leadership effectiveness

Are You Keeping Your Gold Mine of Ideas to Yourself?

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If you have a useful idea and no one knows about it, does it really have any value? Well, I would argue that it doesn’t. If you find yourself holding back, what makes you reluctant to speak up? It usually starts with that fleeting thought that goes through your head.

Let’s take a look at three thoughts that might prevent you from sharing your views, and what you can do about each of them so that others can benefit from the value you bring.

“What I have to say is nothing earth shattering.”

If you fall into this category, take a second to ask yourself what others could gain from your perspective. Recognize that others don’t bring the same experiences you do, and what you see may not be as obvious to others (especially if they’re immersed in the issue/topic).

You may be dismissive when you have truly mastered a skill (i.e., you are unconsciously competent in performing it) or have deep expertise, because you know it like the back of your hand. Don’t underestimate the value you bring. While you may feel like you’re speaking for the sake of it, remember that others may find your comments insightful and relevant.

Whether or not you say anything new or insightful by your own standards, I want to remind you that there is tremendous value in being able to:

  • Summarize: This can help others in the room get refocused on what has been accomplished in the discussion and what still needs attention.

  • Bring people back to the big picture: Helping them connect the dots can refocus on what’s most important to the discussion at hand (especially if it’s been meandering).

  • Help a group see common ground: Noticing the alignment and common goals can help the whole group move forward, particularly when a range of perspectives have been shared.

"My idea is not ready for prime time.”

You may hear this from people who prefer to reflect before they share their ideas with others (often introverts). Unlike extroverts, who typically think and process out loud, introverts often want to be more thoughtful about what they say before they say it. At times this can be misconstrued as holding back ideas that could be of value to others, or perfectionism. If any of this sounds familiar, trust me that you’re not alone.

I would recommend that before you walk into a meeting; anticipate what might come up. What might they ask? What challenges may come up based on who will be present in the room? How would you respond? Taking even five minutes to prepare ahead of time will help you step out there a little sooner than you typically would, and with a stronger sense of conviction and confidence.

“Is this really worth my time and energy to share my views?”

Yes, we all have those moments where we are just ready for a meeting to be over. Of course you wouldn’t dare bring something else up because it may drag your unproductive meeting out even longer (and it’s already been going on long enough)!

Before you mentally disengage and start answering email on your phone, ask yourself what opportunity sits before you in this meeting. Remember that it’s up to you to see these moments as unique opportunities to accomplish something of importance to you and/or your team — whether it’s reinforcing your leadership brand, bringing direction to the group, advancing a relationship, or actually making productive use of an otherwise useless meeting.

I would ask you to identify one thing you need to keep in mind or do so that others can get value from what you uniquely bring. Don’t keep that gold mine of ideas all to yourself. Spread the wealth.

Learning the Unwritten Rules

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At a conference, I heard a senior director from Catalyst (a leading organization focused on advancing women) speak about Unwritten Rules: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You. Like the presenter, I wish I could say that doing a good job is enough. It simply isn’t. Although performance matters, understanding and playing by the unwritten rules can have a huge impact on your career advancement.

I want to share three of the strategies or “learning approaches” that Catalyst found in its research to help discover the unwritten rules. The research also reveals the effectiveness of each strategy in career advancement and breaks down the data by gender.

1. Observation

This approach involves taking time to really understand how things work by paying attention to what other successful employees do, how they behave, and who gets promoted. Almost 90 percent of survey respondents said they had learned through observation, and 49 percent would recommend this approach.

Most of us have a lot going on day-to-day, so this strategy may not get the attention it deserves. Take a minute right now to ask yourself how often you take time to simply notice what is going on around you and Connect the Dots. As organizations go through changes, and leaders move up or out, taking time to do this periodically may give you some important insight.

2. Mentoring and Feedback

The second key learning approach centers on regularly seeking guidance and input from others about what it takes to succeed, staying in tune with your own behavior and performance, and using the information to understand what matters most in the organization. Eighty percent said they used this approach, and 32 percent would recommend it to others.

Remember that engaging others in giving you guidance and feedback can also go a long way in creating sponsors, people who have a vested interest in your success and will advocate on your behalf.

3. Trial and Error

This strategy, which some may call “learning from the school of hard knocks,” is all about figuring out what works and doesn’t as you go along.

Although a huge percentage of respondents learned unwritten rules this way — 78 percent to be exact — only 18 percent found this approach helpful.

Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if someone just saved you the trouble and handed you a list of all the unwritten rules? Since that probably won’t happen, think about one small step you can take to put one of the most effective strategies into play for yourself.

Look for the Opportunities Right in Front of You

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I can’t tell you how often I hear people complain that they don’t have time to focus on something important to them. There can be several reasons they don’t dedicate the time or make the effort. For some, fear holds them back. For others, the sense of urgency isn’t there. But in many cases, people simply do not see the opportunities in front of them to make progress on what they want.

So, I work with my clients to develop ways to achieve their goals without adding layers of work—which is key to getting the ball rolling. Below are three simple steps you can take. Think about each of these in the context of what you really want to accomplish.

