What Leadership Levers Do You Need to Pull?

This week, I would like you to take a few minutes to assess yourself against the Ten Leadership Levers below. Each of these can dramatically impact your performance. So, take two minutes to see how you’re doing.

Leadership Lever Self-Assessment

1 (Low) – 10 (High)

1. I focus on the “right work” (the 3-4 areas that will drive the biggest results)

2. I consistently reinforce my leadership brand

3. I proactively manage my energy to stay productive each day and avoid burnout

4. I clarify my intentions so others know how to interpret my actions

5. I invest time each month to network/build stronger relationships

6. I track my accomplishments so I can easily share them with others

7. I tastefully toot my own horn in a way that is relevant to others and fits who I am

8. I connect my ideas and suggestions to the bigger picture

9. I make it easy for my advocates/sponsors to help, by sharing the information they need

10. I communicate clearly and concisely by starting with the headlines and sharing details as needed

As you read through the levers above, what did you notice? Remember, that this is just as much about noticing what you’re doing well and putting that into play even more as it is about identifying the opportunities for improvement. I urge you to identify one area that you’d like to focus on and come up with an action step that you can take this week. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

Being Strategic About Performance Feedback

One thing I know from my experience leading Performance Management & Career Planning at Deloitte is that most people dislike giving feedback. And it can be equally challenging on the receiving end if you disagree with someone’s point of view or don’t understand what their feedback really means. Despite the challenges, feedback can give you valuable insight about your leadership style and strong indicators about what others value.

If you aren’t taking advantage of opportunities to get input from others, here are three questions that may help you be more strategic in your approach:

1. What should I do more or less of?

If you’re like most people, you only focus on feedback when it’s that formal time in the performance management process. Beyond that, you may have little to no conversation about how others view your business results, strengths and areas for development. If this description fits you, set aside even just 15 minutes each month to share your results and simply ask what you should be doing more or less of to be more effective. It can go a long way and you might be surprised at what you find out.

2. How can I make it easier for others to give me feedback?

Be mindful of how you respond when others do give you their views, because it will impact whether they give you candid, constructive feedback in the future. Consider the following questions to help you do this:

  • How much do I focus on understanding the underlying issues or intent behind the feedback?

  • Approach the feedback from a sense of curiosity rather than judgment. Are you asking the right questions?

  • How much information do I share when responding to feedback?

  • Remember that although you may be merely trying to explain your actions or behavior to others, your comments could be perceived as defensiveness.

  • How well do I manage my emotions?

Visible anger, frustration, or tears can make anyone reluctant to give you feedback in the future. Recognize when you need to discontinue the conversation to allow yourself time to process the feedback.

3. How can I make the most of feedback I disagree with?

When I conduct 360 feedback interviews for my clients, I encourage them to focus less on whether the feedback is right or wrong and more on how it impacts their leadership effectiveness.

Remember that when there are different views of your performance, a skill gap may exist or a communication issue may exist. In other words, you may need to more consistently communicate how you are making a difference and your results.

In either case, what can you learn from the feedback? What action do you want to take as a result? And how will you follow up with people who have given their input so they know you’ve taken it seriously and can support you going forward?

Don’t forget that feedback is all about perception, and understanding that perception can give you valuable insight to make strategic changes. Before you dive into the rest of your week, identify one step you will take to get or share information about your performance. You never know where it might lead.


© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

What's Getting in the Way of Your Success?

I specialize in working with high performing managers and leaders (especially women) to help them get even better results. So, the people I work with are typically very talented, have done well in their careers, and are striving for more.

As they move up the corporate ladder, the skills they need to be successful are much less about their technical knowledge and much more about their ability to work with and through others—which really gets to the heart of interpersonal and leadership skills.

Marshall Goldsmith, a well-known executive coach and author of the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There compiled a list of common habits that limit an individual’s success. Take a minute to read through this and put a check mark next to any that apply to you.

1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs

2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add your two cents to every discussion

3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose your standards on them

4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty

5. Starting with "No," "But," or "However": The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly says to everyone, "I'm right. You're wrong."

