February 13, 2012 Comments Off
Occasionally I hear from clients and colleagues about organizations where toxic leaders are allowed to remain in place. This may occur because the leader’s toxic behavior, such as public displays of anger and intimidation directed at others, is painfully visible to those in their line of command, but may be well hidden to those in power. Sometimes the toxic behavior may be recognized but tacitly overlooked because the leader’s results seem too compelling to risk disturbing. I personally experienced this first hand earlier in my career.
Finding myself and others the targets of an emotionally out of control person in power was the low point of my professional career. The ensuing feelings of hopelessness and defeat made going to work a daily struggle and took all the fun out of what had been an exciting and fulfilling place to be. More recently, I have coached leaders who have found themselves also at the mercy of such poor leaders. It is painful to hear the stories of extremely talented and good people being marginalized, bullied and publicly demeaned by leaders who lead by fear and intimidation. It’s not a big stretch to imagine that such negative environments negatively impact business results.
The Business Case
Likewise, it’s also not a big stretch to recognize the connection between positive environments and positive business results. Recently, I listened to an International Coach Federation Leadership Webinar “Love and the Bottom Line” presented by Lori Zukin, Ph.D., Principal of Booz Allen Hamilton, and Sandy Mobely, Executive Coach of Learning Advantage, Inc. I got to know Lori when we were classmates in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program, and I was curious to hear what she and Sandy had to say about this somewhat counter-intuitive pairing of words.
During the webinar, Lori shared a story drawn from her own experience in leading with love. By caring about her employees’ goals and personal situations, and putting that above her own self-interests as team leader, she has created a high performing team that team members don’t want to leave. The resulting retention of key talent has benefited the firm in terms of lower recruitment costs, and benefited the firm’s clients in terms of high levels of productivity and effectiveness in meeting expectations.
Sandy shared a story about a task oriented coaching client whose team was failing to meet its objectives. By learning to take time for relationships and build trust on the team, the client was able to turn the team around and deliver the business results.
Sandy also referenced research done by the Gallup organization, publisher of Strengths Finder, citing that the level of employee engagement is closely tied to the amount and type of attention that managers pay to employees. This ranges from a highly likely chance (40%) of an employee disengaging when ignored by their manager, to only a 1% chance of disengaging when the manager focuses attention on the employee’s strengths. Nurturing a workforce of highly engaged employees is a critical objective for companies wishing to succeed and remain successful in the future. These examples make a strong case for leading with love, good will and positivity.
What Leaders Can Do to Improve Performance and Profits
In a May, 2007 Harvard Business Review article by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramerin titled “Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance,” the authors explore the link between managerial action to employee performance. By studying the various factors affecting employees’ states of mind, they determined that when managers create an environment that offers praise for a job well done and makes room for fun, positive emotions and motivation increases resulting in better performance. Furthermore, the authors state that the most important thing a manager can do to create positive emotions and motivate employees is to inspire them and give them a sense that they can accomplish their goals. [Reprint R0705D]
A wealth of additional research findings on related topics can be found in the current January/February, 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, which is focused on “The Value of Happiness – How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits.” One article in particular, “Creating Sustainable Performance: If you give your employees the chance to learn and grow, they’ll thrive-and so will your organization,” by Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath, elaborates on four specific measures that managers can put in place to help employees thrive at work. Interestingly, one of these is to “Minimize Incivility”, pointing again to the link between a leader’s influence on the organizational climate and subsequent business results. The other measures managers can put in place are: Provide Decision-Making Discretion, Share Information, and Offer Performance Feedback. [Reprint R1201F]
The Bottom Line
A number of years ago, I was in church for the installation of my congregation’s new pastor. In his sermon, one thing the pastor said moved me deeply and has stuck with me all these years. He shared with us the advice that he had received from his mentor when he was ordained, advice that had shaped him and his approach to leadership in the church. This advice could serve all leaders well: “Love your people.”
