in it for them. Children care for their elderly parents, even when their mom or dad no longer knows who they are. Some wives support their husband’s desire to switch careers, in spite of all the uncertainty that goes with that.

Detours in life are hard. But they always lead somewhere new, even if it’s not exactly where you thought you’d end up. Know that whatever sacrifice you make now, it is an investment for the long-run in a relationship that matters to you. And will always keep the journey interesting.

6. Appreciating unexpected joys together

When you make the journey matter in life, you don’t ride so quickly that you miss the scenery along the way.

I learned this while riding motorcycles with my husband. We often pull our bikes over to the side of the road, put the kickstand down, and take time to drink in the sights and sounds around us. Some of my best memories are from moments like this.

The lesson is clear: we must pause to enjoy the little things with those we love. So take a few moments this weekend to marvel at the sunset on a walk with your husband. Run through the sprinkler with your granddaughter. Work in the garden with your nephew. Relish your son’s chance to get in the game. Tell your daughter how nice she looks when she’s dressed for a special occasion. Enjoy old family photos with your mom.

It scares me to think what could have happened to my relationship with my kids if I hadn’t changed when I did. I’m a far different person today, but far from perfect. I must constantly remind myself to live with a journey mindset

Let me encourage you not to give up on yourself if you fall back into your old patterns. For those of us who are driven souls, it’s an ongoing battle.

But the good news is, you will always be someone’s son or daughter, mom or dad, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather. Even if things could have been better in the past, be there for them now. Turn off the radio, put your phone on mute, and listen for the voice of someone you love whose ready to connect with you.

People matter the most. Relationships are the greatest gift we have. Invest in them, and others will know you care.

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



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In The Turn

Read to Lead: 5 Books (and Podcasts) That Will Expand Your Thinking

The most successful leaders are lifelong learners. They don’t run from change; they see it as an opportunity to develop new skills. They don’t shrink from challenge; they believe anything is possible.

One of the best ways to prepare yourself as a leader for the inevitable changes and challenges that lie ahead is to read – and listen — to useful, thought-provoking content.  You’ll stretch your thinking and expose yourself to new ideas, not to mention encourage those around you to grow, too.

I’m often asked, “What are you reading now?”  I love to read, but sometimes it’s hard to find the time. It helps to get recommendations from other leaders on books or podcasts that have made an impact on them.

Whether I’ve been on a plane or out for a run, this summer I’ve enjoyed digging into some engaging works. Following are some of my current favorites – both books and podcasts.  You can also download my longer list of recommended leadership resources.

Recommended books

“Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence” by Daniel Goleman

Maintaining focus can be incredibly difficult for leaders due to the increasing demands on our time and the infinite number of distractions available to us at the touch of a screen. We want to think more strategically and focus on what matters, but we find ourselves sucked in to the urgent and the crisis of the moment.

This is a great read on the science of attention, why it matters, how to increase it.  Goleman, best known as the author of “Emotional Intelligence,” touches on three types of attention: inner, other and outer focus.  He shares practical advice on how leaders can improve habits, add new skills and sustain better performance.

Focus by Daniel Goleman

“Great CEOs are Lazy” by Jim Schleckser

Most leaders at the top of an organization have more than enough to do. They’re asked to envision, guide, inspire, support and fix non-stop. The problem is they get so busy doing these things that they find themselves exhausted and on the verge of burn out. “Always on” isn’t sustainable.

Through in-depth research of more than 1,000 CEOs, Schleckser and his team learned the top-performing CEOs weren’t the busiest. Instead, they were very clear about what they should devote their time and energy to doing, and they said “no” to everything else. In other words, they apply one of the most important lessons I learned in my leadership journey – focus on what only you can do and give the rest of it away.

High-performing CEOs are “strategically lazy,” playing only one of five roles – the learner, the architect, the coach, the engineer and the player. This is a useful read if you are struggling with knowing what roles and responsibilities you should assume, and what you should be giving away.

Great CEOs are Lazy, Jim Schleckser

“The PRIMES: How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem” by Chris McGoff

I had the opportunity to hear Chris speak to an executive women’s group I’m a member of. He is brilliant, and this book captures his best stuff.

