Tag Archives: Management

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.

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?

5 Ways to Earn a Promotion or Raise

I was recently facilitating a leadership program and a participant expressed her frustration that she hadn’t been promoted. Lately, her supervisor had assigned her some extra work, and she felt she should be recognized and compensated for the additional effort. She went to her boss to advocate for a promotion, and was surprised when her efforts were unsuccessful and her manager was annoyed by the request.

There may be times when asking for a promotion is necessary. If you have consistently used the strategies I share below and you are viewed as a high performer, then perhaps it’s time to ask for a promotion or seek other opportunities. But a better approach is to strategically position yourself for a promotion or raise.

Advocating for a raise or promotion (even if you deserve it) usually doesn’t work because your manager may feel backed into a corner. She may not feel you are prepared for a new role, and now she needs to communicate that to you. Even if she does feel you deserve a promotion, now she may feel pressured to act on it.  Either way, it puts your manager in a position of having something else on her plate to deal with.

When you ask for a promotion or raise just because you’ve taken on some additional work, it may come across as entitled or self-focused. The perception is that you care more about your own interests than the needs of the company.

The best approach is to take full ownership of your professional development and prove yourself before you get the promotion.

Below are five strategies for earning the promotion or raise you want:

Take 100% responsibility. Many people believe it’s their managers responsibility to develop them for future growth opportunities. While great leaders do invest time in developing their employees, you should take responsibility for your own development. Delegating your development to your manager is an indication that you won’t take full ownership of a new role. Managers are looking for self-starters who are confident and capable of getting results. Now is the time to prove you possess these traits. Are there new skills you need to learn before you take on a new role? Sign up for a course. Do you need to learn more about the financial side of the business to expand your organizational breadth? Ask someone in finance to mentor you. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do. Take ownership of your career.

Share your professional goals. Have you shared your professional goals with your manager? Your boss can’t support you if she doesn’t know what your personal and professional goals are. If you are interested in a leadership role, share that with your manager and ask her what you would need to do to achieve that goal. Your manager is a great resource for communicating specific actions you need to take to position yourself for a new role.

Earlier in my career, I started working for a credit union as the assistant manager of the call center. A year later, I realized I wanted to work in leadership and human resources. I approached the human resources vice president and told her I was interested in moving into her department. Although there weren’t any positions available at the time, six months later when a position did become available, I was chosen over another internal candidate because I had shared my goals with the VP and had enrolled in an HR class on my own time. Don’t wait for someone else to notice you. Ask for what you want.

Go above and beyond. Don’t wait for a promotion to take on extra work. Be of service before you get the promotion. Ask for additional responsibilities and stretch projects that will prepare you for future roles. This illustrates that you are a hard worker who is willing to support your boss and the organization, and that you are an action-oriented, motivated employee who wants to help your boss succeed.

I believe one quality that helped me to earn four promotions in four years, was supporting my boss any way possible. If she talked about a project she wanted to implement or something we needed to get done in the department, I would step in and take care of it. I took things off her plate and followed through. Go the extra mile to help your manager look good. Become an employee who is easy to delegate to and who welcomes new responsibilities.

Ask for feedback. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a promotion is to ask for feedback on your current performance. Don’t wait until your annual evaluation. At least quarterly, ask your manager to rate your performance. A great tool is the feedback scale. Ask your boss:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate my current performance?

If he says a ’10’, ask, “What did I do to get such a high score?” (this gives you feedback on what to continue).

If he rates you lower than a 10, ask, “What would make it a 10?” (this gives you feedback on what to start or stop doing).

Also ask what knowledge, skills, or abilities are important to be successful in the position you aspire to, and ask your manager to rate you on each of those factors. This may initially feel uncomfortable, but the way to get promoted is to get as much information as you can to improve your skills and performance.

Be a solution provider, not a problem finder. Don’t go to your boss and point out the problems in the department or the organization. Take ownership of problems and come to your manager with solutions. Even if you don’t know the answer to a problem, think through how you might approach it before going to your boss. Managers don’t need more on their plate. They are looking for employees who will take ownership of their role and bring solutions instead of problems.