By now I hope that you’ve overcome any skepticism you may have had when you first saw the title, Leading with Love. It’s clear that how leaders regard and treat their employees has a significant impact on employees’ states of mind, motivation and performance. Showing up with an attitude of good will, and dare I say, love for your people, helps create a positive environment where employees can do their best work, and by doing so significantly benefit the bottom line.
February 13, 2012 Comments Off
You may have noticed that I’ve added some designations following my name recently: MBA, PCC. The MBA is not new. I earned the Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Connecticut in 1997. PCC is the Professional Certified Coach designation granted by the International Coach Federation (ICF), an industry credentialing body for the coaching profession. Having successfully met all the requirements, I was awarded the PCC credential in October, 2011. Click here to learn more about the ICF and the professional coach credentialing process.
January 6, 2012 Comments Off
” For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes
Yes, it’s that time of year again. The holidays are over, and here in New England we are hunkering down for the dark, cold days of winter. Already by now the parade of newly resolved walkers and joggers that appeared on January 1st, headed past our house for the park up the street, has trickled down to merely a few determined diehards. It’s the same old story of New Year’s resolutions fading away quicker than the fizz in the champagne bottle opened for the New Year’s Eve toast. If only that extra two pounds of holiday weight could fade away as quickly!
So if this story sounds frustratingly familiar, you may try thinking about setting intentions instead of resolutions. Intentions suggest the direction you’d like to head in, rather than adding more things to your to-do list that you “should” do. Perhaps you’d like to inspire the people you work with more. Perhaps you’d like to create and innovate more. Perhaps you’d like to trust yourself and others more. By taking some time to set your intentions, and keeping them in mind throughout the year, you will be moving forward into a new season where there’s time for what matters to you. See “Going Good” to read about one of my 2012 intentions.
January 6, 2012 Comments Off
In October, I attended a conference titled Beyond Business as Usual, sponsored by reSET, a Connecticut based Social Enterprise Trust. I was curious to learn more about the emerging business model of social enterprise and how it is being implemented in Connecticut and elsewhere in the U.S. As defined on the reSET website, Social Enterprise is a new business model that puts people and purpose before profit and uses the free market to create positive social change.
The conference speakers and exhibitors represented a variety of social enterprises, including a well established technology service company, an educational improv group, a restaurant, coffee house, toy maker, and others. Taking off on the popular “Going Green” catchphrase, I learned that “Going Good” suggests moving directionally towards the principles of social enterprise. Just as “Going Green” can start by recycling paper and plastic or no long using plastic water bottles, “Going Good” can start with some simple steps with the goal of having a net positive social impact, particularly in the local community.
Inspired by what I learned, I have set “Going Good” as one of my 2012 intentions. My first step in this direction is offering 10 hours of pro-bono leadership coaching to a C-level executive of a non-profit organization in the greater Hartford area. I’m not quite sure yet how else “Going Good” is going to play out for me in my executive coaching practice. I am beginning to explore a number of ideas, and would appreciate your ideas and suggestions as well.
December 20, 2011 Comments Off
“There’s a time for us, some day a time for us, time together with time to spare, time to learn, time to care, some day!”
– Stephen Sondheim
Last week, as I waited in the lobby of a coaching client’s office building, I noticed this announcement scrolling across the company’s LCD internal news monitor:
“Stress Reduction for the Holidays”
Lunch and Learn – Noon on Thursday
Suddenly, I was brought back to my days as a corporate leader. Just like you, juggling significant professional and personal responsibilities, I could have used that Lunch and Learn back then. However, frequently sleep deprived and always time deprived, finding time for lunch, let alone to learn, was a challenge on most days. More than anything, I longed for more time. I hoped that I’d have it, some day!
Ironically, though I do have more time and flexibility in my life now, I’ve begun to notice that time seems to go by faster then it used to. I know, you’re thinking it’s a sure sign of aging. Well, that’s okay. Time may seem to go by faster, but I’ve learned to appreciate it now more than ever before. I hope you do, too.
During the holidays and all through the year:
May you take time to pause and quiet your busy mind.
May you take time to breathe and connect with your body.
May you take time to feel gratitude for all the blessings in your life.
May you take time together with those you love.
