Category Archives: Leadership

A Day in the Life of a Leader

Right out of college, I worked in the IT department as a help desk representative for an insurance company in upstate New York where I grew up. I was the person you called if you had a computer problem, forgot your password, or couldn’t get your macros to work in Word Perfect.  I didn’t really know much about leadership or managing, but from the outside, it looked pretty cool. Better pay, better title, a nice office, and more authority. It seemed pretty straight forward, and a nice reward for doing good work. It seemed that when you become a manager, you finally made it.

One day my boss told me he was going to hire another representative to help me, and that this person would report to me. Four weeks later, I became a manager for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I quickly figured out that management wasn’t so straight forward after all, and frankly, not as fun as I had imagined.

As leaders, we need to give people a peek behind the curtain of what leadership really is; before they become leaders. Perhaps then we will begin to fill leadership positions with people who want the job for the right reasons; to serve others and make an impact.

Here is what I would share with potential leaders before they make the leap.

So, you want to be a leader?

Before you decide, allow me to give you a peek behind the curtain of what being a leader is really like. Because I can tell you for sure, that the fantasy of leadership and the reality of leadership are very, very different.

If you are a leader, here is what you have in store for you. And by all means, this is not an exhaustive list.

  • You are responsible when your employee fails
  • Your days will be a series of meetings, employee complaints, and upward delegating
  • You will rarely have a minute to yourself
  • Your role will completely change: you will be responsible for mentoring, coaching, and teaching (not the technical job you once held)
  • It’s often a thankless job
  • All problems will make their way up to you
  • You will spend significant time training an employee to do something you can do in five minutes
  • You will often work long hours
  • You will leave the office many days wondering what you actually accomplished
  • Meetings, more meetings…did I mention meetings?

In short, effective leadership is no walk in the park. Your focus is people, not things, and people can be complicated. Employees are motivated differently, they all have different personalities, and not everyone will share your work ethic. Your job will be to bring out the best performance in each individual employee to reach the strategic goals of the organization. This may not sound complicated, but many days it can feel like trying to run a marathon when you haven’t eaten or slept in days.

True leadership is about service; it’s serving your employees by developing them and helping them reach their highest potential and personal goals. It’s serving the organization by contributing your best to achieve the goals. It’s serving the membership by having their best interest in mind and helping them achieve their financial dreams.

Of course, there are many rewards in leadership; it’s not all challenges and meetings. But those feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment can sometimes be overshadowed by the daily grind of leadership. Rarely will someone be standing at your door patting you on the back for a job well done.

Leadership should be a decision, not a given or the next step for your technical superstar. Employees should know what the position really entails before they commit to leadership. Leadership is a privilege and a huge responsibility. And as organizations, we need to let people know what to expect—what their days will really be like—when you become a leader.

This One Thing is Ruining Your Productivity

If you’re like most leaders, you spend your days rushing around dealing with emergencies, challenges, meetings and emails. Your days seem like a blur, and you struggle to articulate what you accomplished in your 10+ hours at the office. This may be the norm for most leaders, but it doesn’t have to be.

One of the biggest challenges leaders face at work are interruptions. Whether it’s phone calls and texts, emails pinging all day, or employees dropping in for “a quick question”, these interruptions take a serious toll on your productivity. Experts say the typical office worker wastes 40 to 60 percent of their day on interruptions.

And even if your interruptions don’t involve people, there are a plethora of distractions that impede getting real work done. As an entrepreneur, my office is in my house. There are no people there during the work day, but there are dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, and papers to be filed. Even looking at these distractions hinders my focus and concentration. When I have a big project or an article to write (like this one) that requires me to focus, I often go to a coffee shop so I can get in the zone and not get distracted by non-urgent things pulling at my attention. Ironically, the buzz of the coffee shop also helps my concentration and focus. I get more done in two hours there than I do all day in my office.

I believe your office is one of the worst places to work, because everyone knows where to find you!

Below are four strategies for reducing interruptions so you can get real work done.

Close your door. In the age of the “open door policy,” closing your door may seem bold. But let me assure you, you cannot be productive with your door open all day. Most organizations have taken the open door policy to the extreme, thinking that having your door open all day sends the message to your employees that you are a great leader. Employees want leaders who are approachable and supportive. They don’t need you to be available every second of the day. Frankly, most employees would welcome you to close your door once in a while so they can focus on their work without their leader watching every move. I’m not suggesting you close your door all day, every day. But blocking out two hours a day to close your door and focus will increase your productivity dramatically.

One of my clients created signs for their team members that says “Brilliance at Work”. When an employee needs some quiet time to focus, they put this sign on their door or cubicle to signal that they are in the zone, so don’t interrupt.