Employees are rarely promoted for meeting expectations in their position. It takes some extra effort to show your dedication to the organization and the value you bring. If you take 100% responsibility for your development, you dramatically increase your chances of getting that raise or promotion you have come to deserve.

Now I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve been promoted in your career, what did you do to earn the promotion? What advice do you have for someone who wants to move up in their company?

Share your comments below.

Millennials Are Not The Problem…You Are

I was preparing breakfast for my three kids last weekend, and my three year-old son was whining and crying like someone had stolen his blankie. “What’s wrong, Luca?” I said (sort-of) calmly. “I wanted the blue cup!!” he yelled. I could feel my impatience start to creep in as I poured his milk from the green cup into the blue cup. As I set it down on the table he yelled, “Not there! I want it on the other side of the plate!!” A full-on tantrum ensued.

“This is so irrational!” I said to Luca. “Who cares what color cup it is in. C’mon, Buddy, just eat your breakfast!”

If you’ve ever tried to rationalize with a toddler, you know it’s a lost cause. They aren’t wired to think like an adult, and yet as parents, we often implore our children to react to situations like they have the frame of mind of a 30 year-old. The issue is; they aren’t adults. They don’t think like we do!

So how is this story relevant? We sometimes approach the younger generation of employees the same way. We get frustrated, angry, and impatient as we try to school them in how things really work in the world. We think they are entitled and overconfident, and we want to put them in their place.

Well, Millennials don’t think like we do. And trying to assert our perspective and experience on a generation that has grown up in a different time is like trying to rationalize with a three year-old (and no, I’m not comparing Millenials to children).

This younger generation of workers are emerging into the workforce. By 2020, Millennials will make up 50% of employees in our organizations.

Many leaders are feeling challenged as they try to figure out how to effectively manage this younger generation who have been labeled by some as entitled, impatient, and idealistic.

I mean, how dare they come into the workforce and expect meaning and autonomy in their work! Don’t they know they have to pay their dues and work twenty years for a promotion, just like the rest of us did?!

They want consistent feedback? They need to learn how to wait until their annual performance evaluation (that probably won’t be on time) and create an annual development plan with their manager that can be documented appropriately by HR.

They want autonomy and input in their daily work? They need to do what they’re told and get used to being micromanaged by their boss.

They want to feel passion for a bigger cause and engaged at a deeper level? They want to actually enjoy their work? They just need to come to work and do their job and be miserable like the rest of us.

They want us to ‘coach’ them regularly? I don’t have time to sit down and handhold them.

These statements may sound dramatic, but I hear these negative sentiments about Millennials regularly from leaders across all industries.

Let me ask you this: wouldn’t you like a job that is not only meaningful and engaging, but where you can work independently and your ideas and opinions are valued? Wouldn’t you like your manager to sit down with you once in a while and provide you with meaningful feedback to help you get better at what you do? Wouldn’t you like to go to work every day feeling positive about your contribution, and feel appreciated and valued by your organization?

Who wouldn’t want these things?

We need to stop viewing Millennials as aliens and wake up and see the value they bring to the workplace. They are expecting more from their employers and leaders, and that just might be a good thing.

We are approaching the “millennial issue” all wrong. We are focused on how different this generation is from previous generations, and fail to see how much we are really alike. They are really not much different than you and me. Yes, their expectations are high, and that’s probably because they grew up in a global economy where they were exposed to more options and possibilities. As Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, most of us have been conditioned to work hard and appreciate the job we have. Millennials have been conditioned to see the possibilities and go after what they want.

The friction we are witnessing between the generations is really a discomfort leaders are feeling because we are being pressured to change. We can’t lead like we used to. We can’t issue directives and focus just on results and not people. We can’t put coaching and development and engagement on the back burner and be successful. So when this younger generation comes along and bucks the trend, what do we naturally want to do? Blame them.

