Most of the articles here I penned. Some are written by other writers and I found them irresistible. New articles are added regularly, so keep checking back. Thanks-Susan.

Coaching is hot. Is it right for you?

Once seen as the last step for an executive about to fall off the ladder, leadership coaches now help smooth a promotion, teach outsiders about their new culture, and tune up talent.

By Vickie Elmer, contributor

Man Holding A Suitcase with Coach

FORTUNE — When Ryan Harris, 44, started working with an executive coach two years ago, he knew he needed to delegate more work and act more like a strategist. The top human resources exec at a New York City-based health company saw his challenges as "managing up and managing sideways." So, on his own initiative, he began meeting with his coach, Nancy Mercurio, about once a month. Since then, Harris says, he has learned to focus on results and approach more experienced executives with confidence. "He's become a more effective leader who holds people accountable," says Mercurio. So much so that he's sold his boss, the CEO, on offering company-paid coaching to other senior executives.

Once seen as a last-chance effort to turn around flagging careers, coaches for top talent are going mainstream. They're being brought in for newly hired senior executives, as well as for newly promoted department heads who suddenly must manage many more people. "Leadership coaching is the hottest thing these days," says Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O'Clock Club, which has turned some of its outplacement and career coaches into executive coaches because demand has been so strong.

According to a July 2011 American Management Association survey, almost half of participating companies use coaching to prepare individuals for a promotion or new role. While half of companies provide coaches to midlevel or senior staff only, 38% make them available to anyone. Coaching's three most common uses, according to the AMA survey: leadership development, remedial performance improvement, and optimizing strong contributors. "A coach is like a personal trainer for business," says Erika Andersen, author of Being Strategic and coach to many media executives.

Coaching Is Surging Graph

Most coaches meet with executives in person or by phone, either every other week or once a month for about a year, though they increasingly are available for emergency consults. At WellPoint (WLP), the $58-billion-in-revenue health insurance giant, about one-fourth of the senior leadership works with coaches, says Judy Wade, executive talent director. Typically Wade recommends a few, and then the individual chooses the best match. Hiring a coach "is an investment in people who we see as very solid performers," says Wade, who is taking coaching classes herself.

It's okay to ask for a coach rather than wait for someone to offer you one. But if you want your company to pay — at $200 or more per hour -- you should make a business case just as you would with any other budget item, Andersen suggests.

Does coaching actually work? For all its popularity, companies are still struggling with how to measure its effectiveness. Some use 360-degree-feedback before and after sessions to look for changes in behavior or relationships. Others rely on evaluations from both the subject and his boss. The biggest mistake, says Charles Feltman, a leadership coach in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is expecting immediate results. Another huge error: not taking the experience seriously or cutting short or skipping coaching appointments.

Another challenge is making sure that you have the right match. One-fourth of respondents in a 2009 AMA-Institute for Corporate Productivity research survey say they have terminated a coaching relationship. Indeed, Ryan Harris's first coach was a bust, in part because their backgrounds and perspectives were too similar.

Mercurio, however, has proved invaluable. Now when he's in executive staff meetings, Harris is willing to lay out the drawbacks to an idea, even when he knows his CEO favors it. He's restructured his department and set performance standards and timetables; when one person couldn't meet them, he terminated the employee — something he would have delayed in the past. "[Mercurio] has helped my career by leaps and bounds," he says. "I'm certainly more effective as an executive."

Do You Know How You Influence Others?

We influence others all the time, but do you know how we do it? Many leaders, managers and sales professionals have the idea that influencing is a complex, often subtle, process of persuasion that either works or doesn't. In reality, the Center for Creative Leadership has found that influencing tactics fall into one of three categories: logical, emotional or cooperative.

“Looking at the wide array of behaviors and tactics leaders use to influence others, we've found that influencing involves making appeals based on logic, emotion or sense of cooperation. The most effective influencers know how to utilize all three approaches," says CCL's David Baldwin. "We call this influencing with head, heart and hands.”

Logical appeals (head) tap into people's rational and intellectual positions. You present an argument for the best choice of action based on organizational and/or personal benefits. Tactics include:

  • Objectively and logically explaining your reasons in a clear and compelling way
  • Offering factual and detailed evidence that your proposal is feasible without overstating or being unrealistic
  • Demonstrating clearly and logically why your idea is the best possible option, showing that you have carefully considered other possibilities
  • Explaining individual benefits, such as gaining more visibility, learning new skills or improving the work in a way that makes the job easier or more interesting

Emotional appeals (heart) connect your message or goal to an important emotional motivator. An idea that promotes a person's feelings of well-being, service or sense of belonging has a good chance of gaining support. Ways to do this include:

  • Connecting to an individual's goals and values
  • Describing the task with enthusiasm and expressing confidence in the person's ability to accomplish it
  • Linking your request to a clear and appealing vision the person can fully support
  • Appealing to the person's self-image

Cooperative appeals (hands) build a connection between you, the person you are trying to influence and others to get support for your proposal. Working together to accomplish a mutually important goal extends a hand to others in the organization and is an extremely effective way of influencing. Building those connections includes:

  • Involving others in the process of deciding how to carry out your goals
  • Engaging credible people to help you influence others
  • Reducing difficulty by removing barriers to success
  • Thoughtfully responding to concerns and suggestions

To maximize our personal influence, we need to understand our own style of influencing. What tactics do you currently use? Do you rely exclusively on logical appeals? If so, you're missing the chance to engage people through their emotions, values and relationships. If you overemphasize emotional or cooperative appeals, you may be leaving out the data and rationale that is critical information to have in a plan.