To explain, the PRIMES are universal and unavoidable patterns of group behavior that emerge whenever people attempt to transform systems or collaborate to tackle complex problems.  Most leaders see the issues and politics that arise from these behaviors, but few of us can anticipate them or know what to do about them when they happen.

Chris lays out 46 different PRIMES that are simple, proven secrets to solving these leadership challenges. Each PRIME has a simple graphic to make it memorable and easy to communicate the concept to others.  They are grouped by theme such as: leading in uncertain times, establishing powerful alliances, increasing group performance, dealing with group failure, thriving in ambiguity.

One of my favorite PRIMES is the Core Prime, which gives invaluable guidance on leading through change. This teaching identifies five essentials that once you gain agreement on with your group, will allow you to lead them through change:

  • As Is – what is reality
  • Environment – what’s happening around us
  • Stake – what will happen if we don’t change
  • To Be – our vision for the future
  • Strategy – how we’ll get there

I highly recommend this book to beef up your leadership tool kit with simple but powerful principles you can use today.

The PRIMES, Chris McGoff

Recommended podcasts

Hidden Brain: “The Edge Effect”

What could happen if you took a chance to meet, talk and work with somebody different from yourself?  Perhaps something extraordinary. This is the essence of “the edge effect.”

Hidden Brain is one of my favorite podcasts. The episodes are very engaging, and I always learn something new.  The focus is on science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.

In this episode, host Shakar Vedantam explores what can happen when people from different worlds connect and collaborate.  The lesson: Familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity.

From science and business to music and the world of fashion, researchers have found that people with deep connections to people from other countries and cultures often see benefits in terms of their creative output.  Their out-of-the-box thinking is far better.

I particularly liked the story about Cristina Pato, a Spanish bagpipe master, who was asked to come and play “just for fun” with a group of other musicians whom she didn’t know. It turns out the group was YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. By taking a chance, she stumbled into a room of master musicians, and it changed her life.

Listen here: The Edge Effect

HBR Ideacast: “4 Behaviors of Top-Performing CEOs”

This is a good podcast to subscribe to if you want the latest thinking on business and management.  In this episode, Elena Botelho, a partner at leadership advisory firm ghSmart, talks about the disconnect between the stereotype of the CEO and what research shows actually leads to high performance at that level.

Her work, the CEO Genome Project, studied top executives over time to determine what led to exceptional performance. She says factors such as your height, weight, gender and personality type are not nearly as influential as people think they are.  The good news: your destiny is largely in your own hands.  Research shows that there are four behaviors (my favorite is No. 3) that more consistently lead to high performance in the corner office.

Find out more about these secrets to success by listening to: 4 Behaviors of Top-Performing CEOs  For more in-depth information, read Botelho’s article “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart” in the May-June 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review.

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

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In The Turn

5 Things Successful Leaders Want to Know

cheat sheetThere’s no shortage of good advice out there for leaders today. I’m grateful you’ve chosen to check out some of my learnings from time to time.

Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve written more than 40 blog posts. And when something gets real traction, I take a closer look to see what everyone is interested in — what’s the hot topic?  This helps me learn what your pain points are and what I should write about.

While brainstorming the other day, my brilliant digital marketing team jumped on this insight and suggested we compile our top blog posts into one — create a “best of the best.” As busy as you are, they thought this would give you quick access — with all the links — to the most popular topics for you to read while you’re on the go, in between meetings, or waiting on the kids.

So here you go, thanks to the smart people around me — our top posts — five things successful leaders like you want to know. 

1. How to Keep Your Cool Under Pressure

Staying 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. In this post, I’ve picked three of my favorites. 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.

2. How to Go From Overwhelmed to I’ve Got This

Your car wouldn’t start this morning. You’re behind on finishing the report that’s due tomorrow. Your boss just called an urgent meeting for late this afternoon. Your daughter’s dance recital is this evening. And on top of that, you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a week.

That’s it — you’re officially overwhelmed, something all of us experience at one time or another. The mental and physical reactions are unmistakable: anxiety, helplessness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath.

It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. As leaders we are often asked to do more with less, and the stakes get higher in a rapidly changing business environment. Our concerns at home can escalate at any time, too.

How do you find some peace? There are a number of things you can do to reduce the causes of stress in your leadership journey and minimize the chances for a pile-on. In this blog post, I share six tips along with some steps you can take to help you move from “I’m overwhelmed” to “I’ve got this.”