Silence your electronics. It’s not a novel idea (or is it?), yet so few leaders practice it. Part of what drains productivity is the time it takes to recover after an interruption. Even that email notification that you glance at for a few seconds breaks your concentration. Studies show it can take up to 25 minutes to the return to the original task after an interruption. It’s a wonder how leaders get anything done at the office. Multi-tasking has been proven to not be effective and actually hurt productivity, so the best way to get real work done is to sequester yourself and turn off your electronic devices. Even if you do this once a day for an hour, you will see a dramatic increase in your productivity.

Start your meetings by articulating the purpose. How many meetings do you attend each day that are a waste of time? Usually it’s because you are trying to do too many things in one meeting. A best practice is to identify the purpose of that specific meeting, and announce it at the beginning of the meeting so everyone is on the same page. This keeps the meeting focused and on track. An example might be: “The goal of this meeting is to review the three proposals we received and decide which company we will partner with”. That’s much different than just starting the meeting and going off on several tangents that just wastes time.

You can cut out useless follow up meetings by making the first meeting productive in the first place. Less meetings equals more time for real work!

Reduce upward delegation. Many of the interruptions leaders face is from employees. While at times you need to provide guidance and support to your staff members, many interruptions are avoidable. Some employees “upward delegate” to their leaders—they look to their manager to make a decision for them. A way to reduce these interruptions is to coach your employee through the challenge. If an employee approaches you to ask how to handle a situation or project, ask her one of these questions:

  • What do you think?
  • What are your options?
  • What might your next step be?

These questions put the ownership back on the employee and require her to think about how to approach the situation herself. If you continue to coach employees around tasks they can handle themselves, you’ll start to see a reduction in the interruptions as they learn to think for themselves.

Effective leadership requires that you get results. To get results, you need time to focus on real work, not just the typical office “emergencies”. To be a successful leader, you have to take charge of your productivity, because no one else will.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some ways you reduce interruptions so you can get real work done?

How to Succeed When You’re Overcommitted and Overwhelmed

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you want to crawl back under the covers, eat a pint of ice cream, and watch Friends on TV all day? I had a moment like this last month when I overextended myself and felt swamped with all my commitments.

I was flying back from California after traveling for business, and felt a wave of panic as I thought about the week ahead.  I had a week full of clients, a speech to present that Friday, and my kids had a slew of activities. I had also volunteered to be Vice President of the Parent Association at my children’s school earlier that year, and I was in charge of the spring fair event that was to take place the next weekend. We were getting ready to have pictures taken to put our house on the market, and on top of all that, I had volunteered to lead the new website project at the school as well. I was overcommitted, overwhelmed, and completely stressed.

I’ve always prided myself on being able to balance so many projects and commitments. I’m great at managing my time and juggling multiple responsibilities. But there was a precise moment that week when I reached a breaking point. I had no balance. I stopped exercising, I was staying up late, and wasn’t eating healthy. I felt anxious all the time, and didn’t feel like I had a moment to even breathe. My mind was so overwhelmed with what I had to do, that I felt paralyzed and couldn’t think straight. I had no space in my schedule for at least three weeks, and felt depleted and exhausted.

My husband gently reminded me that perhaps I couldn’t do it all, and needed to make some choices about what I could reasonably accomplish. The answer was clear to me in that moment: I needed to resign from vice president of the Parent Association.  Saying no is hard for me, but I realized I needed to put boundaries in place to gain my time and energy back. That one decision took a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Although on some level it felt good to be a part of so many things, it was at the expense of the bigger picture. Being overtaxed was in direct conflict of my values. Particularly the time I was investing in my children’s school.  I was making a big impact for the school, but at the expense of my own personal impact. The time and energy I was spending volunteering could be channeled into my family, my business, and my health and make a bigger impact in my own life.

I’m sure you’ve had an experience like this. You say yes to so many things because you are a leader. You are a leader at work, in your life, and in your family. You want to serve; to be involved, make a contribution, and get things done. And maybe you feel a little bit obligated to contribute your best effort all the time.

It was tough for me to admit that I couldn’t do everything, and that I had overcommitted myself. At first I felt like I had failed and that I should be able to handle everything with ease and balance my life perfectly.

This experience got me reflecting: why do we feel like we have to do it all? And, is there such a thing as work life balance?

