All posts by Tara Dwyer

Making The New Year Awesome

Only 8% of people achieve their new year resolutions. Is it even worth setting goals? I believe the answer is yes. There is a way to set realistic goals and make significant progress in the new year.

Like many people, I take time to reflect and make commitments for the fresh new year approaching. I believe in setting goals and improving, and over the years, I have enhanced and changed my process for creating “resolutions”. I’ve figured out what works for achieving my goals, and most importantly, what doesn’t work. I don’t believe there is one formula for making changes;  each person is different and will respond differently.

Here are the lessons I have learned for achieving new year goals:

Lesson 1: Less is more

I used to make a laundry list of goals for the new year: learn Italian, improve piano playing skills, exercise more, etc. You get the picture. What I found is that when I set too many “stretch goals,” I become overwhelmed and just give up. I end up feeling worse about myself because I failed to achieve the goals I set. A few years ago, I started taking time to imagine my ideal life. What would the ideal look like in health, relationships, and business? I keep my goals realistic. I really take time to think through what resources and time I have and I focus on making progress instead of achieving a list. I would rather make significant progress on three goals than very little progress on ten goals. I have learned how much I am capable of taking on and create my goals accordingly. This creates freedom. Rather than being  chained to a list, I work on making incremental progress.

Lesson 2: Measure each day

I find small steps lead to bigger progress for me. I switched from setting weekly goals to setting daily goals. I take the ideal life I envisioned and think about ways I can close the gap. I focus on making an impact in this day. Focusing on today takes the overwhelm and judgment away and gives me permission to make choices that feel good now. Inevitably, I end up succeeding with more of my goals when I focus on today. At the end of the year, if I can look back and see progress from the year before, to me that is success. The compound effect is very powerful.

Lesson 3: Focus on the being, not the doing

I am a doer. I love lists and crossing things off. I love the feeling of accomplishment. And when I focus on checking things off, I often lose the intention of my goal. For example, for years I have wanted to incorporate meditation into my ritual. I read books on meditation and tried to meditate, and my mind was racing. I was trying too hard to “do” meditation correctly. I often found myself wanting to check it off my list rather than get the full experience and benefits. And that’s just pointless. This past year, I focused instead on the “being”. The purpose of meditation is to clear and quiet your mind. So, I sat quietly with music, closed my eyes and kept quiet. I am not great at it, but I get benefit from it, and I am improving over time.

What has worked for you when setting goals?

Wishing you an awesome year!

The Power of Simplicity

I believe many organizations are suffering from self-imposed complexity. I am frequently hearing from leaders that they have too much on their plate, and that the pace and demands in their organizations make it almost impossible to accomplish anything. They’re in meetings all day, they have 25 projects to complete this year, and their employees are overwhelmed and overtaxed.

In the quest to achieve so many goals, many executive teams are overambitious, over-scheduled, and over-committed. They are mired in so many competing demands, that they lack the ability to focus, which holds them back from achieving very much of anything. They may be really busy, but they are not producing much. This complexity trickles down to all levels of the organization and can paralyze a company from getting anything done. This has become such the norm in so many organizations, that some leaders have convinced themselves that there is no other way of operating.

Don’t get me wrong. Things aren’t always easy. New technology needs to be implemented, new employees need to be hired, and new ideas need to be created. I’m not saying leaders don’t need to juggle multiple priorities. But how many is too many? How often do we add a level of complexity by trying to do everything at once? In the quest to make everything a priority, we make nothing a priority. Not a lot gets done.

There is power in simplicity. When a leadership team can make things uncomplicated and clear, that’s where the magic happens. That’s when people at all levels can really focus and make things happen. That’s where you can really create traction and begin to produce awesome results.

Take a look at your organization. Does everyone know what the top three to five priorities are? Can employees at every level tell you what they should be focusing on? And do their answers align with the true priorities? To be able to communicate what your employees should be focused on, you first have to be clear about the top priorities yourself.


Leadership Lessons From a 2 Year Old

It was another crazy morning of getting everyone ready and out of the house. We were walking to the car and my two-year-old daughter, Olivia, wanted to stop and smell the flowers (literally) in the front yard. I tried to rush her and managed to get her into her car seat. “My do!” she yelled (this is toddler talk for “I want to do it!”). She wanted to buckle her own car seat. Why did these things always happen on the days I am running late? I knew I wouldn’t win the battle, so I tried to patiently encourage her to quickly buckle the strap because “Mommy has to get to an important client meeting”. Of course she took her time; after all, she was on her timetable, not mine.