6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we're smarter than they think we are

7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool

8. Negativity, or "Let me explain why that won't work": The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren't asked

9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others

10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward

11. Claiming credit that we don't deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success

12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it

13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else

14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly

15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we're wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others

16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues

17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners

18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us

19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves

20. An excessive need to be "me": Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they're who we are

As Marshall says in his book, the good news is that it’s hard to find successful people who embody too many of these. Usually, a person is guilty of one or two of them. Even if you put a check mark next to six or eight of these habits, all of them may not be significant enough to worry about. So, distill your list down to one or two key things to start with.

The other exciting part is that these issues can be simple to correct because you already have the skills to do so. For example, I have a client who had difficulty being fully present and listening to others (#16) in meetings because she was constantly distracted by her BlackBerry. So, she came up with a simple solution, to put her BlackBerry away during meetings. Another client noticed that he failed to give proper recognition, and decided to carve out 15-20 minutes each Friday to send emails or notes to 1-2 of his staff to acknowledge their contributions.

Remember that we all have habits that get in the way of our success. To start, just focus on two that will make the biggest difference to your effectiveness as a leader, and identify and implement 1-2 small steps you can take to address them.

Life Lessons from the Grand Canyon

In the summer of 2012, I took a spectacular five-day hiking and camping trip to the Grand Canyon. Although my trip started off a little rough as I twisted my ankle on the first day trekking down into the Canyon, our amazing guide, Chris, wrapped it so well that I didn’t miss a beat.

Chris has experiences and wisdom far beyond his 28 years including practicing his survival skills on a remote island for 13 months with nothing but the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet, and living with various Native American Indian tribes for a year and a half to learn about their heritage and practices.

On this trip, our hiking group took a huge leap of faith in his ability to keep us safe while stretching us beyond our limits. Chris said this phrase several times and it stuck with me, “Speed is safety. Hesitation kills. Confidence is key.” Its relevance to the business world and life in general, is what leads me to share it with you today.

1. Speed is safety.

Speed matters, whether you’re striving to be first to market or meet a business goal, or trying to get to the other side of a steep cliff. To face that huge challenge you must keep moving forward. Taking a step, no matter how small, can help you learn that critical lesson or give you the ability to see things from a different vantage point.

Although speed matters, so does rest. So, when you feel your energy draining or the signs of burnout creeping up on you, take a break—but not for too long. In other words, rest long enough to boost your energy but short enough to keep you from getting stiff and stopping entirely. You have to strike a good balance between getting rest and maintaining momentum.

2. Hesitation kills.

Hesitation can be deadly. I see it kill ideas on a daily basis as that golden opportunity passes by—that moment that will never return. To bring this to life, I want to share a personal experience from my trip.

On day three, I vividly remember holding onto a boulder as we hiked across the rocks and down into the water. I was gasping for my next breath from the sheer force of the cold air from the gushing waterfall ten feet away and blinded by water spraying into my eyes . . . and tentative because of my injured ankle.

As I rubbed my eyes, sure that my contact lenses had washed away, I shouted to the person behind me, “I don’t know if I can do this!” As I stood there getting pounded by the water and wind, I knew I couldn’t hesitate any longer because my indecision was only fueling my fear. Little did I know that it would take only six more steps to get to the other side of what we came to affectionately call “The Jacuzzi.” And just six steps away was one of the most beautiful views of Avatar Falls (appropriately named by Chris, in honor of the movie), a view that I would have missed if I had hesitated any longer.

So the next time you find yourself thinking twice or being held back by fear, envision what could be on the other side. What would it really feel like if you achieved that important goal? What would it feel like if you took that leap of faith? All I can say is that I am so glad I took those additional six steps, not only for the view but also because it meant I had conquered my fear.

3. Confidence is key.

Confidence plays a huge role in how you view yourself, how others view you, and whether you succeed or fail. Often, stepping out with confidence is more about gathering the information you need to mitigate risk and less about self-doubt.

For example, if you’re standing on land wondering whether you should jump through the waterfall into the water below, you might ask, “Where are the rocks? How deep is the water? How strong is the current, and what should I do if I get caught in it?”