“As you learn new approaches and gain experience using different influence tactics, you will gain more confidence in your influencing skills,” says Baldwin.

It is also very useful to understand how others respond to different styles of influencing. Do they need the emotional approach- do they need to "feel good" about something before taking action? Will they best get into action with a cooperative approach- feeling like they are part of a team with you? Or are they most likely to be moved by a logical, well thought-out style? Getting to know your customer, team-mates or employees and what moves them will support you in being a strong influencer.

Learn from Others

You can get better at influencing by using a mentor, colleague or coach to help develop your skills. Look for influential people in your organization or community. Watch what they do and say and how they handle their opportunities to influence.

Article excerpts taken from the Harvard Business Revue

Good To Great — my Cliff Notes

In today's complex and challenging business landscape, it's so easy to settle for being good at what you do, or having a company that's "good enough." After all, you have a good revenue base, are making a profit, you may have some good employees, a few not so good. But as Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great!!!” Why is that? Because when we are complacent, we are not inspired to greatness.

This book has been around for a while, and I recently re-read it. I want to share some of the important concepts and principles with you. It is an easy book to read, and I highly recommend it.

The definition of “great” in a corporate environment is one that produces sustainable great results. Not one big invention, not one big change, not one big challenge, but on-going results as part of a culture, sustained for at least 15 years! Some examples he gives are Wal-Mart which produced 7 times the market and is sustaining itself in hard times.. Well, your company may not be the size of a Wal-Mart, but that doesn't have to mean it can't be great.

What would it mean for your customers or clients if you were a great company? What kind of value would you be offering? What would it mean to your staff if they were part of a great company, and what would it mean to future generations?

This is how 11 companies studied made the leap to great. It didn't matter what the product was that they were selling. What matters is that they have similar, if not identical approaches to becoming great companies.

Principle 1:

It begins with having an outstanding leader. Not a charismatic leader, not a celebrity, but one who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will. In addition to being modest and humble, they are willful and fearless.

There is not a lot of room for ego here. Lee Iacocca may have turned Chrysler around, and got a lot of publicity, but look what happened when he left. These “level 5” leaders channel their determination into the company, not themselves, and build an enduring organization. They have a compelling vision, they do what they say they will do and they believe in their people. Are you one of those leaders? Could you become one?

Principle 2:

The next step is to “get the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off it.” You need the right team in place before you can address questions about vision, strategy, structure and tactics. Maybe you have the right people, but they are in the wrong seat. Can your current team embrace diversity and their differences? Do you have an environment based in respect, trust, collaboration, and communication? Do people ask questions rather than blame others? Do the leaders know what are the strengths of each individual and orient their work around those strengths?

Principle 3:

Focus on what you do and what you don't do. Greatness is a matter of conscious choice, not circumstance. The company needs to face the brutal facts about their current reality in an open environment. Once you assess where you are, you will be clearer about where you want to be. What is the one thing you are best at? What is your competitive advantage? What is working now, and what's great now? And three key questions:

  1. What drives our economic engine?
  2. What can we be the best in the world at?
  3. What are we deeply passionate about?

Even if you are a small company, you can be a great company. Great companies base their strategies on an understanding of these questions. Great companies focus on a few key things and do them well, while other companies do many things and lack consistency. The right leader, the right team, the right environment, the right process and the focus in place and the momentum builds. As the momentum builds, the results begin to fall into place. This is called the “fly effect,” and the energy just continues to build. To quote Jim Collins “. . . the point is to realize that much of what we're doing is at best, a waste of energy.”

Are you someone who settles for mediocrity, or are you ready to take the lead in having a great company, a great business, or even a great life? Are you being busy or on the path to being great?


“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” -- Maya Angelou, poet

Our current environment requires that we re-examine everything we thought about what it takes to be successful, what success actually means, who is successful and who isn't. In the past, I may have defined success having to do with a career that generates lots of money, or prestige, a title, or achieving all my goals.

What success isn't: working 60, 70 hours a week. It isn't success only if everyone knows it. It is not about not making mistakes. It isn't a goal. It isn't about not accepting help along the way. It's not about having all your troubles over when you get there.

Not anymore. Now I look at success as a state of mind. When you can see it as a state of mind, not just an outcome, any moment can be a victory. Here are some moments that I consider success:

  • Raising confident kids
  • Bouncing back after a failure
  • Winning a tough case
  • Staying focused
  • Accepting your looks (including your hair)
  • Staying optimistic, no matter what
  • Mastering the social networking
  • Finding work you love
  • Losing the last 10 pounds
  • Mastering the impossible
  • Having a client get a “win”

Mostly, success is doing what you love and getting paid for it, and having a high quality of life along the way. (Included is also being in integrity, holding to high standards, setting goals that are my self- expression and honoring my values.)