3. Facing Your Fears: Overcoming What Scares You Most

“Are you fearless?”

Fearless Girl

A reporter once asked me that question. How I wish I could have answered her with a bold swagger and a confident yes.

Despite 20-plus years of entrepreneurship and a penchant for motorcycling, I’ve had plenty of things that have kept me awake at night. Particularly in the early years of building my business. I feared losing clients or key employees. I feared failure with a passion.

But after experiencing some of my greatest learnings from botched attempts — for example, launching a service no one wanted to buy or losing a pitch for a piece of business we really wanted — I’ve stared that tiger down.

What are you afraid of? Regardless of what title you hold or where you are on your journey, you’re afraid of something. We all are.

We long to be fearless leaders. Yet we spend a good deal of time trying to avoid the things we’re most afraid of. That’s human nature, and our preservation instincts are there for a reason. But if you focus too much on your fears, you’re hurting yourself in other ways.

What’s the secret to breaking through? In this post, I share a few of the bigger fears leaders face and some thoughts on how to tackle those things that scare you the most.

4. 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.

Checking off a listBefore 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.

This post describes why we need more margin in our lives, and how to capture, evaluate and prioritize the responsibilities you take on. I share insights on how to be more intentional about what you do and why you’re doing it, and how you can be in a better position to manage your schedule, minimize your stress and maximize your joy.

5. 7 Inspiring Leadership TED Talks You’ve Probably Never Heard

Looking for a little inspiration?

If you’re like most busy leaders, you’d love something to kick-start your thinking or give you a fresh perspective. But you just don’t have the time to search out the best stuff. Which is why I wanted to share a few things I’ve found.

Some of the hidden gems in the TED talk library pack just as powerful a punch as the better-known presentations. I’ve pulled together 7 of my favorite TED talks on leadership that you’ve probably never heard. These are all really good, and have something interesting to offer.

In 18 minutes or less, I guarantee you’ll get at least one thing you can use – a new idea, a little practical advice, and undoubtedly some timely inspiration.

So grab a cup of coffee, and take a quick look.



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

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In The Turn

Team Mind-Reading: How You Can Acquire the Ultimate Leadership Superpower

“I wonder what she’s thinking…”  How many times have you thought that before or after talking with one of your team members?  Wouldn’t it be great if you really knew?

Mind-reading is a leadership superpower most of us would like to have. We’d all love to know what’s going on inside someone’s head. Through conversation, observation and interaction, you can get some clues. But sometimes you can end up pretty far off, too.

That lack of clarity makes your job as a leader even harder. You’re surprised when someone reacts negatively to your words or misinterprets your actions.  You’re frustrated when your team doesn’t seem inspired by the goals you set and doesn’t get on board. Sometimes you leave a conversation where plenty was said, but little seems to have been understood.

Why it helps to know what others are thinking

Your ability to connect with and understand others is critically important to your leadership effectiveness.  You have many things you want and need to share with those you lead including vision, values, goals and performance expectations, among countless other business-related topics.

Likewise, you want to understand what your team is thinking. You’d like to know:

  • What motivates each person?
  • What are their fears and triggers?
  • What obstacles are holding them back?
  • How do they make choices?
  • Why are they behaving in certain ways?
  • What do they really think about you and the organization?

Armed with this kind of insight, you can lead far more powerfully because you can say and do the things that will resonate most with your team.

With advanced neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI (think MRI that measures blood flow in the brain), we’re learning many new things about how and why the brain directs our thinking, behavior, emotional response and decision-making.  More and more, it is becoming possible for scientists to identify thoughts and feelings by watching different parts of the brain light up on a computer screen.

Absent an fMRI in your office, how can you become more adept at knowing what makes someone tick?

It’s not as hard as you might imagine.  There are some powerful leadership tools and techniques you can employ to become a more capable mind-reader – and, in turn, a far better leader.

I’ve got three to share with you today.


1. Create safety in conversations

It’s human nature to protect ourselves. Whether it’s a saber-tooth tiger jumping out of the bushes or someone who we think is out to get us, threats of all kinds cause us to react defensively.  This fight/flight/freeze instinct is an automatic response controlled by our limbic system that triggers a physical reaction to threats — our heart races, our breathing gets shallow, and our muscles tighten.