It’s not Millennials who need to change. It’s us. We need to change. We need to stop blaming and criticizing (which will get us nowhere) and take responsibility for our leadership. We should stop complaining and realize that this generation is prompting us to grow and change; to create exceptional cultures where people love to come to work. And we will all reap the benefits from this shift.

So next time you work with an employee from the Millennial generation, say “thank you”. Thank you for bringing to light what we all really want in our work–meaning, contribution, and the desire to be part of a great organization.

As a parent, I can’t change my son’s reaction to the color cup he gets with breakfast. But I can change my response. Frustration and anger don’t work. Acceptance and kindness do.

Not all change is bad. So let’s step into true leadership and see this generation as an opportunity to grow our leadership skills and create exceptional cultures and organizations.

The Top 5 Reasons Employees Leave

In 1998, I moved from my native New York to Washington, DC searching for a fresh start. I needed to get away after some of the toughest months of my life: my parents were divorcing after 25 years of marriage, I had just broken up with my boyfriend, and my grandfather had just died of Alzheimer’s disease. I figured things could only get better. My best friend from college lived in DC, so I quit my job, loaded my Saturn SL with all my belongings, and moved 300 miles away to a new city with no job.

I was pretty new in the corporate world, so I was willing to start near the bottom and work my way up. I took a job at a small technology firm as an office manager. On my first day, the HR director told me they were going to sit me at the front desk temporarily until they hired a receptionist. She also told me that the CEO didn’t like the title “office manager,” so they would be changing my title to “administrative assistant.” Needless to say, the three months I spent with the company were not my happiest. I was disengaged, didn’t trust management, and didn’t feel appreciated.

Have you ever had an experience working in a job you didn’t love? It’s tough to stay engaged if you work for a micromanaging boss, if the work environment is stifling, or there’s no sense of appreciation from management.

Unfortunately, my experience of feeling disengaged on the job is more the norm than the exception for many people.

Studies show the top reasons employees quit include:

  • Not feeling appreciated
  • No advancement opportunities or development
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of clarity around expectations
  • A bad boss

Most leaders think the reason employees leave is because of money. While being paid fairly is important, for most employees, other factors like a great work environment, a good boss, and work-life balance contribute to better engagement at work.

So, how do you ensure you keep your top employees? Below are three simple tips for increasing engagement on your team.

Upgrade your leadership skills. Being a leader is more challenging today than ever before. Employees have more choices and opportunities. The expectations are higher. Exceptional leaders always look to improve their leadership skills by reading books, listening to leadership podcasts, and attending conferences and training classes to enhance their skills. One of my favorite leadership resources is Success magazine. Each issue is packed with leadership tips and even has a CD with interviews from leadership experts.

Conduct stay interviews. Most organizations conduct exit interviews to gather feedback when employees quit. A stay interview is when you have a conversation before the employee decides to leave. The purpose is to understand what will keep your best employees engaged. If you want to learn how to conduct an effective stay interview, I offer tips in this article: Stay Interviews

Hold regular staff meetings. According to research firm Gallup, employees are three times more likely to be engaged when their manager holds regular staff meetings. Use your staff meetings to set priorities, answer questions, and coach your employees through challenges. Most employees feel they are given little guidance for understanding what is expected of them. Individual coaching sessions and regular staff meetings help to create clarity for your team.

Engagement isn’t just about having happy employees. It’s about having productive employees. And productivity increases your revenues and impacts your bottom line. Productive employees tend to be happier, which decreases your turnover rates. This all adds up to a more profitable business.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. In the comments section below, tell me:

What is one thing you do to keep your employees engaged?

Characteristics of Influential Leaders

My first job after college was as a help desk service representative in an insurance company. I knew it wasn’t a position I wanted to be in long-term, but it was a way to get my foot in the door. After working in that position for a few months, I realized that I wanted to work towards a leadership role. It seemed so glamorous–having the authority to make decisions, being in charge of a department, and making more money. Setting my sights on leadership seemed like the next best step.