Look at what Marilyn says about her success.

After 25 years as a successful Hewlett Packard executive, she has taken a major step toward aligning her goals with her needs and Tru-Values and has bought a business that provides supplemental education services to elementary and secondary school students. “It's amazing how things are working out. Things are just falling into place. My clients and employees relate story after story about the positive impact Huntington is having on their child's success, self-esteem and the family unit. What a wonderful business. I am having a great time.”

Or Daphne, who after being laid off from a corporation that went bankrupt, decided maybe it was really time to start her own marketing, writing and editing business, with a home office. After researching computers, this is what life was like, according to Daphne. (paraphrased version):

Day 2:  Order the perfect laptop by phone; model out of stock, long wait. Order an equally perfect laptop available in 5-7 days.

Day 3:  Having a home office means clutter clearing. Target location: my eat-in kitchen, in which I rarely eat. Bonus — has a long table and phone jack, don't have to buy furniture.

Day 4:  Extend the clutter cleaning to the hallway to make room for arriving boxes.

Day 6:  Cancel DSL and find better provider. Purchase virus-scanning, utilities, Internet security software.

Day 8:  Laptop arrives, set-up. Evening-on the phone (forever) to correct errors in set-up of DSL services (Get really good at computer's pinball game while sitting on hold listening to their continuous loop of Star Wars, James Bond and Superman).

Day 10:  Get on-line, at last. Install printer. Wow -- color printing in my own kitchen, must figure out how to fax.

Day 11:  Get some sleep. Refine whole set-up: add a keyboard, upgrade mouse, find old zip drive, learn to fax . . . and do I need a better chair?”

Aligning your goals with your needs and values. Doing what you love and allows for self-expression. How do you define your success?

A Well Run Office Has a System and Place for Everything

What does taking care of my granddaughters in Milwaukee and putting socks in the drawer have to do with how we do business? Well, a lot as I learned while taking care of a 6, 4 1/2, and 2 year old while my daughter recovered from foot surgery.

Put the Socks in the Socks Drawer

My daughter is very organized. As a working mother of three young kids, she needs to be. It has been years since I had to get kids ready for school, bundle them up, get them into the car seats, get them to school, get them out of the car seats and in to the classrooms. By 8:00 AM, it felt like 6:00PM!!!! I don't know how she does it, and then goes to work. The whole thing repeats itself when it's time to pick them up, with boots, coats, backpacks, homework, etc., etc.

This leads me to the story about socks in the drawer.

Barbara Corcoran had 9 brothers and sisters and her mother was extraordinarily organized. No one in her house ever asked “Where's my socks?” Every sock in the house was stored in two square drawers between the bathroom and the kitchen. The top drawer was filled with the girl's white nylon socks, and the bottom drawer with the boy's navy socks. Her mother had a routine for everything, including making 10 lunches in less than two minutes. It was the systems in the house that made everything work so well, instead of what could have been chaos and messes.

Which leads me to how we do business. There are offices I walk into, which on the surface look as if they are well run and efficient. For the most part they are. But that 10-20% that they are not, could make a big difference in productivity and revenue. A well-run office has a system and place for everything. Many people in offices today, whether they are large corporate offices, or a home-based office, are doing things the way my parents did them, umpteen years ago!

This is mostly happening because we just don't take the time to step back and reflect on what is working, and what is not.

A business owner or manager does not need to have all systems computerized, they just have to have systems, and make sure everyone is using the system.

Step 1:  Make a list of what everything that doesn't work. Make a list of time wasters. The time wasters are not working, and steal valuable energy and mental capacity. This is a critical step. Many executives and business owners simply don't take the time to step back, observe and think about what is not working.

Step 2:  Make a list of what does work, and with the input of others in the office, devise ways to do them even better. Again, taking the time to step back, observe, and meet specifically about how to take the things that are working and improve them.

Step 3:  Color code everything. Instead of just having files, create categories and files by color. Colors can represent customers by date, region, need, etc. so when you're looking for information, it's readily accessible. Create forms for your staff to use by color-even if it is on the computer.

Step 4:  Make it easy for your customers to do business with you. Your customers will give you lots of information- if you make it easy for them. Instead of asking open ended questions, simplify the process by providing answers with boxes they can check off. No matter whom you need answers from, make it easy for them to provide them. The more information you have, the better ahead you'll be. After all, this is the information age!

Step 5:  Make sure everyone is using the same system.

The socks story and systems suggestions can be found in the book by Barbara Corcoran: “If you don't have big breasts, put ribbons on your pigtails”. Really.

Goal — Is That A Four Letter Word?

Sally's goal was to start her own small restaurant, but she kept procrastinating and adding to her to-do list, so she never actually took any of the steps to make the restaurant a reality. She couldn't sleep at night, her mind reeling with fears about all the risks involved. She also loved the familiarity of her boring, unfulfilling job. She loved the security of a weekly paycheck.

I've seen a lot of unrealistic goal setting with business people. It's important to dream big, but if the vision is not grounded in practical, tangible ways, it's unrealistic.