We also have an emotional reaction to threats, especially social threats such as feeling left out or losing our sense of control. When we are triggered we can become angry, fearful or simply go silent.

You can help to minimize someone’s defensive responses by creating a sense of safety when you are with them. This is particularly important in weighty conversations, where the goal is to have honest, forthright and productive dialogue.

In the book “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, the authors explain the importance of first creating a sense of safety between two individuals before having a significant conversation.  You can accomplish this by establishing a common purpose to focus on and demonstrating mutual respect.  In so doing, you enable others to feel less threatened and more willing to fully engage in difficult but meaningful discussion.

What’s the result?  When people feel safe, they can say anything. The more others share with you, the more you can discover what they are thinking.  And vice versa.  Which paves the way for smoother resolution of conflicts and greater alignment around common goals.

2. Discover what triggers them

All of us have motives for the decisions we make and the actions we take. The problem is, we often don’t openly share what drives us. This creates a sense of confusion and challenge for leaders who are trying to navigate interactions with many different types of people in the workplace.

Figuring out what motivates others is very useful. This knowledge enables you to engage them more effectively and see with greater accuracy how situations should and could unfold.

Interestingly, our motivations are often the flip side of something that challenges us – a trigger that causes us to react negatively.

In his book, “Your Brain at Work,” David Rock outlines five social triggers research has identified as the most common reasons people get upset:

  • Status – feeling less than or better than others
  • Certainty – ability to predict outcomes
  • Autonomy – sense of control
  • Relatedness – in-group or out-of-group
  • Fairness – perception of fair exchange

Think about the individuals on your team. What are their likely triggers?  How have they responded in the past to different situations? Then think through what you can do to mitigate a negative response.

For example, imagine you have to tell someone their budget’s been cut. If certainty is important to them, you should provide information about other resources they can turn to that would help create a greater sense of certainty. If autonomy is important to them, give them some time and space to think through different options for how they can overcome the challenge, and give them some authority to move forward in a new way.

By thinking through what triggers others, you can better anticipate what their thoughts and feelings will be and navigate your interactions with them.

3. Ask them

This one seems so simple, but we often don’t ask what other people are thinking because we are unwilling to take the time to do so. Or we assume we already know.

Stop guessing what someone wants, and ask them.

This is especially important when trying to make decisions about how best to develop your team members and prepare them to take on more.  Ask yourself: “Do I really know what this person’s career goals are? Do I have a clear sense of their strengths and weaknesses, and know where they’d like to improve?”

You can learn what others are thinking by asking prompting questions that encourage them to share their ideas with you. Set aside time in your one-on-one meetings to ask questions like: “How do you feel you are progressing toward your career goals?” Or “What are some areas you’d like to get stronger in if given the chance?”

By asking – and actively listening – you can gain a clear understanding of what your team members want and need. You can determine who might be best suited to take on a new responsibility and how to empower them to own it. When you know what their goals are, you can give someone a stretch assignment that will allow them to grow in an area they would like to develop.

By asking, you can learn what they’re thinking and be in a better position to meet their needs and with just the right fit at the right time.


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

Upcoming free webinar: “Mastering the Art of Delegation”

If you’d like to learn more about how to make deeper connections with others, to know what motivates them and how you can work more effectively with them, I invite you to stay tuned for my free webinar “Mastering the Art of Delegation” coming up this month.

In this one-hour live session, I will go deep on the specific steps you can take to empower, equip and enable others – and it all starts with how well you can know what others are thinking. I look forward to sharing more with you soon! Be the first to know about the details when you sign up for my online content and Journey Mindset Guide.

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In The Turn

Leadership Under Pressure: How to Show Courage, Cunning and Character When It Really Matters

This is Part Two in a series based on my recent trip to India. Part One shared stories of our adventures looking for tigers and the powerful leadership lessons I learned while on safari. Now, I’d like to take you deep into the ancient palaces of the maharajas and maharanis, where we discovered secrets of royalty who walked these rooms centuries ago.

As always, I found inspiration for modern leadership – this time from the lives of these great men and women who demonstrated great courage, cunning and character in life-and-death situations. I hope you learn as much from them as I did.

The morning breeze felt good as it blew in gently from the windows where I stood. I could see through the wood-carved screens to the lake just outside the palace walls. The water sparkled in the sunshine. Shade trees dotted the water’s edge and covered the hillside beyond.