There has been a significant change in our society and how we live over the past 30 years. More women are in the workforce and contributing in broader ways. While this is a positive shift, for many women, these changes have added an additional layer of stress since most of us still have responsibilities and commitments outside of work. Even if you have a great partner who shares the responsibilities, there is still a lot to balance with raising children, running the household, getting involved in the community, and working a full time job. And that doesn’t even take into account time for yourself. Simply put: we’ve added several more roles in our lives, and we have the same amount of time to perform them. I often have to remind myself that I have two jobs: running my business, and running my home life. The responsibilities of home life don’t diminish for women who are working outside the home.

Most of us walk around each day in a state of stress, and look outside ourselves to place the blame. We blame our boss. We blame our kids. We blame our spouse. We even blame time.

But busy is a choice. Overwhelm is a choice. Stress is a choice. It was hard for me to accept that, but I realized that I have choices in how to spend my time. I don’t have to say yes to everything, and I am ultimately responsible for my life experience.

One of my mentors, Marie Forleo, so brilliantly said, “You can have it all, but you can’t do it all.”

Although we may want to do everything, and do it all well, when there is an abundance of things to do and only so much time, there has to be tradeoffs. It’s just not possible to do everything and do it well. This creates an enormous amount of stress that bleeds into our work. Leaders who value achievement and impact often have a hard time saying no. We load up on our commitments and fear we may be perceived negatively if we can’t handle it all. And if you are a leader at work, juggling the responsibilities of coaching, developing, and mentoring employees can add to the stress.

In her article, Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family, Claire Cain Miller cites research from a Pew survey that indicates women still do the majority of the housework and childcare. As one woman put it, “you feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything.”

So what ‘s the solution? I’m not sure this challenge will be solved anytime soon. Most organizations still operate in a bureaucratic manner and struggle to embrace a more modern approach of work life integration. And most women struggle to find a balance between work and home with all their competing roles.

But there are small steps that can make a difference. I am much more deliberate about how I schedule my time. I am pausing to consider opportunities and commitments before I say yes. I have hired more help with managing the home because I realize I can’t do it all. I put boundaries in place and don’t accept weeknight commitments that will keep me out past 8:30 p.m. so that I can keep to my 9:30 p.m. bedtime. I am saying no more often. No, I don’t need to accept every play date or have my children attend every birthday party. No, I choose not to volunteer any more time outside of my family. And no, I will not feel guilty for going to yoga on Saturdays.

These small steps make a difference, yet I’m experienced enough in life to know that it doesn’t solve the problem. There will be times where I start to feel stressed and overcommitted. I may fall off the wagon and say yes too much. I am a work in progress. I may never manage this life perfectly.

But for now: I choose space. I choose calm. I choose to say no.

Morning Routines of the Super Successful

I’ve never been a morning person. Or so I thought. Before I got married, my typical weekday schedule was waking up around 7:30 a.m. and dozing off around 11:15 p.m. as I watched Friends. My morning routine consisted of showering, dressing, and grabbing a breakfast Hot Pocket as I dashed out the door (don’t judge). On the weekends, I would go out with friends or binge watch movies until the wee hours of the morning and sleep until 11 or 12 the next day.

When I met my husband ten years ago, my comfortable schedule was interrupted. Rino typically gets up at 4:00 a.m. (that is not a typo). On the weekends, he would wake me up at 8:00 a.m. Before long, I was going to sleep by 10:00 and waking up at 7:00.

About two years ago, I was complaining that I didn’t have enough time to myself each day. Rino suggested I start getting up earlier to have some time in the morning. At the time, we had a newborn baby, and two other children under five. The thought of waking up early was not appealing to me, yet I craved some personal time in the day. I decided to experiment with getting up one hour earlier–at 6:00 a.m. That experiment two years ago has turned into a daily habit that has helped me to jumpstart my day and feel calm and productive.

I’ve been studying successful people for years, and over and over again, the morning routine turned up as a habit of the super successful.

Below are the most common elements in morning routines based on my research of highly successful people. The routines typically last anywhere from one to three hours (for those super early risers up at 4:00 a.m.!) and take place before they even get to the office.