Similarly, if you’re wondering whether the time is right to share your “big idea” or ask for resources, make a list of the questions for which you need answers, anticipate the resistance you might encounter, and develop a game plan.

As I reflected about this trip, I realized what an amazing opportunity it truly was. Just remember that you don’t have to go all the way to the Grand Canyon to seize opportunities. They are right in front of you every day. So, I want to challenge you to seize the next one—no matter how small—with speed and confidence, and without hesitation.

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders

I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Jim Kouzes, the co-author of The Leadership Challenge. For those of you who have not heard of this book, you should take a look. Based on over 30 years of research, he and Barry Posner identified five common practices of leaders who make extraordinary things happen.

Before we review the five practices, let’s first define leadership. Kouzes & Posner define a leader as someone whose direction you would willingly follow. In other words, you can’t be a leader without followers. To further define leadership the authors asked, “What do you look for and admire in a leader?” Here are the top four attributes and the percentage of respondents who mentioned them:

  • Honest (85%)

  • Forward looking (70%)

  • Inspiring (69%)

  • Competent (64%)

Over the 30 years that they have asked this question, the authors have consistently gotten the same top four responses in the same order. When you look at these four items collectively, they underscore the importance of credibility when it comes to leadership.

So, now let’s take a look at the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders.

1. Model the way.

This practice is about establishing principles and standards for how people should be treated, and how goals should be pursued. As a leader, you must first clarify what you believe in and what you’re willing to take a stand for before you can articulate it to others. Then you need to align your actions with what you believe in (i.e., do what you say you will do).

2. Inspire a shared vision.

Through their research, Kouzes & Posner note that what distinguishes leaders from colleagues is their ability to be forward looking. Leaders can envision the future and create a compelling image of what the organization can become—and they truly believe that they can make a difference.

Contrary to what you may think, a leader does not have to originate the vision of the future. In fact, leaders may develop their vision by carefully tuning into what they hear from others. No matter where the vision comes from, the leader must be able to help others see it, engage them in it, and help them understand how they fit into it.

3. Challenge the process.

As you might expect, leadership is not about maintaining the status quo. Leaders Challenge the Process by experimenting, taking risks, and accepting disappointments as valuable learning opportunities. On a weekly basis, you can keep this exemplary practice at the forefront by asking, “What have I done this week to improve so that I’m more effective than I was last week?”

4. Enable others to act.

At the core of Enabling Others to Act is mutual respect and trust. Leaders understand that this can sustain extraordinary efforts, so they strive to create a trusting environment and take time to develop others.

In the workshop, Jim Kouzes challenged each of us to ask ourselves before every interaction with every person in our organizations, “What can I do in this interaction to make sure this person feels more capable as a result of what I say and do?” I would challenge you to do the same.

5. Encourage the heart.

The last practice is Encourage the Heart. Research shows that the highest performing leaders are more open and caring, express more affection, demonstrate more passion, and are more positive, grateful and encouraging than lower performers. Knowing that achieving extraordinary results takes hard work, strong leaders understand the power of recognizing and celebrating how others are making a difference.

Now that you’ve read about each exemplary practice, identify which ones you already do well and choose one practice to emphasize further. Remember that these practices don’t have to be time consuming—it’s all about taking small steps that lead you to big results. So, I urge you to choose a small step to implement from this list below or identify one of your own:

  • Think about when you performed at your best as a leader. What did you do in that situation that you can leverage today (you may have used several Exemplary Practices)?

  • Take 5 minutes to talk to your team about exciting possibilities you see for the future (Inspire a Shared Vision)

  • Ask, “What have I done this week to improve, so that I’m more effective than last week?” (Challenge the Process)

  • Ask, “What can I do during this interaction to make sure this person feels more capable as a result of what I say and do?” (Enable Others to Act)

  • Ask, “What can I do this week to encourage my team, so that they perform at a higher level?” (Encourage the Heart)

You Don't Need a Clone - Just Make the Most of Your Time

Do you ever wish there were more hours in the day or that you could clone yourself to get all your work done? Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it or dice it, there are still just 24 hours in each day. So, the key question is, "How can you make the most of the time you do have?"