I leaned against the cool marble walls, looked around the upper room of this tower, and marveled. While the setting of the City Palace in Udaipur is breath-taking, the interiors of this majestic building are simply spectacular.

India, the world’s sixth-largest economy and the fastest-growing outside of China, has a history rich with colorful figures, dynasties and periods of turmoil as well as prosperity. As we walked the halls, I couldn’t help being swept up by the stories our guide told us of the men and women who lived in palaces like this one.

What would life have been like to lead a kingdom during that time? What secrets did these walls hold? What leadership lessons can we learn?

A Maharaja to remember

One of the most celebrated leaders was Chhatrapati Shivaji, a legendary maharaja who founded the Maratha kingdom in the 17th century and who displayed at least three important characteristics leaders need today: Courage, cunning, and character.

Shivaji’s reign is noted for many things. He was a champion of religious tolerance, the “Father of the Indian Navy,” and a supporter of women’s rights.

He was also a skilled leader in battle, demonstrating courage time and again by fighting fiercely against attackers and protecting the people who lived in his kingdom. He earned the nickname “mountain rat” because of his knowledge of the mountainous countryside and his ingenuity in triumphing over enemies in difficult terrain.

We heard several stories about Shivaji, but perhaps my favorite occurred during his struggle against a Mughal emperor named Aurangzeb. This is a conflict that waged for many years. At one point, Shivaji and his men captured several forts, and things finally came to a head. The emperor couldn’t tolerate losing more ground. So he sent a huge army to attack Shivaji and his band of men, forcing a peace treaty.

Shivaji agreed to meet with Aurangzeb in Agra, which is the home of the Taj Mahal and a major city in the state of what is known today as Rajasthan. Aurangzeb assured him he would be treated like royalty when he arrived.

A daring escape

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Shivaji and his son, who accompanied him to Agra, were at first ignored by the Mughal; then quickly placed under house arrest and threatened with execution.

Shivaji was furious when he realized he had been tricked. Their lives were in danger now – as was his entire kingdom.

While stuck in captivity, Shivaji began to think – how could he overcome this turn of events and escape? Calling upon his ingenuity, the clever leader thought of a plan and put it into motion.

Shivaji sent word to his captors that he had become ill and asked for doctors to treat him. After three days, he insisted he had been cured and ask for sweets to be distributed to doctors and needy people in the land as a way of showing his gratitude. Huge quantities of special treats were prepared and carried out from the palace grounds in large bamboo baskets.

At first, guards carefully inspected each basket before allowing it to leave. As the days wore on, however, they became lax. Shivaji knew this was his chance.

In a thrilling escape, he and his son hid in the baskets and were carried to freedom under the very noses of the guards who were supposed to be watching them!

Once outside, they disguised themselves as beggars, shaving their very recognizable beards and mustaches, exchanging their clothing, and putting ashes on their faces. They escaped through the countryside and returned to their kingdom.

Shivaji was welcomed back as a hero. Once back in power, he focused all his efforts on restoring his kingdom, instituting reforms and establishing stability in the region. He eventually was coronated as a king, and he ruled for many years until his death.

Leadership lessons

The legendary Maharaja never lived in the City Palace of Udaipur. But his story is larger than life, and I thought about it throughout our trip. I’m struck by three leadership lessons we can take from his example.

Lesson 1: Courage is a constant

While one could argue that Shivaji was a little blood-thirsty, he is not unlike many other warrior kings in history who succeeded largely through constant courage and a willingness to fight. He stood up to his enemies and refused to let them defeat him.

He also earned the respect of his soldiers by demonstrating his battle skills and fighting side-by-side with them in the trenches. As a result, they remained loyal and willingly followed him into battle.

Have you ever felt you were “under siege” as a leader, fighting for your team, your values, your point of view or a cause you passionately believed in? Whether we like it or not, such battles are simply a part of leadership.

It requires courage to rise to these occasions, especially when everything inside you wants to head for the hills. Here are a few things to remember that will help increase your courage in the heat of battle.

  •  Stand your ground – Instead of shrinking back, stand up, plant your feet and take up some space. This increases your confidence by altering your neurochemicals – increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol. Neuroscience research has shown that when we have higher levels of testosterone, we are more persistent in the face of failure, better negotiators and more willing to take risks.