With gratitude and appreciation for our time together,
September 14, 2011 Comments Off
Frequently when I am coaching leaders on developing executive presence, I notice that they are not settled or grounded in their body. Sometimes this appears as fidgeting or restlessness. It also may seem that they are exuding excess nervous energy. Though there’s no actual sound, there is a palpable sense of unfocused energy noise. With some leaders, the simple suggestion that they take a moment to center themselves quiets the noise. Others ask, “What does that mean?” “How do I do that?” “Centering? I have no idea what you are talking about.” This Leadership Reflection introduces a centering practice using a target. You can use this practice to quiet your thoughts and nervous energy and strengthen your presence. I have been using this practice as part of my daily yoga practice, and find that when I am feeling stressed or out of my comfort zone, I can visualize my target and quickly regain my center.
Practicing Yoga on a lakeside dock is lovely, and at times, challenging. It is lovely to see puffy white clouds passing overhead in a blue sky. Lovely to feel the warm breeze of a summer day. Lovely to hear the gentle lapping of waves against the rocks. Lovely to smell the scent of pine and peppermint.
Even when the lake is as smooth as glass, with only the slightest motion of ripples in the water, balancing poses become challenging. It’s tempting to think that the movement will topple you, and when thinking that, it actually may. Grounding your body and then finding a target in the distance can serve as an anchoring point for your eyes. With that, you can direct your gaze to the target and connect yourself to a space that is bigger. You can look beyond the movement of the water surrounding you, and flow with the shaking of the dock under your feet rather than falling from it.
There are continuous ripples in the water of your day. Some are barely noticeable that you need do nothing about. Some are big splashes that threaten to knock you down, off your game. Committing to a regular centering practice can help you stay grounded, calm and responsive to whatever comes your way. Here’s a simple centering practice you can try right now:
Practice – Centering Using a Target
Stand up tall with your weight balanced on both feet and your arms relaxed.
Soften your eyes and rest your gaze on a target in the distance. This can be something outside, or something you can see outside a window, such as tree, a building, mountain. It can also be something in your office such as an object, a picture, or a person or object in a picture.
- Release any holding or tension in your body
- Open up and create more space within you
- Connect with your target
- Feel anchored and centered in your mind and body
- Feel quiet inside
- Notice the ripples and splashes of your day
- When you notice you are drifting away from center, connect with your target and move back into your bigger space-firm, safe
- Watch the ripples and waves of your day glide over you and gracefully roll with them
Access your target whenever you feel that you’re not on solid ground.
Note: You may also do this practice seated comfortably in a chair, with both feet on the floor and your arms resting on the arms of the chair. Also try using this practice with a partner by taking turns reading it aloud to each other.
July 6, 2011 Comments Off
A few years ago, my husband Rich taught a cartooning class for children in our community. He came home after one of his classes and told me about his student Shelby. Shelby was a quiet, bright child around nine years old. Shelby didn’t speak much in class, but loved to draw and was one of the more gifted artists in the class. Being an artist himself, Rich didn’t impose a lot of rules on the children, simply that talking was allowed only if they were drawing.
During this particular class, Rich noticed that Shelby had put her head down on her desk. Wondering if she was taking a nap or thought it was break time, he approached her to find out. Without lifting her head, her response was to point at a piece of paper on her desk on which she had written: Thinking.
Thinking! This wise young child already understood the relationship of pausing and thinking to creativity. Here she was in a class, taking time to pause and think. She didn’t just jump into the drawing assignment as the other children did. Not only that, but she was smart enough to realize that putting her head down on her desk wouldn’t be considered acceptable behavior, and she anticipated having to explain herself. It worked. Rich let her think.
While it may not bode well for your career to be seen with your head down on your desk, as a leader, it’s critical that you find ways to pause and think. Here are some socially acceptable ideas on how you can use Shelby’s example and find more time for thinking on the job and tapping your creativity:
- Carve some time out of your day. Pick a time when you are least likely to be interrupted. This could be first thing in the morning, during lunchtime or at the end of the day. Block it on your calendar so you won’t be booked during this time.