  • Meditation: In his book, Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss shared that 80% of the highly successful people he interviewed meditate at least once a day. In my research, meditation came up time and time again. Organizations like Aetna, Google, and Apple all offer meditation classes to their employees. Since I pretty much feel a sense of urgency almost every minute of the day, I never thought I would be able to meditate (or at least do it well). I started meditating a year and a half ago, and I have seen an improvement in my focus, patience, and calmness. I meditate most days for 20 minutes in the morning. The bottom line: those who meditate report that they are able to keep calmer and handle the stresses of life better.
  • Prayer or reflection: Taking time in the morning to be grateful, pray, or set an intention for the day is typical for those who are very successful. While this practice was individual to each person, most report that this practice keeps them centered. Personally, I set an intention for my day to go well, and I visualize everything on my schedule, whether a presentation, a workshop, or a meeting, going exactly as I want. I take a pause before each segment of my day and make an intention to be present and connected to the person or people I am with.
  • Planning: successful people are very deliberate about how they spend their time. They don’t rush into the day and let others overtake their schedule. Most successful people report spending some time in the morning planning their day. I recommend taking this a step further and planning your day the night before. This allows you to jump right into your most important priorities instead of wasting time looking at your long task list and feeling overwhelmed (and then procrastinating by going on Facebook, looking at your credit union account, etc.). Pick your top two priorities, and schedule them in your calendar. In the morning, review your priorities list and get into action.
  • Exercise: Many successful people exercise in the morning, reporting that getting it done in the beginning of the day gives them energy and ensures it’s a priority.
  • Check email: you may be surprised that about half of successful people report checking email first thing in the morning (or maybe you are not surprised since it’s the first thing most people do). Most report scanning through their email and not reading or responding to each one. Although most experts advise not checking email in the morning, I find that unrealistic. The point is to not get engrossed in emails and let it derail your day. Be intentional about your time.

Although they have common elements, the routines of highly successful people were not all the same, so the key is to create a routine that resonates with you. While these routines took place for most people in my research before getting to the office, you can set up a routine to start your day at work too. Whether it’s reviewing your priorities list, reading an inspirational quote, or making a cup of tea, taking a few minutes to breathe and center yourself in the morning can help you to be more intentional and mindful as you go through your day.

If you want some further reading on morning routines, below are recommended articles:

The Morning Routines of the Most Successful People

The Morning Routines of 12 Successful Women

I also recommend the book, The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a morning routine? What practices help you to set your day up for success?

An Important Skill for Parenting and Leadership

Last month I attended an event for professional speakers where a well-known keynote speaker shared ways to create connection with your audience. During his speech, he mentioned the town in upstate New York where he grew up. He grew up only 15 minutes from my hometown, so I was excited to talk with him afterwards. He certainly created a connection with me in that moment. We had something in common.

His speech was excellent, and after he walked off stage and the meeting organizer concluded the meeting, I walked up to him and told him how great his speech was and started to tell him where I was from in New York, when…he totally blew me off. He was so busy getting his marketing materials together to put at the back of the room, that he didn’t even make eye contact with me and barely listened to what I had to say as he rushed off. I was disappointed. Not because I had this need to connect with him on a personal level, but because many of the things he had just taught in his speech he was not practicing. I thought the content of his speech was excellent, but the feeling I got from him afterward totally turned me off.

In the speaking industry, there’s an unwritten rule that your speech is not really over when you leave the stage. You may have finished the content of your speech, but it’s important to stay connected to your audience until you leave the building. Even when you are not on stage, you are still “on” and your audience is still judging you (for better or worse) based on your interactions.

The same is true for leadership. As a leader, people observe your actions, even in the small moments that may not seem to matter. Leadership is a behavior, not a role. Everything you do has impact. Even when you are working late and only one person is in the office with you, or when you are at the company barbecue, or when you are at a conference out of town, you are having an impact. Just like a speaker isn’t finished when he walks off the stage, you don’t leave your leadership role at the office when you go home at night.

Leadership is a practice. We must be mindful that we have an impact on people at all times. Now, I am not saying you need to be perfect. In fact, showing your imperfections allows people to see you for who you are–a human being. People don’t want their leaders to be perfect, they want them to be authentic. You model great leadership by having high standards for yourself, and persevering through your challenges and struggles.

Employees follow more of what you do than what you say. That’s why leading yourself is the first step in leading others. If you want your managers to coach their employees, make sure you are coaching your managers. If you want people to show up on time to meetings, make sure you are showing up on time.

My husband, Rino, and I were talking several months ago about the characteristics and disciplines we want to cultivate in our three young children. The usual qualities like compassion, generosity, kindness, and confidence made the list. When discussing what habits to instill, Rino said he would like to teach our six year old daughter, Olivia, to make her bed every morning. He feels that making your bed is a small accomplishment each morning that sets the day up for success. Making the bed is taking pride in your environment.

“I agree,” I said, “but shouldn’t we start making our bed every morning first?”

People don’t model what you say, they model what you do. It’s not enough to talk about what you want, you must exhibit what you want. Mastering integrity (doing what you say you will do) and authenticity (consistently showing up as yourself) are essential for effective leadership.

The small things we do every day can either create trust and strengthen relationships, or chip away at trust and damage relationships. The trust you build can strengthen your integrity and credibility, or damage your integrity and credibility.

If you want to change your corporate culture, start by changing yourself. Cultures don’t change, people do. Cultures don’t transform, people transform.