How many of you have at least one goal you haven't realized for 2 years? Having an ongoing goal is not necessarily a bad thing; it's when we keep recycling the same goals year after year with no focused, intentional action that we run into problems. Sound familiar? Maybe it's that goal to loose that 20 pounds that keeps showing up, or maybe to write that book you've thought about for 5 years. Maybe it is that car you've dreamed about, or a promotion.

Some people tell me they don't believe in goals. The challenge with having a goal occurs when people try to get into action before they've even explored the motivation behind the goal. Why does a particular goal seem so difficult? What has this person hang on to this goal year after year?

I believe it's related to the notions of “struggle and control”. Many people have a love affair with Struggle. We identify with struggle. We think it shows us the boundaries of who we are. When things get hard, they may become more familiar. By always striving, we negate who we really are by buying into the idea that we're incomplete, less than, not enough.

“Certainty” also has an impact on goals when the need to know the outcome keeps us from being who we are naturally. Certainty is an illusion because most of the time there are very few things in life we can actually be certain of.

When my clients create goals that are ungrounded and always out of their reach, it's a way to keep things safe and predictable. They can stay in CONTROL of their lives, because they can predict how their lives are going to turn out.

The bottom line is- we all want things. We even want life to be a certain way. Often we don't know what it takes to get what we want. But knowing it and wanting it very badly may not be enough. So why don't people get what they want? Goals can either be a catalyst to get what we want, or can be a ball and chain around our necks.

To implement goals and get the results we want, we first have to carefully consider WHAT we want. A realistic goal is based on who YOU are, not who your boss, parent, spouse or other driver thinks you are. The most successful goals are based on intentions that are in alignment with our values, vision, needs and capacity. I may have a big goal to be a millionaire by the end of 2015; however, if I am only making $20,000, and I am not taking specific, actionable steps to change my reality, this is an unrealistic goal.

As a coach, I am giving you permission to let go. Let go of all the goals you think you SHOULD have. Let go of who you think you SHOULD be, and what you SHOULD do. Stop “shoulding on yourself”! Struggling to make an old, outdated goal work is like trying to go on a Slip 'n Slide without the water. Begin living who you are instead. Right now.

The Power of Human Listening

Recently, Rabbi Simon Jacobson shared a story that illustrates how simply listening to another human being, without judgment or ridicule, can be one of the most powerful acts we humans can do for each other.

Rabbi Jacobson was giving a class on unconditional love. He said: Conditional love is driven by ulterior motives, while unconditional love is unwavering and not determined by outside factors.

As Jacobson was speaking, a gentleman near him began to mutter loudly for everyone to hear, “The only unconditional love is the love you get from your dog!” His voice became louder as he said “Human love can never be trusted. People will always disappoint you, but your dog will always love you, unconditionally. Human love is always changing, always with strings attached, while your dog will always greet you, lick you and accept you”. Clearly, the issue touched a deep cord for this man.

The rest of the class, however, was quite annoyed. People tried to silence him, some snickered, others laughed, while others became angry. One woman said “We didn’t come to hear you talk about your dog. We came to hear the Rabbi. Stop raving like a lunatic.”

The class looked to the Rabbi waiting, watching how he would respond. He could easily have dismissed the gentleman. It would even been possible to get a good laugh at his expense. But he thought to himself, “You never really know where people find love. Never, ever, judge someone, especially when it comes to the emotional realm.”

So the Rabbi calmly said to the man and the class: “Listen, this week we’re talking about human love. We’ll designate another time to talk about canine love”. Everyone was surprised when the man responded with respect and said, “Thank you. I understand.”

After the class, another attendee slipped the Rabbi a handwritten note that read: “I have been coming to your class for two years. I have learned many things and been very inspired. But tonight I learned the most important lesson of all: The respect one must show to other people, no matter how strange they may behave. You have healed me tonight from my greatest wound: The lack of trust in human dignity.”

A few months later, the gentleman called Jacobson as well,, and said he wanted to thank the Rabbi for not dismissing him. “Your validation of me has given me strength to deal with some very difficult challenges I am facing. Over the years I have always been dismissed as ‘weird’ when I would strongly react, in my own bizarre way, to issues around love. That night something changed. The fact that you listened to me and did not invalidate me, that you allowed me to be strange, opened up some significant doors. I now believe in some new possibilities.”

Yes, we do have the power to console and strengthen each other. We do have the power to listen and validate another human being’s right to think, feel and act the way they do, which may be very different from us. We should not take this power lightly, it is a power given to us as a great gift. Also with this gift comes the ability to hurt each other. But we have the ability to choose the path of empowering each other. Every time we interact with another person, we have the ability to empower them, by listening. Everytime.

It’s about human dignity. May we take that responsibility seriously.

How Do You Want To Be Known?

During a presentation I recently gave, I told the participants that my professional vision is” to bring joy to the workplace”. People are generally more successful when they are doing what they love and do well. Instantly a hand shot up in the audience, as the person asked “How do you define success?” I love it when they ask this question!