I was reflecting on this experience a couple of days later, and realized there was a lot of learning for me in this interaction. I like to do things quickly–check things off my list, make the decision, move forward on a project, achieve a goal. I like it when things are organized and go as planned (when I was expecting Olivia, my husband used to joke that when she was born she would come out with a Franklin Covey planner). Sometimes I just have to laugh when Olivia dumps milk on her school outfit three minutes before leaving, runs in the opposite direction when I tell her to get in the car, or throws herself on the floor in a tantrum when I tell her to put on her shoes. But I digress.

Oftentimes in our leadership, we are so focused on getting things done, that we are not present in our relationships. We put off giving that meaningful feedback to our coworker; we don’t get a chance to tell our employee how much we value her work; or we don’t have enough time in our day to get out and interact with staff members. We rationalize that we have important things to do. Yet slowing down and being a deliberate, purposeful leader is what will make us most effective. We forget that building and maintaining these significant relationships is what leadership is all about. It’s the people side of the business that often gets neglected.

Questions to ponder:

·         Who do I need to recognize?

·         What work (or personal) relationship have I not been giving 100% to?

·         Who on my team have I not thanked lately?

·         Who on my team needs more focused development?

I wish I could say that I will never feel the need to rush my daughter again. I can’t change my busy and productive nature, and patience is not one of my strengths. But I have learned a lesson about being present in each moment. She is stretching me in a new direction, and I realize I can learn a lot from a two year old.

Just last week my husband was taking Olivia to school (he’s much more patient than me) and she was slowly walking down the front path. I waved to her from behind the door, anxiously waiting to get back to my office to prepare for a conference call. She must have recognized I still hadn’t  quite learned the lesson of being present. She turned around, put out her arms, smiled at me and said, “”Hug?” Of course I did what every mother would do. I ran outside, threw my arms around her, and gave her a big kiss and hug. That is a moment I wouldn’t miss for any conference call. And then I cried. See, I do have a softer side.


Working on Vacation

Greetings from North Carolina! I’m enjoying a nice vacation with my family in the beautiful southern state. I love vacations not only for the family time and relaxation, but also because it gives me the reflection and planning time I need for my business.

A few days ago, my husband said that every time he looked over at me, I was on my phone or my iPad. I wasn’t really enjoying my time away because I was too preoccupied. I know many experts say you should completely disconnect when you’re on vacation, but I find that unrealistic. I would feel stressed the entire vacation if I didn’t fit in some work. However, after my husband’s comment, I knew I needed to set some boundaries.

I decided I would only work during the two hours when the kids are (hopefully) napping. The rest of the time I would be completely present with my family and really enjoy our time together. I already have some of these boundaries set up back home, and they’ve worked really well to ensure I’m not overdoing it at work. For example, I don’t work or check emails after 8 p.m. on weekdays, and at all on Sundays.

One practice I will be implementing when I get home is to reserve two work days per month with no appointments or meetings. These two days will be my time for planning and thinking. Rather than overload my schedule, I will make it a priority to have some downtime to generate ideas.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you find it hard to disconnect on vacation? What are some of the things you do to set boundaries?

Naptime is almost over, so I’ve got to go!

My Confession…

I have a confession to make: I struggle with delegation. My mind is often in overdrive, and stopping to ask for help is not one of my strong points. A couple of months ago, I came to a breaking point. I was printing out materials for a leadership program, and the ink in my printer ran out. I didn’t have another cartridge, and I had to run to Staples in the middle of the day to buy more ink. In that moment, I thought of the all the important things I needed to be doing, and it was not buying ink.

My business has been growing, and I was wearing many hats as a business owner: coach, consultant, accountant, marketer, and administrative assistant. I was becoming so bogged down in the details, that I wasn’t able to focus as much on the strategic side of my business. I realized I could not reach the next level in my business if I didn’t learn to work smarter and focus on the most important areas. I decided to hire an assistant, and I’m already seeing an increase in my productivity and a decrease in my stress level. I see her as the backbone of my business; she takes care of very important things behind the scenes so that I can focus on what I do best.