You go first.

When you model accountability, others will follow. You will create the momentum to get extraordinary results.

As for me, I’ve started making my bed every morning. Parenting has been my most challenging job to date. It’s not a role I play where I can pick and choose what actions my children should model. They see all of me, the good moments and the bad moments, the good traits and the bad traits. Parenting has forced me to look in the mirror and be more deliberate about my actions.

In parenting and in leadership, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being deliberate. Reflecting on your behaviors, both good and bad, and choosing to be better, one moment at a time.

The Benefits of a Personal Retreat

A couple of weeks ago, I spent two days in West Virginia for an individual business retreat. I used this time to review my goals and progress, make necessary adjustments, and work on some strategic goals that I find challenging to complete during my everyday work.

It can be hard to find time to really focus and get meaningful work done when you are surrounded by distractions, interruptions, and a calendar booked with meetings.

Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.

Pausing for an hour (or a couple of days) to recalibrate and get clarity on where you are going and what you need to do to get there can actually speed up your progress. When I start to feel overwhelmed,  it’s usually an indication that I don’t have clarity about what I need to be working on. Slowing down to create clarity allows me to refocus my energies and increase my productivity.

Watch the video below to hear about my retreat in West Virginia and how a personal retreat can help you to refocus and get better results. I almost canceled this scheduled retreat because of some big life changes we have going on (I share some of that in the video), but I honored my commitment, and the results were awesome.

Once you’ve watched the video, I’d love to hear from you. How do you build time into your schedule for strategic and meaningful work? Share your tips in the comments below!

How to Calm Type A Tendencies

I’ve often admired people who are flexible and laid back; who have a more carefree approach to life and live in the moment. I know I can benefit from a dose of that approach, although I’ll admit those traits often trigger my Type A tendencies. I like to seize the day, get a lot done, check things off my list, and feel a sense of accomplishment most of the day.

When I took the StrengthsFinder assessment years ago, one of my top talents was “Achiever”. In a nutshell, an “Achiever” is described as someone who is driven, has an internal fire, and has a need to achieve something tangible every day (yes, even on weekends). And while this talent has served me very well in life, it can also be a source of frustration, discontent, and stress.

Indeed, any strength overused can become a liability.

Over the years I’ve learned to manage the negative side of achievement (at least most of the time) and channel that strength in a productive way. Achievement is just one of the “Type A” tendencies I have that can rear its ugly head and send me into a state of overwhelm that can show up as snippiness and impatience.

There are classical definitions of Type A, but in my opinion most of those definitions typically paint the negative side of the personality traits. Although being Type A has many benefits and can serve you well in life, just like any strength (even flexibility), it also has limitations when it’s not channeled in a productive way or used to the extreme.

So how do you know if you have Type A tendencies?

While this is in no way a formalized definition, if the statements below sound familiar, you may have some Type A tendencies.

  • If you get anxious when you are not early to an appointment (or god forbid, even one minute late), you are probably Type A.
  • If your mind is always racing and you don’t relax very well (who has time to relax?), you are probably Type A.
  • If you’ve ever had your three year old tell you, “Mommy, you’re always rushing!” while frantically trying to get her buckled into her car seat so you can make your 8 a.m. meeting, you are probably Type A.
  • If you’ve ever thought of sending one of your doctors a bill for your time because you had to wait well past your appointment time to be seen, you are probably Type A.
  • If you have a stack of reading material in your office and feel behind (and guilty) for not reading every article (because there is so much to learn!), you are probably Type A.
  • If you have a to do list on the weekends because how would you get anything done otherwise? You are probably Type A.
  • If you find yourself pushing your family out the door most mornings and yelling, “we can’t be late!” You are probably Type A.

If most or all of the above statements resonate with you…congratulations! You are most likely very driven, accomplished, and respected.

These are traits that are important for success, and when channeled in a positive manner, can yield significant success. And if you have ever felt like sometimes these tendencies can cause a great amount of stress and anxiety in your life, then read on.

From my own familiarity of experiencing these tendencies as well as coaching leaders with Type A tendencies, I can definitively say that you can lead a fulfilling, semi-calm, enjoyable life. They key is to channel the positive aspects of Type A tendencies while simultaneously calming the negative edge that they can create. Although you may never be perpetually carefree and laid back, you can learn to dial down the negative effects and create moments of calm and stillness.

Below are six strategies for calming your Type A tendencies and channeling them productively.

Accept your gifts. Type A tendencies are a gift. Really. It may not always feel like it, and others may not see it that way, but when you channel these tendencies in a productive way, they can be extremely beneficial to getting results and ultimately creating success. Leaders who have Type A tendencies are masters at organization and get things done. They value time and productivity, and can keep a team moving forward toward organizational goals. So accept your strengths and how these traits can lead you to a fulfilling and successful life (whatever success means to you).