There are as many definitions of success as there are employed people. A common answer is “when I reach my financial goals”, another might say “when I become president of this company”, and another may be “when I can juggle everything in my life well”.

I challenge you to add another component to your definition of success: “Who” will you be when you are being successful, and what will you leave behind as your legacy, to your kids, grand kids, colleagues, friends?”

Every one of us leaves a legacy, whether purposeful or not. Our very existence has an impact on the world, whether our actions are intended or not. I’m sure you’ve heard the question “How many people on their deathbed wish they’d spent more time at work?” Well, when people are on their deathbed, where do they wish they’d spent more time, and how do they want to be remembered?

Don Herold, a humorist, published an essay in 1955 and here is an excerpt from it:

“If I had my life to live over, I would try to make more mistakes. I would relax. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things I would take seriously. I would be less hygienic. I would go more places. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less bran.”

In the book, Conscious Living, Gay Hendicks talks about “deathbed goals”. Which goals on your deathbed, (I prefer- “upon reaching an advanced age”) will you be glad you achieved? What would you want other people to say about you? How do you want to be known and remembered? That is your legacy.

I asked myself the question, when I am at my 85th birthday party (yes, it’s always a party), what are the most important things I’m glad I did.

Here’s what I answered:

  1. Been a great mother and grand mother
  2. Been a great wife and partner
  3. Been a caring person
  4. Helped others find joy in life
  5. Lived a purposeful and meaningful life
  6. Stood up for my values and beliefs

Imagine you are at your 85th birthday party. What would you want each of the important people in your life to say about you? What would you say about the most important things you did in life? How have you become known because of the way in which you worked and lived?

Working towards a legacy in both your business and personal life keeps you motivated and working at your best. It gives a higher purpose to your life and work. You’re not just doing work, you’re building a legacy. Above all, it helps you share the best of who you are.

That’s what I call success!

My Fuses Are Shorting! — On Multi-tasking

I don't know about you, but I'm not very good at multi-tasking. When I sat down to write this, I was on the phone (on hold, waiting for the AT&T rep to answer), putting on earrings, had 2 different projects on my desk unfinished, and my tea kettle was whistling. I was nearly oblivious to all of it. If my dog hadn't jumped onto my lap when she heard lightning, I might not have noticed where I was.

I have been attempting similar multi-tasking efforts for years. After all, I coach executives who keep telling me proudly (and expecting praise for it) how much they are able to accomplish by doing so many things at the same time. But contrary to the direction our culture seems to be heading, these efforts have not transformed me into a fabulously productive person. They have transformed me into the kind of person who burns dinner and forgets to take out the dog! That's because I am a person of limited attention capacity, navigating in a world of infinite attention demands. And probably, so are you.

These days are average person who works in an office of some sort receives more than 300 messages a day via emails, snail mail, express mail, cell phone, land line, wireless web, bicycle messenger, you name it. When was the last time you tried to read through the Sunday Times? Yes, this is the information age.

The problem is, although information has no limits, the human attention does. If we try to multi-task too many directions, our brains begin to act like overloaded electrical circuits, which is what they are. Women especially are socialized to pay attention to anyone who demands it. But when we don't manage where our attention is going, we end up frustrated, overwhelmed and unproductive. Even worse, we are not present to the people around us, and are not in the present or the future.

Harvard Business School Press recently published an in-depth study of attention and strategies developed for managing the attention of corporate staff. The same strategy applies to managing our own attention, both at home and at work. In my words . . . we need to stop trying to do so much, and Keep It Simple Silly. In addition to saying “no” more, to ourselves as well as others, here are some principles to live by.

  1. Accept you can't pay attention to everything you “should.” We believe we should be able to stay on top of everything, read every message, every professional journal, respond to all messages. We need to GET IT — there is too much information for us to handle. Now that we've cleared that up, we can relax and deal with the reality of living in a world packed with attention demands.
  2. Make prioritizing a priority. Prioritizing is almost impossible once you're being besieged by demands; you may become so overwhelmed simply by trying to decide what to do that you lose the ability to think clearly. If you start the day without a clear plan about how you're going to spend your ATTENTION, you'll end up wasting most of it. I like to plan the night before, but some people do best in the morning. Rank tasks in order of importance and write them down. That way when something comes up to take your attention away, you'll have a visual cue to help you focus on the most significant task first, leaving the others for later — or never.
  3. Ask yourself two questions. In order to consider everything in terms of the big picture, ask yourself:
  4. a. What experiences do I want to have during my time on this earth? And,

    b. How do I want the world be different because I have lived?(And it will be in large or small ways) Consider each task on your list in light of these two questions. Will this take me close to the life I want to experience? Will I have an impact on the world I would like to have? If an item doesn't serve either purpose, it's got to go. It is not only unworthy of your attention, it robs you of a chance to focus on the things that will help you have the life you want.

  5. Once you find out how good it can feel to shift from a frantic life to a fulfilling one, you'll notice an immediate jump in productivity, you'll feel a deep connection to yourself and others, your work and your life.