Most of us know we should delegate more. We may be very busy every day, but most people aren’t very productive. And on some level, we become addicted to the busy feeling because it makes us feel we are getting something done; even if it’s not the best use of our time.


Here are two strategies that helped me “train” myself to delegate more:


Envision leading at a higher level. Take just 15-30 minutes to think about what your leadership would look like if you were operating at the optimum level in your position. For me, I envisioned a clean, organized office, systems in place to run my business (like an accounting system), having more space in my calendar for creative time, being proactive in marketing my programs, an updated and refreshed website, developing new programs, and consistently sending resources to my clients. I realized many of these things I don’t have to do myself (accounting system), and having someone else do them would allow me the time and mental energy to focus on the other areas (developing new programs, sending resources to clients). This motivated me to want to delegate.

Keep a log. Throughout your day, keep a running list of things you are doing that are not the best use of your time. At the end of the day, determine which of these tasks can be delegated to someone else and write that person’s name next to the task. After one week of logging, set up a meeting with your team or the individual to teach them how to handle the tasks (and in many cases, no teaching is involved; it’s more about letting go). Here is a partial list of my items: filing, invoicing, bookkeeping, registering for conferences/events, contacting a vendor for information, ordering supplies, and updating my website.

A trait of highly successful leaders is the ability to focus on key areas and delegate lower level tasks. It is a core leadership skill, and often determines if a leader will move toward success or derailment. Just remember: you can have it all, but you can’t do it all.

Where You Should Spend 80% of Your Time

Have you ever left the office at the end of the day, knowing you worked really hard, but unable to pinpoint what you really accomplished? I used to have many days like this; days where I was really busy, but I wasn’t able to find the time to work on the most important areas that would make the biggest impact in my role as a human resources executive.

There is one exercise you can do that will dramatically change your leadership and how you work. If you do this exercise, you will become massively more productive and save so much time in your day, that you will be able to really focus on the areas that are important in your role as a leader.

The exercise is to define your key result areas. The key result areas of a position are the three to five main results that you must accomplish to perform the job successfully and make the maximum contribution.   It’s the value the position brings to the organization; the reasons why the position was created. The key result areas can’t be delegated (although you may delegate tasks or duties that support your key result areas) or outsourced. Defining your key result areas gives you clarity around what you should be doing so that you can focus, be highly productive, and make the most impact in your role.

Most leaders struggle to be productive and get results because they are very vague about what they should be doing on a daily basis. They spend most days being reactive and putting out fires. Defining your key result areas identifies the most important areas you should be working on; where you should be spending at least 80% of your time.  

Here is an example of possible key result areas for a human resources executive:

1. Create a strategy to develop and maintain an exceptional work culture that engages employees

2. Coach and develop the human resources employees to be successful in their jobs and reach their highest potential

3. Create a strategy for developing the organization’s leaders into highly effective, engaging and successful leaders

4. Create a talent strategy to attract and retain the most exceptional employees in the metro area

Your key result areas may be different based on the size of your organization and the company’s strategy. But notice they are not low level tasks that can be accomplished by staff members. Most leaders spend 80% of their time on tasks and 20% of their time on key result areas. To be an effective, successful leader, you must spend 80% of your time on key result areas.  

What are your key result areas? Set aside a half hour to get clear on your key result areas and then evaluate how you are currently spending your time. Delegate or outsource the tactical areas that can be handled by someone else. If you find yourself saying, “I am the only one who can do this task,” then develop a staff member to handle it. Remember that delegation doubles your productivity. Review your key result areas when planning your month, week and day, and you will become much more productive, effective leader.


Are You This Type of Leader?

Forty years ago, there was little talk in business about engaging employees, coaching and developing direct reports, or cultivating the company culture.  Many people stayed at the same organization for most of their career. Traditional managers, who were task-oriented and provided a lot of direction but very little inspiration, were tolerated. The command and control style of leadership prevailed.

The landscape of the work environment has changed. Employees have more choices, and will leave an organization where they don’t feel valued or appreciated. Traditional leaders won’t survive in the best organizations; there is only room for modern leaders.