1. Review what is already on your calendar.

To get started, look 1-2 weeks out on your schedule to see who you have meetings or calls with. You may find that you will be in front of important people with whom you want to cultivate stronger relationships or get visibility. By looking at your schedule ahead of time and in the context of your goals, you can begin to set the stage for making progress on what you’d like to accomplish.

2. Think about how you can make the most of that time.

Next, think about how you can make the most of the opportunity whether it’s a meeting, phone call, or something else. For example, I have a client who has a strong internal network but wants to expand her external network. With her work and travel schedule, she doesn’t have much time to participate in networking events. She’d been struggling to make time for quite a while.

When we looked at her calendar, she noticed that she had a two-day meeting coming up. It was part of a prominent leadership program for which she had been selected and it included leaders from other organizations. So, we worked together to establish 1-2 goals for this meeting. She identified two individuals she wanted to cultivate relationships with and developed concrete actions steps to do just that. Ultimately, she got more out of the program and made progress on her networking goal without adding any time to her schedule.

3. Set up a structure to help you.

Finally, make this process a habit for yourself. If the thought of looking out a week or two in advance sounds overwhelming, you can still make the most of any single opportunity sitting in front of you.

Before each meeting or call you attend, take a couple of minutes to ask yourself:

  • How do I want to show up (i.e., what impression do I want to leave? How can I reinforce my brand?)?

  • In this forum, how can I also make progress on one of my goals or priorities?

  • What one action will I take in this meeting or call?

My clients can attest that this really works! So, set aside time to strategically look at your calendar and set goals for your upcoming meetings and calls. As a first step, pick just one meeting in the next week to try this approach. If you’re really adventurous, block 15-20 minutes on your calendar each week to strategize about the following week’s meetings. You will show up with much more intention and may be surprised at the results you get.

The Value of Being “Speechless”

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Once I lost my voice to the point of a whisper. It was truly a first for me. As an extrovert and someone who provides coaching and consulting services, it was so hard to refrain from talking. To add another interesting dimension, I also had my 6-year-old son solo that weekend, so writing down what I wanted to say wasn’t an option — unless of course I wanted to limit myself to simple three-letter or four-letter words!

So, between losing my voice and starting off that week teaching coaching skills to a group of leaders, it reminded me of two simple but important ideas relevant to leadership.

1.Notice themes in your nonverbal communication.

Sometimes we forget how much we communicate without ever uttering a word. Whether it’s that scowl on your face, the hand on your hip, or that big smile — you constantly send messages. And the nonverbal cues speak so much louder than words, carrying much more weight if there’s a “disconnect” between the two.

So, right now, take a minute to think about what you are communicating on a day-to-day basis. Do you constantly look rushed, stressed out, or too busy to stop and have a conversation? How do your nonverbal messages align with your leadership brand (i.e., what you want to be known for as a leader)? If you are unsure about what you’re communicating nonverbally, ask for feedback from people you trust.

2.Recognize how the simple act of listening can propel things forward.

During the session I facilitated, I helped leaders practice coaching skills that they can apply to any role or situation. As you might expect, we focused on listening as one of those critical skills. Through various coaching scenarios and interactive role play, the leaders focused on:

  • giving their undivided attention

  • being “in the moment”

  • listening with genuine curiosity

  • withholding judgment as they listened

As we talked about the experience, several leaders mentioned how listening in this way can make a huge difference because the other person feels heard. They went on to say how taking this approach generated more engagement, opened the other person up to exploring solutions, and ultimately helped them take action faster.

Think about this for a minute. As a leader, if your team members feel that you are willing to listen and care about their perspectives, they will get more engaged in solving their own problems — giving you more capacity to work on other priorities.

So, right now, look at the questions below to assess how effectively you listen:

  • How often do you multi-task as others are talking?

  • How much do you focus on how you would solve the person’s problem or what you would say next while the other person is talking?

  • How much do you REALLY pay attention to the person’s tone of voice, energy, nonverbal cues, and words?

Hopefully these two simple reminders have made you pause, as I did that week, to consider a small tweak you’d like to make. I urge you to identify one small step you‘ll take in the next five days to align your nonverbal communication with your leadership brand or to fine tune your listening skills. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

What’s Your Impact?

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Every day we engage with people from all walks of life in our professional and personal lives. Each interaction results in an exchange of energy, information, and ideas—positive and negative. Through the following three questions, I challenge you today to think about the impact you have on others.

What kind of energy are you giving off?

First, are you the kind of person who brings a conversation to a halt with your “healthy dose of realism” that others might call pessimism, or are you someone that people receive positive energy from? As you go through your day, notice how people respond to you by observing their body language, tone and actions. Recognize that some of their reactions may be more about them than you, but others may be directly related to what you are saying and doing. By paying attention more closely, you may notice some important patterns.

How do you impact results?

Next, ask yourself how the company or others benefit from your involvement or participation, whether you’re participating in a meeting or on a conference call. What do you typically contribute? Are you the person that “hangs back” or dives right in with your ideas? How much do you focus on moving things forward versus staying below the radar or just trying to wade through? Even if you’re “showing up” to participate, are you actually adding value?

What do others take from your behavior?