First, evaluate how you are currently spending your time. A simple way to do this is by creating an activity log with four columns: time of day, activity, time spent, and priority. In the last column, rate the priority of each activity as a 1, 2, or 3:

1 - critical (high value, directly related to achieving a critical goal) 2 - moderate (medium value, indirectly related to achieving a critical goal and has urgency) 3 - low (low value, may include urgent and non urgent tasks)

Try to keep this log for a week with as much detail as possible. If that sounds like too much, shoot for at least three days, choosing days that are representative of a typical day for you.

Next, review your log to determine how much time you are spending on critical activities, how fragmented your time is throughout the day, where you are wasting time, and whether you are taking enough breaks to maintain your productivity. Once you have a sense of how you are spending your time, you can more effectively develop strategies to make better use of it.

Prioritize and Protect

Before each day begins (ideally at least one day ahead of time), identify up to three critical tasks that you need to get accomplished that day. Critical tasks are defined as tasks that move you towards achieving critical goals. Really challenge yourself to think about what’s critical versus urgent.

Next, think about whether you will need a dedicated block of time to complete these tasks based on how much creativity, thought and challenge is required. Then block the time on your calendar and protect it! Interruptions can be huge time wasters. A temporary shift in attention from one task to another can increase the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25 percent! So, staying focused on one thing can make a huge difference.

I think it’s safe to assume that you will face unplanned interruptions and distractions throughout the day, but you do have control over how you manage them. So, think about some strategies to deal with the most frequent ones. For example, when I really need to get something done, I close my instant messaging software and email and don’t answer my phone. Although that works well for me, it’s important to determine what strategies will work best for you.


Finally, bundle tasks that entail a repetitive process (i.e., ones with the same sequence of steps) such as answering emails, opening mail, or creating invoices. This will allow you to complete them more efficiently as you get into the rhythm of getting them done.

By taking the time to implement these three simple strategies, you will get better results—without cloning yourself or finding a way to make time stand still.

How Are You Getting In Your Own Way?

When you’re a high performer, you may have a relentless drive for results. Your expectations of yourself may be much higher than what others expect of you and failure is usually not an option. Although you have a remarkable ability to get results, you may fall into some traps that limit your effectiveness. Read through the traps below to see if any apply to you.

1. I mind read.

If you frequently interrupt others because you know what they are going to say, I urge you to simply notice the impact your behavior has on them. Pay attention to how they react including their body language, tone of voice, actions, and words. What do all those things tell you? I would guess that you are sending them some messages you had not intended to: “What you have to say doesn’t matter.” “My opinion carries more weight than yours.” “I don’t have time to listen to your input.”

2. I always know the right answer.

If you fall into this trap, you may have a high aptitude and can come up with the right answer most of the time (and usually much faster than others). So, you may not see a strong need to solicit input from others or explain the assumptions and facts behind your recommendations or solutions.

Although you may have the “right” answer, ask yourself what will maximize your effectiveness as a leader. How much of it is about getting to the absolute best solution, even if others won’t implement it? How much of it is about getting to a workable solution that others can support?

It often helps to go back and think about what happened the last time you pushed really hard for what you thought was the right answer. Remember that how you share your ideas is just as if not more important than the idea itself—and that you can do it in a way that engages others and leverages your expertise.

3. I set the bar really high.

Having high expectations of yourself and others can bring value as long as you do it in a way that still motivates and energizes others. Remember that not everyone views their careers in the same way you do. Some may see it as a source of security rather than a source of fulfillment. By understanding what motivates each of your team members, you will have valuable information that will help you develop an effective approach and minimize your frustration.

4. I take over when others don’t do things the way I would.

Micromanaging is a common trap that can completely distract you from making the highest and best use of your talent and skills. Remember to ask yourself what you’re giving up when you say “yes” to spending time creating a perfect deliverable when someone else could have done it well (just not as perfectly as you). Did it mean you had to work later to get to the higher priority work you should have been doing instead? Did it mean you couldn’t exercise or spend as much time with your family?

If you fall into one more of these traps, remember that we all do things that get in our own way. I urge you to identify one small step you will take this week to make a change in the right direction to avoid falling into the same trap again. And be sure to tell someone else about it so they can encourage you and assess your progress.