Tag 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.

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.

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.

The #1 Mistake When Setting Strategic Goals

When it comes to goals, Tony Robbins says that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what they can accomplish in ten years. When you look back on the past year, did you accomplish all you set out to do? If so, congratulations! For the rest of us, I’d like to offer a perspective about how to make next year your best one yet.

Whether you are setting goals as a leader in your organization, or more personal in nature, there is one mistake most people make: they set too many. Most organizations create way too many strategic goals or “priorities” and end the year having half-fulfilled a bunch of intentions that didn’t make the impact they desired in the business.  It’s hard enough to harness a whole organization of people around one goal, let alone fifteen or twenty. And we all know that one strategic goal probably involves ten projects to complete. Employees become confused because they are so many “priorities” they don’t know where to focus. And focus is essential for achieving results. As Jim Collins said in his book, Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.”

So how do you utilize the power of focus? First, you must have clarity. The entire organization needs to be clear about what they are working toward. As a leader, you must communicate over, and over, and over again to reinforce the message and goals you are working toward. Only then will you harness the power of a collective group of people who make things happen and get results.

So think big, but in small numbers. Meaning, set some grand goals for your organization, but keep it to a manageable number so you can achieve extraordinary results instead of mediocre results.

As you move into the new year and start rolling out the new annual goals and initiatives, think about these four things:

Do we have the resources to achieve all the goals we have set? Many leaders spend two days at an off-site retreat creating strategic goals, but fail to think through the next step: do we have the resources to achieve these goals? Resources might be employee time, money, or training. Often, the IT department is involved in many, if not all of the annual goals. Do you have the resources in IT to manage the projects successfully? What do you need in order to achieve each of these annual and strategic goals? Just by thinking through the required resources, you may discover that some of your goals really aren’t achievable with the available resources at this time. Or you may decide you need to take resources from one initiative and allocate them to another, more important goal.

Are all of these goals really a priority this year? Many organizations create a “wish list” instead of a realistic goal list. Throwing goals on the list hoping that you might get to it is not a good strategy. As a leadership team, it is useful to go through each goal and discuss if it should be a priority for the year, and why. For example, perhaps one of your goals is to implement a new type of software next year. For some organizations, this might be an immediate and important project that must get done in the next year. For other companies, it might just be nice to get it done, but it’s not really a priority compared to some other pressing issues. Perhaps adding positions in  a department is much more important than implementing a new software system. The point is, every organization is different, and it’s prudent to dissect each goal to determine where the best focus of time, money and energy will be.

What is our plan for communicating these priorities? Once you have determined your most important priorities for the year, the leadership team needs to determine how you will communicate these priorities to managers and staff. This important step is often overlooked or underestimated. The very people who are tasked with accomplishing the projects to achieve these goals are often the ones who don’t have clarity on what they should be doing. Your job as a leader is to create absolute clarity around where employees should be focusing their efforts, and then continue to communicate the message consistently throughout the year. A great book that will walk you through this process is The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.

What process will we use to track our strategic and annual goals? Whether it’s a software system or regular meetings, you must have a way to track progress and make adjustments when necessary. Communication is essential in this step, as the more goals you have, the more projects are involved. How will your employees communicate goal progress to you so you can make sure the credit union is on track to meet the goals?

These principles can also be applied to your personal life. The reason most people don’t achieve their New Year goals or resolutions is that they set too many goals and don’t think through their strategy. The key is to pick a few priorities that will have the biggest impact in your life, and think through how you will achieve the goal. This includes setting the proper expectations for progress. One of the most common goals on resolution lists is to lose weight, yet most people don’t think through their plan of how they will accomplish it. They jump right in and get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results. Results aren’t immediate;  progress happens little by little and compounds over time. The book, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy will inspire you to take those small steps to achieve your goals.

As you prepare to make next year the year of clarity and achievement for your organization, I would recommend reading the following three books that will support your leadership team in getting excellent results:

  • The One Thing by Gary Keller
  • The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
  • Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Success doesn’t just happen. It requires clarity around the goals, followed by consistent effort. But with proper planning and regular communication, your organization can knock it out of the park next year.