To bring the last point home, I want to share something from a meeting I was facilitating with an executive women’s group last week. We talked about how leaders are always in an “invisible spotlight.” In other words, people are constantly watching them, noticing what they are doing and drawing their own conclusions.

So, whether you realize it or not, you are sending indirect messages with everything you do. What are yours? Is it that you’re overwhelmed and need to be managed carefully or you might make life miserable for everyone? Or are you that unwavering leader that can provide direction and guidance consistently no matter what is going on? Recognize that small actions can add up to big messages when you put them all together.

Remember that you have an impact on everyone you interact with, but you do have a choice about what kind of impact you want have. So be intentional and purposeful about it and make sure that what you do reinforces your leadership brand and aligns with your values.

So, what one small step will you take this week to have the type of impact that’s important to you and your team?

Three Keys to Peak Performance

Since I just completed my new self-paced coaching program, which is all about peak performance, I can’t get the topic off my mind. As you know there are several things that come into play when you want to really step up your game and take your performance to the next level. I have chosen three to get your wheels turning.

1. Focusing on the right work

Many of us get sidetracked by all the things we need to respond to each day – even when we know not all of it is critical or impactful. Keep in mind that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort, so imagine what might be possible if you could consistently focus on what matters the most. I have a whole module dedicated to this topic in my self-paced coaching program and consistently spend time on this with every client, given its importance.

So, take a minute right now to identify the three areas where you can have the biggest impact in your role – what I like to call the “Big 3.” Having clarity about this will help you make more deliberate choices about how you invest your time and energy.

2. Managing your mindset

How you “show up” each day and respond to what’s happening around you can dramatically help or hinder your progress - and ultimately your results. This year, I will be collaborating with Dr. Paul Stoltz who is a global thought leader on resilience and works with leaders to respond to challenges and adversity in a way that elevates and sustains individual and team performance. His company has done over 25 years of research in this area and has documented the financial impact of implementing their tools and techniques. As you might suspect, it all begins with managing your mindset. If you haven’t seen Paul’s work, check out his latest book The Adversity Advantage.

3. Defining success

Finally, high performers are notorious for expecting a lot of themselves but not always recognizing what they’ve accomplished. Have you defined success for yourself so you’ll know when you’ve gotten “there?” Taking a few minutes to do this will help you notice your progress, more easily share it with key stakeholders, and celebrate your successes.

So, this week, I would encourage you to take one action step in one of the three areas above – whether it’s defining your Big 3, thinking about your mindset, or defining what success looks like for you over the next six months. Just remember that half the battle is just getting started. What small step will you take?

Be Still But Keep Moving

I had a chance to hear Bill White, a community and business leader in Dallas, speak. For years, he has been a strong supporter of the United Way. His quote is the inspiration for my article today: “Be still but keep moving.” This really stuck with me, and reminds me of two important things that can be easy to forget as we rush through life.

Be Still

As I reflected about the first part of this quote, several things came to mind. First, there are times in your life where you need to stop pushing so hard and just let go. You know, those moments where you need to take a leap of faith and trust that you have done all that you can.

Sometimes, that brief pause can allow important lessons to surface that you might not otherwise notice in the midst of it all. Or it can create space for others to step up or things to unfold in ways you hadn’t expected.

Second, being still emphasizes the value of taking time to reflect and understand where you are. So when you do move forward, it’s strategic and deliberate. Strong leaders have mastered this practice.

Keep Moving

Now let’s think about the second part of the quote: “Keep moving.” To explain what he meant, Bill compared life to a bicycle. He said, “You have to keep moving to keep it in balance.” In other words, if you allow yourself to stay still too long, you will falter and won’t achieve what you want. You won’t get to the other side. So, you can’t allow yourself to stagnate or keep tolerating what doesn’t work for you. Sometimes you just need to do something and allow yourself to learn from it. Often taking even one small step can give you the insight, motivation, or information you need to take the next one.

There are times when you need to be still and other times when you just need to keep moving. Both are important to achieving your goals, personal and professional. So, what one step will you take to put this into play for yourself this week?

Have You Seen these Resources?

Throughout my career, I have had the chance to learn from and work with some great thought leaders. So, this week, I thought I'd share three resources with you from people whose work has helped me and my clients.

Put Your Mindset to Work

I had the opportunity to meet Paul Stoltz last month, and am impressed by his ability to take complex research on resilience and overcoming adversity and turn it into something you can apply in practical, simple ways. His latest book is Put Your Mindset to Work. The Adversity Quotient lays the foundation for his subsequent books, and has some good gems in it.

A Smarter Way to Network

I had a chance to meet and work with Rob Cross when I was at Deloitte, and I'm a huge fan. He has done some valuable research on networking, identifying what distinguishes high performers from others. He's an author, professor, and business consultant. You can buy his latest HBR article, published in July 2011 and listen to an interview with him by clicking on this link: http://hbr.org/2011/07/managing-yourself-a-smarter- way-to-network/ar/1.

BRAG! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It

For those of you who have trouble letting others know about how you create value and make a difference and haven't been able to attend one of my workshops on the topic, take a look at this book by Peggy Klaus.