Start noticing when these traits create a positive impact and when they create a negative impact. By noticing your impact on others, you can direct these strengths in a positive way and control the overuse before they become negative. For example, being on time is important to me and I’m very conscious of ensuring I am on time to any commitment. My husband, who is much more laid back, is not as time conscious. When I don’t control my negative tendencies, I show up as a time Nazi who rushes my family out the door in a complete frenzy. I’ve learned to recognize when these tendencies are bubbling up and to approach situations more calmly. A half hour before we need to leave, I will gently and calmly remind my family what time it is, and that we need to be ready to leave in a half hour. The nicer approach almost always works.

Create rituals. From the work I have done with leaders as well as my own experience, I have noticed that people with Type A tendencies typically thrive when there is structure and order. Use this to your advantage. Create a morning routine that allows you to have some down time and space before you hit the ground running. Create an evening routine that allows you some time to decompress and relax before bed. Have a pen and a notepad in your bedroom, kitchen, car, and anywhere else where you might need to write down the things that are swirling around in your head. Create your priorities list the night before so you know what to jump into when you arrive at work in the morning. Schedule recurring coaching sessions with each of your employees so they are in place for the year.

Creating structure, order, or systems are ways that you can direct your energies in a positive way. Structure creates freedom; it allows you to compartmentalize what you are working on so your mind is not overloaded with all the things you need to get done. Having a planner or notebook for capturing your thoughts and action items can be enormously helpful in keeping your mind clear so you can focus at a more strategic level.

Take a pause. Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard is to “slow down to speed up”. These days, most people feel overwhelmed at work and feel like they need to speed up to get everything done. Yet that is the exact opposite of what works. Speeding up only adds to the complexity and chaos, and leads to more mistakes and stress. Slowing down and taking frequent pauses to assess what you are doing helps you to be more purposeful about your work and more deliberate with your time so you can actually accomplish more.

Start your day by taking 15 minutes to review your goals and get clear about how you will spend your time. Pause before you start every meeting to set the intention and goals of the meeting so everyone is clear. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it’s probably because you have too many things racing in your mind. Take a pause and ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” This question allows you to gain clarity so you can focus.

Create boundaries. Again, leaders with Type A tendencies tend to thrive with structure, so use your organization skills to create boundaries where you know you need them. Have clear boundaries for when you start and stop work. I know one CEO who deleted access to her work email from her iPhone so she wouldn’t feel the need to check it constantly. Setting up boundaries allows you to compartmentalize your energies so you can channel them into what is important. One boundary I have created is to never have my phone in my bedroom at night. When I go upstairs to start my evening ritual which usually includes meditation (yes, Type As are capable of meditating!) and reading, my phone stays in the kitchen. This way I am not tempted to check it or get pulled into Facebook for a half hour. If you do feel the need to do work on weekends, set aside a specific time each weekend that you designate to work so that you can focus the rest of your time on your family.

Prioritize what’s important. If you have Type A tendencies, you may get caught up in checking small things off your list because you feel a sense of achievement. You may put off more important tasks that take longer and more energy. Many achievers struggle to fit in important areas like health, exercise, and relaxation time. I used to prioritize work over my health until my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic. That was the wake-up call I needed to put more focus on my health. I now make exercise, yoga, and meditation a priority, and I see the difference in my energy and stamina.

Recognize the gifts in others. When you have Type A tendencies, it may feel challenging to work (and live) with others who do not share the same traits. When others don’t seem to share the same sense of urgency or stamina that you do, you may easily feel frustrated and annoyed. Yet it’s important to notice the gifts in other personality traits. My more relaxed husband has taught me that not everything needs to be urgent, and there is value in slowing down and enjoying life. My more flexible friend can give me perspective when I get anxious over something not going the way I wanted. Others have a lot to offer, and different traits and tendencies can be very helpful in balancing ours.

Today is the ten year anniversary of my first date with my husband. I remember standing in front of restaurant when he texted me that he was running late. He was 25 minutes late.

Luckily I waited, because I would have missed out on something really great.

A Framework for Leading Strategically

You’ve probably spent some time over the past few months creating your business plan to map out the actions necessary to achieve the organizational strategic plan. Planning is an important component of achieving organizational goals. You have to know where you want to go in order to make it happen. But many leaders struggle to put their plan into action and actually achieve the results identified in their business plans. So how do you dust off your well-crafted plan and actually put it into action?