- Find a place to sit quietly. Close the door to your office if you have one. Go somewhere else in the building. Take a walk.
- Identify the situation or challenge you would like clarity on. To make the most of your thinking time, consider using the Reflective Action Cycle, an approach described in Leadership Agility, a book by Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs.
The Reflective Action Cycle ( Joiner and Josephs p. 210)
- Assess your situation and results you are getting, and determine what needs attention
- Diagnose what’s causing the problem or preventing the opportunity from being realized
- Set intentions for the results you want and how you can achieve them
- Take action on the steps you’ve decided to take
- Assess the situation and results, and begin the cycle again
You may use this approach as a daily practice to strengthen your results, self-leadership and creativity. By taking time to think and set clear intentions, you are more likely to take the steps needed to achieve the results you want.
May 16, 2011 Comments Off
In the Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle suggests that we “Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” I have found this statement to be true over and over again when coaching leaders on presence and public speaking. Noticing what is happening internally and quieting oneself in order to fully come into the moment, does take care of many of the external issues that crop up when one is under pressure.
For example, distracting movements, gestures, foot tapping and such that are perceived negatively by others, melt away when the leader is clearly focused. Instead of telling the leader to simply stop tapping his foot, I suggest that he notice what he is thinking about before he feels the need to tap his foot. He often realizes that his mind has left the meeting and wandered to something else: his next meeting, his to-do list, the IMs, emails and texts that continue to signal their arrival during the meeting at hand, etc. This causes him to feel impatient and unsettled, eager to move on to the next thing that needs attention. Those around him see this and sense that he’s not all there for them.
The ability to project executive presence is a key factor in career advancement and success for leaders. Leaders with executive presence instill confidence and trust, and make people want to follow them. They are there for their people and their people can sense that. Leaders with presence are tuned into their inner state and able to remain focused, alert and open to others, all at the same time.
Three practices that can support you in developing and strengthening your inner state of presence are:
- Being fully present
Practice Being Fully Present
- Stay in the moment and quiet inside
- Resist distractions and multi-tasking
- Observe tech etiquette
- If your mind wanders to other things, gently bring it back to the present moment
- Focus on the people in the room with you
- Listen more than you speak
- Observe your mental, emotional, and physical state
- Understand your comfort zone and notice happens when you move out of it
- Monitor your energy level
- Recognize triggers that cause you to derail
- Breathe deeply
- Resist the temptation to react emotionally to situations and people. Walk away or sleep on it if you can
- Coach yourself by anticipating challenging situations and preparing intentionally
- Identify leadership qualities desirable for the situation and focus on projecting them
Make a commitment to one of these practices and try it out for a week. Notice what changes in your inner state and how that affects your relationships with the people around you.
May 16, 2011 Comments Off
Focusing on your body and body language can provide a powerful path to strengthening your presence and confidence. Harvard Business School assistant professor Amy Cuddy’s video, “Boost Power Through Body Language”, demonstrates that by physically warming up with big movements and gestures, stress is reduced and confidence is increased.
I have found applying this bodywork principle to be effective in my own work as a speaker and singer, and also effective in my work with coaching clients. Warming up the body releases tension and allows energy to flow freely. Being in a more relaxed state in the body, creates a more relaxed state in the mind. This in turn sets up conditions for high performance.
Try this warm-up before your next presentation or critical conversation:
- Stand up straight and tall
- Stretch out your arms on the sides of your body
- Make yourself as big as possible
- Inhale and exhale deeply
- Relax your arms
- Take some large strides around the room
- Swing your arms back and forth
- Continue breathing deeply.
During the actual presentation or conversation:
- Scan your body
- If you sense constriction anywhere, gently stretch out
- Release any holding that you feel in your muscles
- Allow yourself to take up more space
- Take time to breathe deeply
Making yourself bigger will help you look more confident and feel more confident, too.