Getting Hit by a 2x4

It was Christmas week, 2004, and my client Jean, a single mother, was all set to travel to Germany for the holidays, to be with her whole family who were there gathering at her parents home. However, her young daughter got sick, and immediately after, also her son. Well, she said, looks like we’ll cuddle up together at home instead, have some friends in, and enjoy the time off together. She canceled the trip.

Now Jean lives in California, where it started raining that holiday and didn’t stop. It rained for three days straight and the roof leak from last year she thought was fixed, was not. The dripping water stopped the furnace from working, so there she sat, between the buckets, over Christmas, in the cold, with two sick kids. Although she tried making the best of it, she asked “why?”

“What are the gems you are finding in this?”, I asked….“Something is happening and you want to take the time and opportunity to take a hard look to see what it is, and what you have to do with it.”

It’s not over. The power went out for 16 hours and the police wouldn’t let her leave the house because of a live wire hanging across the road. When she FINALLY got out and had some time to herself to relax, she was rear-ended by another car. The rain persisted, the roofer couldn’t fix the leak in the rain, and no heat again.

What this on-going catastrophe did provide, was some serious thinking time. Things felt like they were crashing in on her. Jean started getting rid of clutter, which gave her some renewed energy. And then it occurred to her that she needed to let go of other things as well. How did this occur to her? It happened intuitively….something we all have, that gut feeling that we often don’t stop long enough to listen to.

This time she listened. What she needed to let go of was a huge house that was far larger than she needed, with lots of responsibility and work around it. What she wanted and needed was to simplify her life — “streamline”, to make her life easier. That was the message she was receiving. Once seeing that, Jean started taking the action steps to settle financial matters with a former husband, get clear on inheritance issues with a father and brother, and sell the house. Talking with Jean now is like talking to a different person. She has renewed energy, a different outlook, is highly motivated, and she is enjoying the process.

How many of us need to take a hard look at what is holding us back from having life be easier and smoother? Where we start is by listening to the messages that are coming our way. What we do with those messages is important.

The Values Revolution

Joey Reiman wrote an article titled “The Values Revolution” in Pink Magazine, November 2008. Reiman says there are three types of company values, Compliant, Committed and Influential.

Compliant values use words such as “quality,” “diversity,” and “teamwork.” These sound more like legal requirements and do little to inspire. They are boilerplate values that carry a paternal attitude, hoping the masses will comply.

Committed values use words such as creativity, passion and innovation. They reflect an interest in the people who work in the company. If leaders actually make decisions based on these values and demonstrate optimistic and respectful attitudes, they will create great working environments.

Influential values demonstrate the values of community and the common good. These values show that the company has a mission to alter the way we live and work, helping to improve the planet beyond just the company's walls. When every employee has these values, they have a better chance to rise above pettiness and give their hearts to the bottom line. These companies have a humane and responsible attitude driven by contribution. Thankfully these companies are showing up more and more each day.

Brain Tip: Since your behavior is a clear indicator of your true values, what would you say you most value today? Instead of doing a values inventory, track what you do in a typical day at work. Then see what you can honestly claim as your values. When you know your true values, you will better understand what attitudes you reflect in your decisions and behavior.

Brain Tip: The book, The Leadership Pipeline, says leadership development must focus on values. If you don't have a value for getting work done through others, for trusting them to give their best, and for believing that the success of the unit should be held higher than any one's personal success, then you will never be a great leader of an organization or team. Would you say the leaders you know demonstrate these values? According to Brain Tip subscriber Bill Lazure, not everyone wants to lead. Yet often leaders take on this role to meet more self-centered values.

If you were to design a leadership model based on values, what behaviors and attitudes would the leaders demonstrate? Can you coach and inspire leaders to take on these values or must you hire/promote with the values intact? There is no concrete easy answer to this. However, in my coaching, I have seen attitudes shift when committed and influential values are unleashed.

Marcia Reynolds

Getting Things Done, by Leaving Things Undone!

One day Ron, my life partner, and I were returning home from a lovely summer vacation in the UK, and two days later, our lives were turned upside down!

It was the two days later that Ron was having major emergency surgery for what turned out to be an aortal aneurysm in his abdomen. We had no warning; he had no symptoms until the day before. And it was very serious.

Then, two days after his surgery, an offer came in for our house, which had been for sale for about 6 weeks, and the prospective buyer came into town from California to negotiate. I couldn’t exactly say “please come at a better time”. Since Ron was in ICU for 9 days, it fell upon me to do the negotiating and close the sale. And of course, I then had to go and buy our next home, which I did. In addition, financing for a bridge loan had to be obtained, and oh yes, my clients really did want to resume their coaching.

I was so concerned things would fall between the cracks. How could I possibly keep track and handle all this at once? And still go to the hospital 3 times a day to see Ron and discuss all the details with him? Fortunately, I am blessed to have great coaches in my life, and my dear friend, Minx, was there to support me. She kept pointing out when I was over-committing, over-promising and thinking I could do it all.

It was during this time that I experienced some of the best lessons in life: doing what is absolutely essential and NOT doing the things I thought I should be doing. It required really examining what was truly important, versus what seemed to be. It required letting go of things I couldn’t control and trusting that things would work out. It required recognizing the non-essentials. Ron was in the hospital for 23 days, so I had a lot of lessons to learn.