Many leaders confuse being busy with being productive. They get so caught up in the day to day activities, and can’t seem to find time to focus on strategic initiatives and make any traction. The cycle continues, and they feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and unsure of how to get their team into action.

In order to achieve exceptional results, you need to create clarity for yourself and your team, and you need a framework for implementation.

One of the main reasons leaders don’t achieve their business plan objectives is a lack of clarity. They come up with the ideas, but fail to translate them into specific actions and delegate them appropriately. They may have created a solid business plan, but they struggle to get their staff to achieve the goals. Often this is because they haven’t taken the time to share the plan with their staff, and neglect to develop a system to ensure the objectives are accomplished throughout the year.

Yet with a simple framework, you can set yourself up to work smarter and more purposeful this year. The beginning of the year is a perfect time to align your team around the business objectives and create success. By following the practices below, you can develop a simple framework in under one hour that will ensure you stay focused on what’s important and lead your team to a successful year.

  • Schedule one strategic meeting a month. In his book, Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni suggests a framework for meetings: quarterly off-site, monthly strategic, weekly tactical, and daily check-in. This ensures your team has scheduled time for both strategic and operational discussions, and allows you to assess your progress often. Most leaders focus on tactical meetings and get bogged down in details and issues. A monthly strategic meeting will ensure you and your team are pulling back to see the bigger picture and keeping sight of the overall goals. This meeting is focused on discussing, analyzing, brainstorming and deciding on critical issues that affect long term success. Open your calendar now and schedule one monthly strategy meeting with your team through the end of the year.
  • Communicate the plan. It may sound obvious, but many leaders fail to communicate the business plan for their functional area with their managers or employees. Neglecting this step sends our staff into different directions with little clarity or understanding of what they should really be working on. It’s easy to just keep the status quo and continue to get mediocre results when your team isn’t crystal clear about how they should be spending their time. Start by scheduling a meeting to kick off the year with clarity and excitement as you share the vision, business goals, and projects with your managers and staff. Explain why you are focusing on these goals this year, and how it will benefit them and the organization.
  • Schedule important events and appointments now. Most leaders allow their days to be filled up by meetings, interruptions, emergencies, and distractions, and never seem to find time for the important areas of leadership like coaching employees, attending industry events, and personal development activities. Effective leaders make these important actions a priority, and schedule them in their calendar at the beginning of the year. In order for you to reach your business goals, you need to ensure you are supporting, coaching, and guiding your employees along the way. Don’t push coaching sessions aside because you don’t think you have time. Coaching and developing employees is important for them and important for you. Coaching increases productivity, engagement, and success for employees, which translates into leadership success for you. Schedule recurring sessions in your calendar now for the rest of the year with each of your direct reports before your schedule fills up. Other important events to schedule now include conferences, professional development workshops, and even vacations.
  • Create a delegation list. One of the most important skills of leadership is effective delegation. When you delegate, you free up your time to focus on more strategic projects and issues, and you empower your employee to take ownership of the project or process. You cannot possibly complete everything in your business plan by yourself. In order to achieve your business objectives, you need other people to support your efforts. Start by reviewing your annual business plan and making a list of each project or task you can delegate, who you will delegate it to, and the timeframe for completion. In your next coaching session with each employee, delegate the projects or tasks. Be sure to explain the “Why-What-When”, Why you need it (what strategic goal it ties to and the importance of that goal), What you need (providing any important instructions, parameters, and background information), and by When (the deadline). Establish the appropriate check-in process to ensure you are kept in the loop.

What is easy to do is also easy not to do. While these practices are simple, most leaders don’t take the time to be purposeful and end up managing at a tactical level, not leading at a strategic level. A small amount of effort can lead to much better results. If you want to be an exceptional leader and achieve your business goals this year, you need to operate at a strategic level. Take one hour to implement these four practices, and you will have a system in place to lead you to success.

I’d love to hear from you: What practices do you have in place to ensure your team achieves the business goals? Share your tips in the comments below.

Three Books to Read as You Start the New Year

It’s a new year, and no doubt you have some ambitious goals you want to accomplish. This is the perfect time of year to reset and determine what is important to you to focus on this year.

I didn’t achieve all my goals last year, but it was still my best year ever. I used to feel like I failed if I didn’t accomplish all my goals, but that just put me in a negative mindset when the new year would start. It’s important to have goals that stretch you–people who have written goals accomplish more–and it’s also important to keep things in perspective and realize that you should focus on doing the best you can.

My  mantra for this year is “progress, not perfection.” I’m focused on making progress over last year, just as I do every year. As someone who values achievement, I often have to remind myself that it’s not just about the destination; that the journey is what life is about, the small moments every day that contribute to a fulfilling life. And while I have some lofty goals, I’m not expecting myself to be super human.