One of the most popular TED talks (more than 42 million views) features psychologist Amy Cuddy explaining why “power posing” might be useful to build courage. Her research suggests there is an increase in testosterone when we strike a confident pose. She’s not suggesting we stand defiantly when we’re leading others, although there might be times when we need a strong posture. More often, power posing is part of our preparation. “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes,” says Cuddy.

  • Show grace under fireBrené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston, has noted that the root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. “In one of its earliest forms,” Brown writes, “the word courage meant, ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”

This type of courage allows us to own our actions rather than casting blame, to be outspoken about our beliefs, and to demonstrate confidence and poise even when we’re under extreme stress or pressure. It’s a self-confidence that comes from knowing and demonstrating our hearts.

  • Remember who you are – Too often we are consumed with the business and the busyness of our daily work. But it’s important to step back periodically and remind yourself why you’ve chosen to lead. What drives you? What are your values? What do you want your legacy to be? When you are clear about these things, it helps crystallize in your mind who you are as a leader and why you are willing to fight for things that matter to you.

Lesson 2: Cunning comes from clear thinking

Many times, it isn’t sheer force of will that carries the day. It’s how we use our wits. Like Shivaji, we may need to devise a clever way out of a pickle. So, we need to optimize our thinking skills and be prepared to use them when the pressure is on.

Here are two tips to help you think clearly when you need it most.

  • Manage your emotions – An important fact to know about your brain: Your limbic system, which regulates your emotions, and your prefrontal cortex, which controls complex thinking, both require plenty of glucose and oxygen. As a result, they cannot operate optimally at the same time. This explains why you’re thinking is often significantly impaired when you’re in a heightened emotional state, and you find yourself at a loss for words.

Effective leaders know how to dial back their emotional responses so they can clear their heads to think. You can improve your ability to do this by practicing mindfulness, which is remaining present and aware of your thoughts and feelings instead of escaping into your mind when the going gets tough. As you learn to inhibit negative narratives in your head, you can be more objective and perceive situations realistically. Practicing meditation regularly also improves your ability to focus.

  • See things another way — You can use basic cognitive strategies such as repositioning, which is stepping back to see things from another’s perspective. If you could consult a friend or a mentor on the situation, how might they advise you? Many times, others can help us consider options we might not see for ourselves.

Lesson 3: Character defines your legacy

More than courage and cunning, your character tells the world what kind of leader you are. We read daily of leaders who stumble due to lack of judgment, ethical breaches or outright criminal activity. Even though no one is perfect and we all fall short, it’s disheartening.

We hold leaders to a higher standard and look up to them – as we should. Being in a position of power means you set vision, show the way and make important decisions, many of which impact others as well as yourself.

I was impressed to learn of Shivaji’s commitments to better the quality of life for his people. He was known for his respect and tolerance for different faiths. During a time when women were not treated particularly well, the Maharaja did not tolerate violence or harassment against women. He got in the trenches with his soldiers and fought with them.

He didn’t have to lead this way, but he chose to anyway, and he enjoyed support and stability because of the respect he earned.

  • Leaders of character consider the needs of others — Courage and cunning are part of your character, but the part that most defines your legacy as a leader is your selflessness. Leaders cannot be all about themselves; instead, they keep the interests of others as a top priority. Otherwise, no one will willingly follow them – at least not for long.

Great leaders do not abuse power or take advantage of it for their own gain. They consider the needs of others and show respect for individuals regardless of their standing in society. Their decisions and actions show what they’re made of and what’s in their heart.

Being a leader of character means knowing and living your values. Most of us are pretty good at the first part; it’s the second part that’s so hard! But living them is what really matters. It allows us to earn not just the respect of others, but, most importantly, our own.

During times of great challenge, we are drawn to people who muster a rare combination of courage, cunning and character. Shivaji seems to have brought them all. I hope his legacy inspires you to demonstrate these same qualities in your own leadership journey.



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

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!




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

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In The Turn

How to Stay Cool Under Pressure

Staying 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.



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.



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 staying cool under pressure.



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.


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.



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 stay cool under pressure so you can lead yourself and others more powerfully.

Please email me – – with your strategies and success stories on staying 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!




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

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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:


– 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.




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

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