As I moved up the leadership ranks in my career, I realized leadership was very different than my first impression. It wasn’t about prestige, power, money, or authority. It was about service, humility, relationships, and influence. In fact, being a leader wasn’t as exciting and glamorous as I had expected. It came with a lot of responsibility, a lot of headaches, and some choices that weren’t always easy to make. There were many moments of impact and fulfillment, but there were also times of high demands and high stress.

I had the blessing of having a few excellent leaders in my career who modeled great leadership through coaching, developing, and mentoring . I also had several bosses who taught me what not to do. These leaders were focused on themselves; how much power and control they had and how to expand their turf. Although working for the latter wasn’t inspiring or easy, I learned from these experiences. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, and having the desire to lead and the skills to lead are two different things. Having the desire to be a leader is important, but desire must be met with modern and influential leadership skills.

Leadership isn’t about working our way up the corporate ladder to one day finally arrive and say, “Wow, I’ve made it.” True leadership is a journey, not a destination. Leadership is a state of being, not a role one fills while at work. The work toward leadership isn’t just important for when we prepare for a leadership role. In fact, once “appointed” a leadership role, the real work has just begun.

We all know people in leadership roles who are not true leaders. Being promoted and granted a title does not make one a leader. Leadership is not an appointment, it’s a process. You become a leader. It’s about being. It’s not just directing a team, signing off on paperwork, delegating responsibility or setting goals. Effective leaders strive for constant improvement to better themselves every day. They strive to impact those around them. They look outside themselves and seek a bigger impact in their organization and perhaps even in the world. Leadership is not just about learning a few new tools or strategies, it’s learning a new way of being.

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.

I believe we have a leadership crisis in this world. We have many leaders who aspire for the title and for the prestige and power. And some who strive for a leadership role because they see it as the next step in their career. But few people view leadership as an opportunity for impact. Few people have the competencies and skills necessary for influential leadership.

Most people look at what they will gain when they become a leader, yet very few look at what they can give. Leadership is a privilege and a responsibility.

True leadership is much bigger than a fancy office, more money, and the ability to be in charge and call the shots.

How do you know you are on the right path?

In my work with executives and managers, I have found several characteristics that influential leaders possess:

  • A dedication to continuous learning: influential leaders strive to improve every day. They read books, listen to audios, read articles, and seek to gain more information about their industry, as well as how to become a better leader and person. They are very self aware; they understand their strengths and weaknesses, and are not afraid to hire others to fill the gaps. They are always in a state of learning and encourage their employees to grow and develop.
  • A focus on others: influential leaders aren’t in leadership for themselves, they are there to make an impact on others. They provide clarity, direction, appreciation, and support to their employees. They make their employees a priority and invest time and effort into helping each individual reach their peak performance and potential. They are not afraid to provide constructive feedback, for they know it’s about facilitating improvement and is in service to the greater good.
  • Emotional intelligence: influential leaders realize that great leadership isn’t just about driving the agenda and getting results. They understand the importance of people, and they are approachable, compassionate, supportive, and great listeners. They understand that employees are people who have desires, goals and fears.
  • Ability to create a stable environment: even in the midst of organizational change and uncertainty, influential leaders foster an environment of stability. They do this by being dependable, honest, trustworthy and respectful. They follow through on their word and possess a high level of integrity. They don’t have all the answers, and they are not afraid to admit mistakes. They model behaviors that reinforce integrity and trust.

Certainly effective leaders need to possess some talent, confidence, and strategic ability. But what separates the mediocre leaders from the exceptional leaders are the qualities that go beyond technical and strategic mastery. They are skills that cultivate an environment of engagement, trust, loyalty and growth.

The world needs more of these leaders. We need the next generation of leaders to bring change to our organizations and cultivate true and influential leadership.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think we have a leadership crisis in many of our organizations? What characteristics do you think are important to be an influential leader? Share your comments below.