If you want to make great progress this year, there are three books I recommend putting at the top of your reading list. These three books will create a positive mindset and inspire you to take action, accomplish many of your goals, and make this year your best yet.

  1. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. This book will not only give you the principles for multiplying your success, it will motivate and inspire you to become greater. There is no magic bullet or secret to becoming successful. It all happens as a result of the compound effect. Small daily choices and habits lead to significant results. Darren says that you already know all that you need to succeed. Learning new strategies and tactics is not the issue. You just need a new plan of action. Although the concept is not new, the book is full of inspiring stories and impactful exercises that will motivate you to elevate your life. I couldn’t put the book down, and I reread my notes at the beginning of each year.
  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This classic personal development book is as relevant today as it was almost 30 years ago. Covey writes that our character is a composite of our habits. The seven habits are: Be proactive, Begin with the end in mind, Put first things first, Think win/win, Seek first to understand, then to be understood, Synergize, and Sharpen the saw. These habits will help you to be a better leader, partner, parent, and employee. The principles can change your perspective and change your life.
  1. The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield isn’t just a book about professional success; it’s a book about life success. Canfield shares 67 principles that will propel you to success. That may seem like a lot of principles, but some of them are so simple, it’s a matter of making a decision and sticking to it. Whether you want to become more clear about your purpose in life, achieve greater levels of success, become a better leader, increase your confidence, or become a better parent, this book will transform your life. I felt so motivated and inspired by this book, that I signed up for Jack’s training on how to teach these principles.

I’d love to hear from you. What books do you think are great reads for the beginning of the year? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

A Vision Exercise for the New Year

Organizations that have a vision of where they want to go and can align the entire organization around that vision create momentum towards their goals. Just like it’s important to create a vision in an organization, if you want to make positive changes in your life, creating a vision for each area of your life can be a powerful way to get clarity around what you want.

One of the main reasons why most people don’t get what they want is that they haven’t decided what they want. A vision is a mental picture of a preferred future.

As you prepare for the new year, first take a look back on the past year to set yourself up for continued success. Following are some questions to contemplate.

  • What were my biggest achievements, both personal and professional, in the past year?. This sets you in a positive frame of mind and creates energy around progress and accomplishments from the year.
  • What were my biggest learnings in the past year? Once you have reflected on your accomplishments and learnings from the past year, turn your attention to the coming year.

Imagine it is December of next year. What would you like your life to be like, both professionally and personally, one year from now? Close your eyes and let your mind wander about your ideal life one year from now. If you find it challenging to visualize your ideal life, take one area of your life at a time. Following is a list of the seven most important areas of life with a few starter questions to get you thinking. This is about what you want, so let your mind visualize what would be ideal for you. Take one area at a time, close your eyes and visualize for a few minutes, then open your eyes and write down your vision.

Financial: What is your ideal annual income and monthly cash flow? How much money do you have in savings? What other financial goals would you like to achieve in the next year?

Job/Career: Where are you working? What are you doing? Did you receive a promotion that you have been working toward? Are there other job achievements you want to accomplish?

Recreation: How do you spend your free time? Are there hobbies you are pursuing? Is there a family trip you want to take? What do you do for fun?

Physical health: Do you exercise and eat healthy food? Are you disease free or pain free? Are you taking a class at a local gym? Exercising outside? Drinking more water? How does your body feel? Are you flexible and full of energy?

Relationships: What are your relationships like with the important people in your life? What kinds of things do you do together? Are your relationships loving and supportive?

Personal: are there areas you want to develop in? Are you going back to school, taking a cooking class, or learning a new language? Are you traveling to other countries? Running a marathon? Meditating regularly?

Service /Community: Are you volunteering in your community or involved in other work that makes a difference? Who are you helping?

Based on what you visualized, what are three to five goals you would like to focus on for the next year? Is there a specific area of your life you would like to improve?

Once you have determined the most important goals you want to set for the new year, the next step is to create specific actions and timelines. One of the main reasons why many people don’t make traction on their goals is that they are too vague. Goals should be specific enough to create clarity so you know exactly how to take action. There is a difference between an intention and an effective goal.

  • Intention: Improve engagement on my department team
  • Goal: I will meet with each of my employees and ask them how they like to be recognized by February 15, 2017

Once you have taken the time to visualize your ideal life one year from now and created your most important goals, spend time each day visualizing your goals as completed. This will keep you energized about your goals so that you can stay connected to them and create momentum toward achieving them.

Now I’d love to hear from you: What is the vision you have for one area of your life, one year from now?

Share your vision in the comments section below.