We all have heard horror stories of ineffective, bad bosses. But in my experience, most  traditional leaders are not narcissistic and power-hungry. They are mediocre managers (and executives) who lack the necessary leadership skills to be successful. They aren’t naturally inclusive, approachable, and engaging, and their leadership style reflects that.  To succeed in leadership today, managers need to be modern leaders. A modern leader is approachable, engaging and focused. The modern leader promotes an environment of productivity and positivity.

You may be a traditional leader and not know it. But trust me, your employees do. They are talking about it behind your back, and your high-performing employees are looking for a quick exit (if they are still there). Read below for what distinguishes a traditional leader from a modern leader:

Traditional leader:

• command and control

• doesn’t provide feedback

• focuses on finding mistakes and reprimanding; holds people accountable through fear

• very little engagement with employees

• no coaching or development

• believes the paycheck is the reward for work

• thinks he/she should know all the answers

• more task-oriented and in the weeds

• thinks he/she worked hard to advance and deserves leadership

Modern leader:

• encouraging and inviting

• provides timely, constructive, consistent feedback

• focuses on learning from mistakes; holds people accountable in a positive, principled way

• finds ways to consistently engage with employees

• sees coaching and developing as a top priority

• actively thanks employees and shows appreciation

• solicits ideas and suggestions from employees; encourages employee involvement

• more proactive, strategic, and visionary• sees leadership as a privilege and enjoys serving his/her employees

The first step to transitioning from a traditional leader to a modern leader is awareness. Take time to reflect on your leadership and determine in what areas you need to develop. The best organizations only hire and keep modern leaders.


Combating Negativity and Gossip

In one of my recent leadership programs, an executive expressed her frustration about organizational gossip and negativity. Her company was going through some changes, and the leadership team was frustrated with the rumor mill. Through the discussion, she came to the realization that the leadership team had not done a good job of communicating the changes and managing the impact.

In the absence of information, people make things up. If there is a lack of communication in an organization, employees will fill the void with their opinions and perceptions, which breeds gossip.

Dave Ramsey has a no-gossip policy in his organization. His mantra is, “negatives go up, positives go down.” Anyone who has a complaint or issue should only send it up the chain, never down. Complaining to someone who cannot solve the problem is not tolerated.

Here are three strategies for combating gossip and negativity in your organization:  

Develop a communication campaign. Most organizations don’t spend nearly enough time communicating important information throughout their organization. The executive team may spend hours each week behind closed doors, but often important information is not shared with employees, or worse, different messages are sent by different leaders.  To reduce gossip and negativity, leaders should have a well thought out communication campaign to ensure important information is disseminated throughout the organization. I’m a big fan of Umpqua Bank and their CEO, Ray Davis. Ray regularly walks around and asks employees, “What is it you need?” He also hosts quarterly broadcast calls and meets with select employees quarterly over dinner to talk about important organizational information. You can listen to my free interview with Ray Davis to find out how Umpqua purposefully creates an engaging environment:Umpqua Bank Interview

Conduct a listening tour. In her book, Motivate Like a CEO, Suzanne Bates recommends that leaders sit down with influential employees and figure out what is demotivating or getting in the way. I am amazed at how many top leaders in organizations turn a deaf ear to what is really going on. It’s almost like if they don’t hear about the negativity or issues, they don’t exist. Effective leaders seek out the issues and take responsibility for creating an environment of truth and engagement.

End executive meetings with a communication recap. In your executive or leadership meetings, take the last 10 minutes to discuss what you will communicate and how you will communicate information throughout the organization. This increases the chance of the correct message getting out to your employees, and reduces gossip.   The bottom line is that if your organization is doing an excellent job communicating, negativity and gossip will be the exception. Communication needs to be a planned effort and not an afterthought. What does your organization do to reduce gossip? I’d love to hear your comments. Hit “reply” and let me know!


Habits of the “Super Achiever”

One of my personal goals each year is to improve my habits over the previous year. Whether it’s being more productive, spending more time planning and prioritizing, exercising more, or focusing on cultivating personal relationships, keeping my focus on getting better and better helps me to get greater results over time. Small incremental improvements yield better results than a list of lofty resolutions or goals.  