How Mindset Affects Your Leadership

Have you ever come across a manager who didn’t feel he or she needed improvement?

Psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University has done research on mindset and how the mindset you choose significantly affects how you lead your life. Dweck’s extensive research has shown that a manager’s mindset can have a significant impact on your business as well. Dweck indentifies two mindsets: 

Fixed mindset: intelligence is a fixed trait

Growth mindset: intelligence is a flexible quality; intelligence can be developed

Fixed mindset leaders believe looking smart is most important. They perceive effort as negative since they believe their intelligence is fixed and effort undermines their natural abilities. Growth mindset leaders believe learning is more important than looking smart. They perceive effort as positive since the more effort you exert, the more you can develop and grow. One study revealed the common characteristics of managers for both mindsets:

 Fixed mindset managers:

  • Do not admit and correct their deficiencies
  • Do not notice improvement in their employees; first impressions last
  • Don’t have an accurate view of themselves (they try to block negative information)
  • Don’t mentor their employees as much
  • Can’t take criticism

 Growth mindset managers:

  •  Notice improvement and growth in their employees
  • Provide better quality coaching and development
  • Have an accurate view of themselves
  • Mentor employees rather than judge them
  • Understand a large part of their job is to nurture the skills and abilities of employees

 The good news is that we can change our mindset. A group of managers who went through a “growth mindset workshop” showed more openness to feedback, a greater willingness to mentor employees, and openness to employee change after they completed the workshop.

Understanding mindset and how it affects a manager’s impact is an important consideration in developing current and future leaders.

Are You Driving Away Great Employees?

I once worked for an organization that had a 20 page travel policy. This policy went into excruciating detail about the dos and don’ts of travel, including the limits of how much could be spent at each meal. This was just one example of a practice that set the tone of distrust and micromanagement throughout the organization. Whether the company intended to or not, the leadership team created an employer-centered culture that left little room for ownership and empowerment.

As a former human resources executive, I can appreciate protecting the organization by being explicit with boundaries and expectations. But I believe many organizations are taking it too far. We have become so extreme in our efforts to ensure employees don’t take advantage of the organization, that we take an offensive approach by creating policies and practices that nearly take the common sense out of working. The result is a culture where employees feel micromanaged, deflated and uninspired.

Many organizations focus on implementing engagement activities to retain employees, but often neglect to look at practices that might be driving away great employees. What sets the exceptional organization apart from the mediocre organization is a balanced approach to ensure all practices are cultivating an environment of engagement and ownership.

Below are three strategies to ensure you are not driving away great employees:

Shift from employer-centered to employee-centered. This is a leadership mindset that creates the overall culture of the organization. Take a look at all your policies, practices, handbooks, employee experiences, letters, and so on, and determine if they are employer-centered or employee-centered. Do they set a tone of trust and ownership, or of micromanagement and distrust? Employer-centered policies assume that people need everything spelled out for them and are highly specific and rigid.

Employee-centered policies provide guidelines, but treat employees as adults and assumes they will use common sense.

Create an exceptional onboarding experience. Put yourself in the shoes of a new employee when you look at your practices and ask yourself if this is an organization you would love to work for.

If you were a new employee reading over your company handbook, would you bristle, or feel welcomed? One of my clients starting sending an Edible Arrangement to new employees the week before they started work with the organization. The impact from this practice has been phenomenal. The CEO has received appreciate voicemails from new hires, and many have remarked that they felt very special and welcomed. What can you do to create an awesome experience for new hires that wins them over as soon as they join your team?

Become a purposeful leader. Most leaders take a reactive approach to management rather than a purposeful and meaningful approach. A purposeful leader is in touch with the departmental culture and focuses on cultivating an environment of development, coaching, and involvement. Two of the top reasons employees leave organizations is that they don’t receive quality feedback and that they don’t get the coaching they need to develop. Traditional managers are driving away great employees by only reacting when necessary and not designing a meaningful relationship with employees to provide feedback and coaching and involve them in decisions.