I’d love to hear from you–how many strategic goals have you found to be the limit for ensuring they are all accomplished?

How to Develop Your Leadership Brand

What value do you bring as a leader? What do you stand for? How do others see you?

When you think of branding, you might think of marketing strategies used at big companies like Disney, Apple, or Zappos. But we all have a brand, whether we realize it or not.

Your personal brand is how you appear to the world. It’s how others see you. It’s your reputation. Your strengths, values, behaviors, and habits all form your personal brand.

Your leadership brand conveys your identity and distinctiveness as a leader. What value to you bring as a leader? What do you stand for? How do others see you?

Most professionals and leaders are not even aware of what their leadership brand is.

Your leadership brand is very important. It’s the basis of many decisions made in the workplace.

When your boss and other leaders are making decisions about promotions or other factors, your leadership brand is impacting these decisions, whether you realize it or not. Your personal strengths and talents plus your behaviors is the value you bring to the people you serve. It’s important to know your strengths and personality and leverage them.

When thinking about your leadership brand, there are two considerations:

  1. How you are seen internally in your organization: your boss, peers, direct reports, board of directors, and others
  1. How you are seen by others outside of your organization: on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter and at events like Industry meetings, networking events, workshops, and trainings.

There is often a gap between how we want to be viewed and how others view us. Perceptions are not always reality, but perceptions are how other people view us through their own filter.

How do you know what your leadership brand is?

Before you determine what you want to be known for and how you want to be seen, it’s important to determine how others view you now. Once you become aware of your leadership brand, you can shift your behaviors or actions to consciously design your leadership brand.

There are many ways to gain feedback on your performance and how others perceive you. First, ask yourself, how do others view me?

How do you show up at work?  Passive, disengaged, mediocre, thrown together, OR engaged, passionate, supportive, positive, professional, and polished? Are you spending time at the coffee station complaining? Or are you seen as a supportive and positive influence?

How do you show up in life? Are you late to meetings, and unprepared? Do you miss deadlines? Can you handle issues yourself, or do you upward delegate to your manager? Do you deliberately coach and develop your employees?

How do you show up outside of work?  Are you approachable and friendly at outside events? Do you keep to yourself, or use networking to your advantage? How do you show up on social media? Does your picture reflect who you want to portray? Is it professional? Are your posts negative or positive? Personally, I avoid talking about politics and other sensitive subjects on social media.

How do you show up at industry events? Passive, unprofessional, insecure, uninterested, OR professional, positive, upbeat, smiling and confident?  You should always be mindful of what others are experiencing about you. People are always forming impressions.

In addition to self-reflection, you can also employ feedback tools such as:

  • 360 degree assessment
  • Asking your manager for feedback
  • Asking colleagues for feedback
  • Conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis
  • Using a program like Survey Monkey to survey colleagues about your strengths and development opportunities

 Once you understand how you are currently perceived, you can use that information to deliberately design your leadership brand. Think about how you want to be viewed inside and outside of your credit union. Designing your leadership brand is not about trying to be someone you are not. Rather, it’s understanding who you are and how you want to be perceived by others.

Every interaction you have with someone is an opportunity—an opportunity to make a great impression, an opportunity for a promotion, an opportunity to connect with someone who may be your next boss, or an opportunity to attract new opportunities.

Your leadership brand can take years to build, but can be ruined overnight. Be mindful of how you are perceived, both inside and outside of your organization. You want to carefully manage and protect your brand.

Let’s start today to deliberately shape your leadership brand.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when crafting your leadership brand:

  • What do I want to be known for as  a leader?
  • How might others currently perceive me?
  • What is the gap?
  • What behaviors can I start changing immediately?
  • What actions can I take in the next 7 days?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What is one aspect of your leadership brand you want to leverage? Are there any behaviors you can change to positively impact your brand?