Category Archives: Leadership Resources

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

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

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

The Power of the Question: Get Better Results By Saying Less and Asking More

Have you ever had a light-bulb moment? An ah-ha thought? An epiphany?

Those amazing moments often start at the same place: A question. Good leaders have good ideas. But great leaders ask the questions that produce invaluable thinking in others.

Helping others find their own insights

Discovering your own insights is an empowering experience. When you think things through to find answers, it increases your confidence, energizes you as you “see” solutions, and allows you to establish a track record of solving problems and overcoming challenges.

We know through neuroscience research that not only is having an insight incredibly invigorating, but we are much more committed to taking action when we see a solution tied to our ideas.

As leaders, too often we rely on telling rather than asking.  In our eagerness to solve a problem or get something done, we jump straight to saying what we think others need to hear. The only problem is, it’s our thinking and our ideas. And maybe none of theirs.

The best leaders understand this. They don’t give their team all the answers. Instead, they lead by questioning and teach their team how to come up with viable, actionable solutions on their own as much as possible. This is the essence of the coaching style of leadership and a far more rewarding way to lead, both for yourself and others.

Why lead-by-questioning works

Think about a time when a team member hit a roadblock. Your first instinct is to suggest a solution, which is not a bad thing, and, on the surface, seems the most efficient thing to do. But by handing them the solutions, you:

  • Cheat them out of a learning and development opportunity;
  • Miss out on fresh thinking they could bring to the table; and
  • Create added stress and pressure on yourself by trying to be the problem-solver. (NOTE: Some leaders like being the hero, but that’s often not the best use of your time and abilities.)

Instead, by asking the right questions, you can help this team member find a good solution herself. At the same time, she will have the chance to learn from it, she may offer an entirely different idea that works better, and she may also leave your office skipping down the hall.

Not only will she benefit, but you will, too.

  • You build your team into better critical and strategic thinkers and more capable problem-solvers.
  • You free up your time to focus on bigger issues rather than solving problems for others.
  • As your team performs at a higher level, you become a “multiplying leader” – someone who gets exponentially more done by working with and through others rather than relying on your own strengths.
  • People want to work for you because you are an empowering leader, not a controlling one.
  • You foster loyalty because people appreciate that you let them figure things out for themselves.

Asking the right questions

So how can you implement a lead-by-questioning style?  First, you avoid the wrong questions —questions that can be answered with one word (yes or no), that focus on the problem, or that tend to make others defensive.

Would anyone on your team respond positively to questions like this:

  • Why are you behind schedule?
  • What’s the problem with this project?
  • Who isn’t keeping up?
  • Don’t you know any better than that?
  • Wouldn’t you agree … ?
  • How could this have happened?

The best questions empower others by:

  • Getting them to think more deeply about an issue
  • Inspiring them to come up with unique ideas
  • Enabling them to create new connections in their head they couldn’t make before
  • Encouraging them to see potential in any situation
  • Promoting a growth mindset — “we can figure this out” – rather than a fixed mindset – “we’ve done all we can”
  • Helping them focus on the solution, not the problem
  • Encouraging them to trust their own instincts

Some examples of empowering questions include:

  • What options are coming to your mind?
  • What does success look like?
  • How will a solution make our client/customer feel?
  • What gaps do you see in your thinking?
  • What’s your gut instinct here?
  • What will it take to get there?
  • What is a good next step?
  • How do you feel about the resources you have in place?
  • How can I help you from here?

Establishing a lead-by-questioning culture

The more you ask great questions, the more you will foster a culture that values this approach and that others will emulate. Get things rolling by asking your team learning-focused questions during team meetings. For example, after a project has wrapped up, try asking:

  • What was particularly effective about this team?
  • What could be “even better if”?
  • What did we learn from a disappointment? How can we apply that in the future?
  • How could we improve upon our work flow?

Encourage your team to try lead-by-questioning in their circle of influence, too. Share the list of empowering questions above with them. In your one-on-ones, ask them about the types of questions they are asking and how that is changing the results they are getting.

Helping your people think for themselves ultimately helps everyone perform better. They grow and flourish in their roles, and you gain more time and space to focus on big-picture issues. You become an empowering leader whose success is exponential and whose influence is scalable.

Remember – you don’t have to have the answer when you ask the question. Neither do they! But by getting others thinking, good answers will come.

Two great resources on this topic:

What questions have you used that work well? I’d love to hear your ideas and look forward to hearing from you — elise@elisemitchell.com.

 

 

 

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

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In The Turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you – email me at elise@elisemitchell.com.

 

 

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

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In The Turn

7 Inspiring 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.

 

Photo Credit: Ted.com

How to Use Others’ Feedback to Learn and Grow — Sheila Heen: Most of us have a love-hate relationship with feedback. This is an exceptional talk that hits home on why it’s so hard to hear honest feedback from others. But how learning to accept and leverage feedback can significantly improve your performance and fundamentally change the trajectory of your career. Sheila Heen is a Harvard lecturer, business consultant, a New York Times best-selling author, and a mom of three. She has a charming delivery with a hard-hitting, practical message.

Photo credit: Ted.com

5 Ways to Lead in an Era of Constant Change — Jim Hemerling: As a leader, you must constantly work to become more nimble and adaptable to change. This is often daunting. Does change always need to be so hard?

Organizational change expert Jim Hemerling thinks adapting your business in today’s constantly-evolving world can be invigorating instead of exhausting. He outlines five imperatives, centered around putting people first, for turning company reorganization into an empowering, energizing task for all.

Photo Credit: Ted.com

Two Reasons Companies Fail — and How to Avoid Them — Knut Haanaes: Is it possible to run a company and reinvent it at the same time? A tough challenge, for sure. If you’re involved in an innovation project right now, this would be a good one to watch.

Business strategist Knut Haanaes believes the ability to innovate after becoming successful is the mark of a great organization. He shares insights on how to strike a balance between perfecting what we already know and exploring totally new ideas — and lays out how to avoid two major strategy traps.

Photo Credit: YouTube

Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life — Bill Eckstrom: After documenting and researching over 50,000 coaching interactions in the workplace, Bill Eckstrom shares life-altering, personal and professional development ideas through the introduction of the “Growth Rings.”

The rings illustrate how dangerous it can be to remain in a state of comfort and how being in discomfort is the only way to sustain growth.

You know you have to push yourself to grow. Don’t be afraid of discomfort — it can change your leadership journey in a good way. 

Photo Credit: Ted.com

What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work? Dan Ariely: This is a really fascinating talk and super useful for leaders to hear. It explores what motivates people to work. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money. But it’s not exactly joy either.

It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.

Photo Credit: Ted.com

Lessons for Women in the Workplace — Leila Hoteit: Professional women in the Arab world juggle more responsibilities than their male counterparts, and they face more cultural rigidity than Western women. What can their success teach us about tenacity, competition, priorities and progress?

Tracing her career as an engineer, advocate and mother in Abu Dhabi, Leila Hoteit shares three lessons for thriving in the modern world.

Photo Credit: Business Growth Blog

The Puzzle of Motivation — Dan Pink: Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with the fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.

 

 

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

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