This year, one of my small improvements is implementing a “Half Hour of Power. ” I learned of this idea from famed coach Tony Robbins, who suggests an “Hour of Power” each day. I determined a half hour would be manageable for my schedule, and have been working to implement this improvement into my day. Each day, I spend a half hour writing what I am thankful for in my journal, envisioning future successes, reviewing my annual, monthly, and weekly goals, setting my two top priorities for the day, and getting centered to be able to work at maximum productivity. This small change has helped me to stay on top of my key result areas, be highly productive, and stay centered and focused.

I’ve worked with many leaders through coaching and leadership programs, and I’ve noticed the highly successful leaders share many of the same daily habits or traits. They focus each day on improving and don’t make excuses. The most successful leaders make time for the important areas, they don’t complain about how much time they don’t have. They take control and responsibility.   Here are the most common habits and traits of highly successful leaders, or what I call “Super Achievers”:  

Planning and Focus. They develop plans and goals, and then execute those plans. They take time each day to make sure they are working on their top priorities. They are proactive and purposeful, and their day reflects it.

Passion for learning and improvement. They have a desire to constantly learn and grow. They tend to be relentless readers of leadership books and articles, and they invest in their growth and education. They make time to develop and improve themselves as leaders.

Keep commitments. They keep their commitments and don’t make excuses. They rarely miss schedule events and meetings, and are always well prepared and focused. They take time to do the work needed to make each encounter meaningful. They bring their ‘A’ game to meetings and are prepared.

Focus on people. They always make time for their employees and the important people in their life. They understand the value of cultivating relationships, and regularly interact and meet with their employees in a meaningful way. They understand the importance of communication and learning, and foster an environment of truth and feedback. They take the time to communicate vision, plans and goals, and ask questions.

100% effort. They always give all their effort to everything they take on. They are deliberate about their choices and focus on a few initiatives to do really, really well rather on a bunch of things half-heartedly. They don’t settle for mediocre; they aim to work at peak performance.


Employee Satisfaction vs. Engagement

This year got off to a great start for me. Our family welcomed our second child, Luca, on January 18th.  We are very excited to have him join our family, and big sister Olivia is enjoying him! Here is a picture of baby Luca.

I was also honored to be interviewed for the article, “Coaching Outside the C-Suite” in the January edition of Credit Union Management magazine.

Since I am taking a few weeks off, I asked my colleague, Kerry Liberman, to share some information this month on engaging employees. Kerry is president of People Perspectives, a company that conducts employee opinion surveys, and she has a lot of insight on how to keep your employees engaged. Read below for Kerry’s advice on why you want to measure engagement in addition to satisfaction.

Employee engagement has become a hot topic in companies over the past few years. More and more often, organizations are looking at measuring engagement as a means to improving their company’s bottom line. Prior to engagement, at People Perspectives, we measured employee satisfaction exclusively. However, with the compelling research on employee engagement, we found that the best strategy was to “make room” for both satisfaction and engagement in our surveys.

Here’s why:

Employee Engagement. An engaged employee is someone who is loyal, puts forth extra effort for the company, and remains with the organization for a long period of time. What can engaged employees do for a company? For starters, compared to disengaged workers, one research firm found that engaged employees had 27% less absenteeism, 62% fewer accidents, and 31% less turnover. Moreover, employee engagement led to higher customer satisfaction and higher future spending intentions.

Employee Satisfaction. Literally thousands of studies have been conducted, looking at the impact that employee satisfaction has on the workplace. Over time, researchers have found that employee satisfaction is significantly correlated with higher innovation and production levels of staff, lower absenteeism, and higher levels of employee loyalty and retention.

Using Both. Although employee engagement findings have understandably met with great fanfare within the HR community, it (like employee satisfaction) has its limitations. Engagement doesn’t address issues such as pay, benefits, advancement opportunities, senior management, or organizational structure. On the other hand, employees may be perfectly satisfied with their jobs, but it’s not the same thing as being engaged. Even though the employee’s needs are being met and they’re happy to come to work, they may not promote the organization’s goals and ethics as engaged employees would.

Surveying employees on both their satisfaction and engagement is instrumental to getting a comprehensive view of not only how satisfied they are with different programs in place and the workplace overall, but also how committed they are to the organization. This type of assessment really provides the best of both worlds.

Kerry Liberman is the president of People Perspectives LLC, a company that specializes in conducting employee opinion surveys (including engagement and satisfaction) and internal service surveys. She can be reached at 206-451-4218 or

Thank you, Kerry for sharing your expertise!