I began by revoking a whole lot of promises I made to people about things I said I would do. And yes, those people were counting on me, but you know...they understood and the world didn’t fall apart. I stopped making other promises. I focused on one thing at a time, because I could only wrap my mind around one thing at a time.

I reached out to people and told them what I needed from them. I let friends support me, whether that was making sure I had a meal with them, or delegating small tasks to them. I tried to keep my mind calm through meditation, because there were times I was so concerned about Ron’s condition that I could have easily become a “basket-case”, but that wouldn’t have helped him or me. I set up a “telephone tree” to communicate Ron’s condition daily to family and friends so I wouldn’t have to make so many phone calls each day. I traveled to deliver a program out of town, which turned out to be one of the biggest challenges I faced and I learned how it really would have been better to post-pone it, even at a cost.

The sun rose each morning and set each evening. Things that had seemed so important a few weeks before, were insignificant next to the events that unfolded in our lives. And now that all that is behind us, and Ron is home and doing great, I want to remember these lessons and help pass them on to others. We were truly blessed that everything worked out well.

It seems we often need a crisis before we can be clear about what we DON’T need, and before we can focus on the truly important ones. Does that really need to be so?

Women in Business

Five Aptitudes for Female Business Success

By Catherine Kaputa — June 4, 2009

Catherine Kaputa

Today, women comprise less than 3 percent of senior executives in Fortune 500 companies. How can businesswomen burst through the glass ceiling? Well, for one, we have to stop trying to act like men in the workplace. Strong brands—products or people—are always built on authenticity. Don't fight your nature. Instead, build on your innately female strengths and inclinations.

Research in gender studies points to five key aptitudes that can propel career success for women. Not all women have these qualities, and many men have these qualities as well. However, these are areas in which women tend to be stronger. You can use these five aptitudes to help you in the workplace.

Aptitude #1: Social Perception

Women are wired for empathy; the ability to read and identify the emotions and feelings of others. MRI studies show that most women use both brain hemispheres to process emotional messages, while most men use only one hemisphere, giving women an advantage in picking up subtle non-verbal clues. Many women are also strong in intuition—it's called women's intuition for a reason.

How to use it in the workplace. Show empathy by listening carefully to others and asking questions. When people feel heard, they reciprocate and support you in return. Intuition gives you another source of information beyond rational analysis. Pay attention to what's going on behind the scenes.

In meetings, for example, if something feels incomplete or not talked about, act on your hunch and initiate a follow-up phone conversation.

Aptitude #2: People Power

Women have the social gene. Playground studies of boys and girls point to interesting differences in how boys and girls play and relate with each other. Girls tend to pair off and play together one-on-one or with a small group. Boys tend to play with one group and then move to another larger group.

How to use it in the workplace. Women are born to network and make strong emotional connections. Use your social skills to build professional alliances, and to become well-known around the office. Be a mediator and an influencer. You will be rewarded for strong people skills.

Aptitude #3: Communication Agility

The female verbal edge is strong across the board. Girls, on average, start talking earlier than boys, use a larger vocabulary at an earlier age, are better spellers and readers, score better on verbal memory, and are markedly stronger writers.

How to use it in the workplace. Use your wordsmith mastery to develop a virtual identity for yourself and for your company: blogs, web sites, wikis, online newsletters, and so on. Solicit feedback early and often at work, and find mentors with whom you can discuss your ideas and development. Be an idea bridger and a meetings facilitator. Become known as someone who can grasp—and restate—others' points of view.

Aptitude #4: Vibrant Visual Identity

Brand managers use product design and packaging to develop a strong visual identity for their brands, and women have more imaging tools available—in clothes, colors, accessories, hairstyles, jewelry, and make-up—than men do for creating a strong visual identity in the workplace.

How to use it in the workplace. Michelle Obama is the poster girl for how powerful visual identity can be. She has a casual elegance. Her striding self-confidence, fit body, and clean American designs with bold colors result in inspirational magic. She favors immigrant American designers, a choice that reinforces the President's political message. You can do the same. If you don't have the body of a fashion model, then do something wonderful with your hair and clothing. Work on your posture and gait. Think about what your visual image conveys, and find visual “props” that add originality and make a powerful statement.

Aptitude #5: Leadership that Includes and Empowers

In one study of pre-pubescent boys and girls given a task to accomplish, the girls used their social skills and worked together and formed a kind of committee. They all took part in discussions about how to accomplish the task, while the boys jostled about and picked a leader, who then directed the group on how to get the job done. The inclusive, collaborative style of females is increasingly valuable in today's interconnected global business environment.

How to use it in the workplace. Leverage your more inclusive leadership style so you can lead in a way that doesn't seek to have power over people, but empowers others instead. Consult others on important decisions. Create teams and a “personal board of directors” who can advise you—and be sure to include men, too. Conduct brainstorming sessions. Give public credit to people when they contribute. Such a leadership style will result in loyal, committed, hardworking colleagues and employees.

Catherine Kaputa is a writer, speaker, and the founder of SelfBrand LLC (, a NYC-based personal branding firm. Her newest book is The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business (Davies-Black, 2009).