April 12, 2011 Comments Off
How often have you observed a woman who speaks her mind, commands the floor, speaks clearly, can be heard, looks and sounds natural, comfortable and confident and gets the response she is looking for? This is what I call a woman with vocal power. Unfortunately, women with vocal power are more the exception than the norm. Many times women choose not to speak up to express their opinions, objections or support for a subject, choosing to remain silent and unheard instead. When they do speak up, the language they use may be self-limiting and self-effacing, diluting their impact and effectiveness. Additionally, the tone and quality of their voice may project a message that contradicts the message they are trying to convey. The voice may be very soft, hard to hear, shaky, making them sound uncommitted to what they are saying or lacking confidence. Some voices can be heard loud and clear, but have a strident, harsh or whiny quality that causes them to be perceived unfavorably.
What is going on here? Why do women shut down and not participate? Why do they say things that put themselves down and suggest that they are less capable than they actually are? Why do their voices sound sub-optimal so much of the time? These gender-related language patterns and vocal problems are some of the issues and concerns that frequently come up when I coach women leaders. When and how they speak can be career limiting factors that can sideline otherwise talented and capable woman leaders if not addressed.
Gender-related Language Patterns
There are numerous cultural influences at play in the language patterns of women. Societal expectations and stereotypes of women’s roles and attitudes affect when and how a woman chooses to communicate, often at an unconscious level. Furthermore, these cultural influences impact how a woman is perceived, particularly if she steps outside the culturally expected norm. Georgetown Linguistics professor Deborah Tannen describes this phenomenon with respect to Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy in The Double Bind – the Damned if you do, Damned if you Don’t Trap of Women in Leadership, a chapter in Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary, 2008. The dilemma a woman leader faces is that if she speaks her mind with conviction and contradicts a male colleague, she offends the cultural expectation of how women should communicate, and is perceived as too aggressive, needing to “soften” her approach. Conversely, if she hedges her speech with comments such as “I think, I feel, etc. “ and speaks indirectly in keeping with cultural expectations for women, she is perceived as hesitant, “touchy-feely” and lacking leadership qualities. Women must walk a very fine line to achieve a communication style that balances these tensions and resonates well with various listeners. Increasing self-awareness of cultural norms and language patterns, and using language that is positive and not diminishing is a start to finding this balance.
Two common vocal problems often experienced by women are 1) voice projection difficulties, and 2) sub-optimal vocal tone. Voice projection difficulties involve the inability to be heard in the spaces in which one is required to speak. To some degree, this may be caused by the physical composition of the voice – it may be a soft, weak instrument. That said, a woman can learn how to project her voice more effectively, and get comfortable using amplification when available and appropriate. Many times the voice is strong enough, but the woman simply needs to calibrate the volume to the context, e.g. adjusting her volume to the space and to the organizational norms of volume. Additionally, voice projection problems may be perceived (accurately or not) as a psychological indicator that the woman is shy, insecure, and lacking in confidence. Turning up the volume and strength of the voice can change the perception, and may also give the woman more confidence, if that is an issue.
Sub-optimal vocal tone can also impact how a woman is perceived and erode her effectiveness. Common vocal tone problems include sounding squeaky, girlish, soft, strident, edgy or pushed. Learning how to breathe properly to support the voice and find its natural resonance are key to achieving optimal vocal tone, and will also help with projection issues. The Voice Book – Caring For, Protecting and Improving Your Voice, Kate DeVore and Starr Cookman, 2009, is an excellent resource which includes a CD narrated by the authors that provides easy exercises for strengthening the voice. Finally, other sub-optimal vocal tone issues include vocal idiosyncrasies such as uptalk and regional speech. Uptalk or upspeak involves rising inflection that makes statements sound like questions, and results in the speaker sounding insecure. Regional speech includes words and pronunciation habits that may be commonly used and accepted in certain parts of the country, but sound unprofessional in other geographic settings. Increasing awareness of these sub-optimal voice habits are the start to addressing them, followed by the adoption of effective vocal techniques.
Developing women leaders’ vocal power is one of the ways I am working to strengthen the pipeline of women ready to move up into the C-suite. To help you learn more about your vocal power and how to strengthen it, I’ve created a Vocal Power Learning Activity for you to do either by yourself, or with a partner. See the following post to try it out.