Women in Leadership

The Most Underutilized Asset

By Dr. Rick Johnson

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I am definitely a card carrying member of the Baby Boomers; I also admit that during my early career in the 70’s, I could have undoubtedly been considered a poster child for the “Male Chauvinistic Pig” movement.

However, experience and maturity have taught me a great lesson regarding leadership and the abilities, intelligence and values of the female employee. Today, I firmly believe that women in the workplace are the most under utilized asset this country has.

We have come a long way from that chauvinistic attitude of the past that believed men are simply better, more natural leaders; the belief that women’s careers were compromised by their responsibilities at home? Yes we have come a long way.

But, Statistics are still shocking for women who hope to succeed in the business world. Today, women occupy 40% of all managerial positions in the United States but only 6% of the Fortune 500’s top executives are female. (Newsweek Magazine)

In your industry this percentage may even be lower. The “glass ceiling,” or the idea that women successfully climb the corporate ladder until they’re blocked by this transparent ceiling, has been accepted as the largest obstacle to female leadership in the workplace. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin claimed to have put millions of cracks in this ceiling but it hasn’t been completely shattered yet.

This ceiling represents many characteristics that even most men would challenge and yet they still exist. There are barriers that limit industry’s ability to capitalize on the enormous amount of leadership potential that exits in almost any work place in this country. Barriers that women encounter at all levels include prejudice resistance to women’s leadership, leadership style issues and family demands.

These obstacles may even create an uneasy feeling for women or their relationship with leadership and the power it commands. A few female leaders have told me that they fear that the power of leadership can give off the impression that they are ruthless or pushy. These are Issues that challenge their basic character and femininity; Challenges that men don’t have to encounter.

Diversity is Strength

Companies that recognize the female leadership talent pool that exists within the confines of their own office will implement specific initiatives to leverage that talent.

One of the very basic and first steps to recognizing this talent is to begin evaluating the female employee based on specific contributions as opposed to hours worked. Creating work teams, project teams and management teams that include more than one loan female allows that talent to grow and prosper instead of being suppressed by male domination. Closing the leadership gap and leveraging this talent has to become a priority for businesses of all nature if we are to remain competitive in the global environment.

For this country to have this much inherent talent and yet very few women in the top levels of the chain of command is disturbing.

But Women have Babies

So What!! The idea that women having babies need broader support and special handling is simply hog wash. Women that strive to be leaders and want to contribute at a higher level of hierarchy are often more capable of managing a life balance than most men. And yet, experts have stated that the average lifetime earnings of a highly-skilled female leader who has a child in her 20s is $625,000; while the average lifetime earnings for those having a baby in their 30s is $750,000. For those who have no babies, lifetime earnings reach $913,000. Does that sound discriminatory?

Women in Business have been Stereotyped

Rachael Roy, a top designer and CEO of her own company stated that “Many young women apply self worth to the attention they receive from men. This type of attention is instantly gratifying.”

This is unfortunate because this type of gratification contributes to the stereotype and inhibits leadership confidence and leadership integrity. This is social conditioning. There is no more important skill in attaining success than your ability to communicate effectively. Yet women are often sabotaged by their communication skills.

Differences in how men and women communicate are rooted in social conditioning. Stereotyped behavior has been expected of women since time began. Women are not expected to argue, displaying anger. Women are expected to be polite in the workplace and not curse. They are expected to be cooperative and, by and large, docile.

Men Have Different Rules

The same rules or expectations do not apply to men. Women have always been encouraged to speak softly and smile a lot and yet men are not chastised for emotional outbursts most of the time. This gender differentiation begins early in life.

Men in the business world generally have few, if any, qualms about issuing orders or voicing complaints. Many women tend to be uncomfortable pulling rank; they seek agreement and consistency. Disagreement and conflict don’t affect men in the same way; some even enjoy it, while women typically go out of their way to avoid confrontation.

Men expect and are expected to be successful. We certainly are willing to take full credit when we do succeed. The principle for success on the part of women is different. Many women only hope to be successful. When women do succeed they are more apt to demonstrate true leadership character by attributing their success to teamwork or the support of their peers and subordinates.

Women Do Have Power

Traditionally, in the business world, the male model of authority was considered superior to the female model of collaboration. However, it's becoming abundantly clear that effective communication is the essence of good leadership and that is what really counts. Either style can be effective based on ones individual leadership model. The key to success lies in focusing on and creating for one's self a style that encompasses the best of both authority and collaboration with an emphasis on a servant style of leadership.

Women as a group can be very powerful if they would only embrace that power. They must reject in disbelief that business is strictly a man's world and that they must follow mans rule. Women have different values, different styles and different approaches to many things. Men could be well served to listen more. We must leverage every asset we have to maximize success. Women may not have all the answers but I submit they may have many that we as men haven’t realized yet.

So, as you review your employee development plans, don’t ignore the potential that may exist at the receptionist desk, customer service or accounting where you traditionally find many of your female employees. Search for leadership potential regardless of gender and you may find a number of diamonds in the rough.

Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution’s “Leadership Strategist”, founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage.