The Key to Being a Flexible Leader

leadershipThe Key to Being a Flexible Leader

One of the qualities of a great leader is the ability to be flexible.

Leaders who are flexible are those who are able to adapt their ideas to fit with the circumstances at hand. Flexible leaders have a clear vision, and go with the flow when it comes to bringing that vision to life. Leaders who the ability to be flexible are those who listen to their teams, finding ways to blend and incorporate diverse thoughts, rather than ignoring the ideas of others in favor of their own.

Generally speaking, flexibility is a quality that is much admired in leaders. People like to feel like their requests will be accommodated, their ideas will be considered, their thoughts will be given merit. Flexibility – otherwise known as the ability to accommodate – and effective leadership go hand-in-hand.

It is possible, however, for flexibility to be an undesirable leadership trait.

When flexibility starts to look like “wishy-washiness”, things can quickly go off the rails. This usually happens when a leader becomes more concerned with being liked, than leading effectively. In other words, when leaders confuse flexibility with likeability, problems arise.

The ability to be flexible is not about ensuring that people like you. Instead, flexibility – or the ability to accommodate – is about understanding that as a leader you might not have all the answers, and that others may well have ideas that can enhance, enrich and evolve direction. From this understanding, when one is flexible, choices and decisions are made in service of the team’s big-picture agenda.

So, how do you know when your desire to be flexible is actually serving the team’s agenda? It boils down to your motivation. If, as a leader, you feel called to be flexible because you don’t want to upset someone, you’re not really be flexible, you’re striving to be likeable. If, however, the flexibility you want to demonstrate comes from a belief that a change in plan will serve the bigger picture, then you’re on the right track.

Bottom-line: as a leader, being flexible can be a very good thing – unless you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Flexibility that moves your team closer to its agenda is what is called for. Anything else is likely about winning popularity – and that will always end in tears.

communicationCut to the Chase: How Brevity Makes Communication Better

Wah wah wah wah wah.

Admit it. You have been in conversations where that is all you’ve heard. You’ve zoned out. And when asked for a response, you couldn’t give one.  Odds are there was so much detail being provided that you got lost. This scenario happens a LOT. And as leaders it’s a scenario you’d best avoid.

Leadership requires clear communication.

Often, we confuse clarity with details. While details can be helpful, they can also create murkiness. From a leadership standpoint, your communication must provide NECESSARY details, without traveling into that murky space.

The ability to “bottom-line” is the key.

Bottom-lining is the art of saying what’s needed – nothing more and nothing less. Bottom-lining keeps things simple. You assume a certain level of competence and understanding. You give listeners credit for being able to ask for more information, if they need it.  In short, you trust yourself to share what you need, and your listeners to ask for what they need.

So, what is it that prompts us to “overshare”?

Simply put, we don’t create containers that are conducive to clear communication. Instead, we create environments where we are constantly moving. We don’t give people time to share. Within this framework, there’s a fear that something will get overlooked – so we try to cram everything into the time and space we have, which leads to detail-overload.

What’s the solution?

Slow down. Think. Trust.

It’s a simple process – and it’s an effective one. It’s about being present to what is – the question being asked, the problem being presented, the person looking for a solution. Then, as the old adage says, think before you speak. Say only what needs to be said. And trust that it’s all that’s needed.

Bottom-line: details aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When used in excess, they can actually be more trouble than they’re worth. So cut to the chase, and allow the rest to unfold.

cheering-womanAre You Doing Your Best?

Always Do Your Best.

Four weeks ago when I started this article series based on Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, I shared with you that the book was an easy read, albeit with challenging concepts to implement.  The paradox of this book is part of what I love.  Intellectually, each of the agreements is very easily understood.  From an implementation standpoint, however, to say that the agreements pose a challenge is a bit of an understatement.  First, Be Impeccable With Your Word; Second, Don’t Take Things Personally; Third, Don’t Make Assumptions; these are tall orders!  And yet, the fourth agreement really does bring it all together, providing a framework – a context – that facilitates the implementation of the agreements, such that you don’t have to berate yourself or give up on yourself at any time.

Your best isn’t always what you think it is.

At first glance, the fourth agreement can seem as challenging a mandate as any of the others.  I mean, is it really possible to be at the top of your game 100% of the time?  Isn’t it likely that you’ll slip up once in a while?

Well, according to Ruiz, YOUR BEST isn’t about being at the top of your game 100% of the time; instead, your best changes from moment to moment, depending on circumstances and situations as the case might be.  What constitutes your best when you are highly energized, enthused and motivated is different from the best that you can deliver when you are sleep-deprived, ill or pre-occupied with other considerations.  From Ruiz’s standpoint, this is what he wants you to bear in mind and use as your gauge for determining how you’re measuring up.

This agreement is NOT about letting you off the hook.

The fourth agreement is in no way a free pass to be less than optimal, and then excuse your way out of honouring any of the preceding agreements.  In other words, it does not serve for you to ignore your health needs, be sluggish all the time, and use this as a reason for taking things personally.  Your objective is to endeavour to be at your best at all times, so that you can deliver your corresponding best at all times.  With that being said, it is absolutely necessary for you to understand that your best will fluctuate. So the question for you to hold and always be asking yourself is, “am I doing my best in this moment?”

To hold yourself up to someone else’s benchmarks doesn’t serve.

The whole question of whether or not you’re doing your best is the only gauge that matters.    To measure your progress against expectations set up outside of yourself isn’t nearly as meaningful as measuring yourself against what you know yourself to be capable of.  The key is complete and total honesty; you must honestly push yourself to deliver your best, even while knowing what your limits are and what you’re best actually is.  Yes, this agreement allows you to cut yourself some slack, in that it recognizes the perfection inherent in your human imperfection.  That being said, it also challenges you to find ways to be at your optimum, so that your best can actually be your best.  When you’re not delivering your best, and you know when that is, you are provided with the opportunity to do what needs to be done so that your best improves the next time you’re presented with a similar circumstance.

Bottom-line:  as challenging as the four agreements can be, you are not required to be perfect in your interactions. You will make mistakes along the path of any and all of your relationships; that’s part of being human.  Your job is to know yourself well enough to know what you’re truly capable of, know the factors that change what you’re capable of, know how your best changes when these factors change, and then always do your best.  If you want your relationships – personal, professional and everything in between – to be their best, ensure that you always do your best, however that might look.  Always Do Your Best.  Now THAT’s the way to measure success.

assumeDistinguishing Assumptions from Truth

Don’t Make Assumptions.

This is the third agreement put forth by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, the Four Agreements; and let me tell you, it’s a doozy. In my experience – with clients, colleagues, friends, family and myself – this agreement is often the most challenging for folks. Why? Because of a specific human tendency that looks as follows:

When we don’t know the complete picture, we fill in the gaps with assumptions.

Moreover, we generally mistake many assumptions for truth.  In other words, you’re going around thinking and believing that something is a truth, when in actual fact, it’s an assumption – an inference based on a fact or two, but not the actual and complete truth when it comes right down to it.  Need an example?  Try this on for size:

Your friend comes over for a visit and walks in the door with what appears to be a stoic face – no smile whatsoever – and tosses her bag down.  Based on what you see, you “assume” she’s angry about something.  Now, you might be right.  And you might not be.  The truth is that your friend is not smiling and she’s tossed her bag down on the floor.  If you act on your assumption without checking it out – maybe by saying something like, “what’s bugging you?” you may very well prompt legitimate anger as your friend wonders why you would assume she’s angry.  If you choose a more benign approach, something like “how are you ?” you afford your friend the opportunity to clarify what’s up, what she’s feeling, and then you can respond appropriately, commiserating if need be, supporting as the case might be, or laughing at a funny encounter that has your friend perplexed.  In other words, while your inclination may be to assume that you know your friend so well that you can read her like a book, you could very well be wrong.

Standing in the place of assumption can get in the way of meaningful relationship.

This is true, whether you’re talking about personal relationships, professional relationships, neighbours, classmates – essentially, any relationship that is part of your life. Which means, when you make assumptions, you set yourself up for less fulfilling relationships, and less productive interactions.

Assumptions happen all the time.

To a certain degree, it’s how you’re hard-wired as a human being.  You’ve been trained to take data and piece it together into truth.  In the context of relationships, however, this “piecing together” doesn’t necessarily serve as well as you think it would.  There really is a way that assuming you know the whole truth, and holding your assumptions as truth can hinder the building, deepening and strengthening of meaningful relationships.

So what’s the solution? Challenge your assumptions. Ask questions. Stand in curiousity. Remember, you might not have all of the information, even when you think you do.

Bottom-line:  if you want your relationships to be the best that they possibly can, whether personal or professional, guard against making assumptions.  Take the time to discover the truth – the actual truth – and use that as your basis for action and interaction.  Assumption and truth are not one and the same.  For the sake of the relationships that truly serve, don’t make assumptions.

girl-blowing-bubblesWhat Do YOU Think About You?

Don’t take anything personally. 

This is the second agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s fabulous little book, The Four Agreements. I’ll confess, when I first read it, I thought “no problem, easy-peasy.” And then, when I started to work with it in my own world, I realized just how tall an order this was. Why? Because, so often, when we interact with one another, we internalize what’s being said. We make it our own, forgetting that personal perspective factors into everything.  This means that when someone speaks to me – even when they’re speaking about me – they’re speaking from their own vantage point. Essentially whatever they’re sharing is actually about them.

Not taking thins personally isn’t about abdicating responsibility.

Instead, what Ruiz says is that whatever someone says or does is all based on where they’re at in that moment.  When someone looks at you and says, “you’re terrible in your line of work” or “goodness, that colour looks brilliant on you!” that comment is based on their experience of you, which is being poured through their own filter.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.  The question to hold isn’t “what does that person think of you?” but rather “what do YOU think of you?”  That’s what really matters.

“What others think about you is none of your business.”

This quote is generally attributed to Jack Canfield, and I must confess, I like it.  I like the wisdom it contains. I like the freedom it entails. It’s pretty applicable to me because I do find it very easy to wonder what others think of me.  My “image” is very important to me, and yet, what I know is that I can only control my own thoughts, choices, and actions.  I actually cannot – let me repeat CANNOT – control how others receive or experience said thoughts, choices and actions. Nobody can, not even you.

When you take things personally, you abdicate power in your life.

Why would you do that?  Why make somebody else’s opinion of you matter more than your own opinion?  Yes, of course, you want to take into consideration the feedback you get from others.  This is especially true when you’re in a leadership role – teaching, parenting, or organizing. It’s called using feedback responsibly. That being said, you also want to filter it and recognize that another’s opinion is exactly that:  their opinion.  It’s not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Does this mean that you have to live with your head in the sand, holding yourself as better than (or worse than, as the case might be) you actually are?  No, of course not.  It does, however, mean that you must at all times recognize and give credence to the fact that how others are expressing themselves is always – ALWAYS – about them.  Your job is to understand this and use this understanding when filtering the opinions that come your way.

Bottom-line:  when it comes to living your life, remember, you are your own judge and jury.  How you behave and show up is about you; how others behave and show up is about them – always.  And the place where those two perspectives meet is where magic happens. Don’t let another’s opinion railroad your ability to negotiate in good faith, to make responsible choices, to lead effectively. Be clear on how you want to be experienced out there in the world then make the choices that align with that.  Seek out the opinions of others if you must; and ultimately, don’t take anything personally.


How Good is Your Word?

Be Impeccable With Your Word.

This is the first agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements: (one of my all-time favourites, and one I revisit at least once every year, in case you’re interested).

This agreement sounds simple enough, I know.  In a nutshell, it feels a little like Barbara Coloroso’s “say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’re going to do.”  It’s certainly got that sort of quality about it on the surface.  When you go a little deeper, however, impeccability of word is about so much more than that.

It’s about understanding that words are powerful.

Words can create or destroy. Words must be treated with respect, especially in your relationships.

Think about it.  Your relationships form the frame of your life to a large extent.  The people you associate with go a long way to defining who you are and how you’re perceived.  In light of this, you want to ensure that these people know what you’re about, that they experience you the way you want to be experienced, and a big way in which you’re experienced is through the words you use with one another.

Ruiz likens words to seeds, saying that as such, words can grow in ways that go beyond what our intention might be.  This is why IMPECCABILITY of word becomes essential.  When words are simply thrown about, without thought being given to how that word is landing, or the context in which it’s being planted, it’s too easy to overlook what might grow as a result.  For example, if you play a team sport, and you poke fun at a team-mate, suggesting that he or she is the weak link on the team (think of some version of “you can’t catch a ball to save your life – just kidding!”) there’s a way that that statement as a whole leaves a mark.  ALL of the words land, and which ones grow depends in large measure on the soil in which they’re landing, so to speak.  If you’re talking to someone whose self-esteem is in any way low, the “just kidding” will not have that much weight, certainly not enough to override the first part of the statement.

This does not mean that you have to sugarcoat things

Impeccability is about honesty married with an understanding of the power of language.  When you speak, when you write, when you convey words, you leave an impression.  Being impeccable with your word is about understanding this impact, and using words to create the impact you truly want, not the impact gets created by chance. Creating the impact you want, also means paying attention; you must notice how your words land, and tweak accordingly.

Bottom-line:  Ruiz’s first agreement is about conscious, deliberate, intentional use of language.  Words are powerful and must be used with reverence.  Tossing words about without consideration of the consequence isn’t acceptable, not if you want to nourish and nurture your relationships.  No matter who you’re with, be impeccable with your word.

leadershipYou’ve Totally Screwed Up; Now What?

Leaders are people too.

Leaders are not gods or demi-gods. Leaders are not exempt from human foibles of any sort; which means, leaders make mistakes from time to time.

Sometimes, leaders make huge mistakes. Errors in judgment, offensive remarks, displays of extreme emotion, actions or decisions that result in detrimental consequences – any and all of these can be made by leaders as much as they can be made by anyone else. And, when mistakes are made by leaders, they are often more glaring and subject to more scrutinty than when they’re made by others.

What’s a leader to do?

I ask this question because one of the unspoken truths when it comes to leadership is that we actually hope that our leaders will not make mistakes. Even though we understand that leaders are people too, even though we realize that all people make mistakes, leaders are held to a higher standard. And the degree to which your leadership is visible to others, the more your mistakes are subject to scrutiny. And ridicule. And, sometimes, condemnation.

So, I ask again, what’s a leader to do?

Simply put, accept responsibility. This is where too many leaders fail. Why? Because of fear.

Mistakes, generally speaking, result in some sort of undesirable outcome.  Nobody likes an undesirable outcome. We’re afraid of them. As a result what many of us do in the face of errors is we defend, deflect, or otherwise distance ourselves from mistakes. We try to make it seem like the mistake didn’t happen or, if it did, it wasn’t as detrimental as others might think, or that it really wasn’t our fault.

Defending, deflecting and distancing are not helpful actions when you’ve screwed up.

In the face of a mistake, no matter how grave, you must accept responsibility. In other words, you have to suck it up, buttercup, and push through the icky feelings that may arise as part of the accountability process. When you do this you can come out on the other side having learned from your error and able to move on.

So, how do you accept responsibility? How do you be accountable?

  1. Take a breath. Anything is more manageable when you’re conscious of your breath.
  2. Name your mistake, in as public a forum as necessary. Gauge this by taking stock of who is impacted by your mistake. The people who are impacted or will be impacted, those are the folks to whom you are accountable.
  3. Acknowledge that there may well be fallout – and accept it for what it is. This is perhaps the hardest part. Trying to avoid the fallout, or pretend it couldn’t possibly happen to you, doesn’t serve anyone.
  4. Make amends. Sincerely apologize, fix what you’ve broken, do the time that’s appropriate.
  5. Learn from your mistake; make changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. One of the things to remember when it comes to mistakes is this; the first time, it’s a mistake. After that, it’s a choice.

Bottom-line: Leadership does not preclude you from making mistakes; neither does it preclude you from taking responsibility. Leadership in any form requires you to own your mistakes. If you don’t, rest assured, your mistakes will come back to haunt you. And the fallout at that point, is likely to be greater than what it would have been in the moment.

boundariesA Truth that You are NOT Going to Like!

You are dispensable.

The world will survive without you.

No matter what you’re dealing with, the sun will go on rising and setting.

All three of these sentences are pointing to the same truth: namely, that there is a bigger, grander scheme at play, one that doesn’t actually REQUIRE you in the way that you believe you are required.

You are dispensable. And you are replaceable.

No matter your title, no matter your position within an organization, no matter your role within a system, that same system will find a way to function in your absence. And you’ve GOT to find a way to work within this truth.

In my leadership coaching work– and indeed, simply in the world around me – I regularly witness individuals acting as if they’re indispensable. Inevitably this takes the form of burning the candle at both ends, always being within arm’s reach of their phone, never allowing themselves space to be away from one thing or another. Why? Because they’re operating within a frame that says “I am needed to deal with this, to solve this problem, to help my team.”

Well, I call bullshit. (Sorry, the language feels necessary). And here’s why.

While it might seem that you are the go-to person for advice, for solutions, for answers, this is only because

  1. a) you’re around and
  2. b) you’ve allowed this to happen.

Rest assured, if you were to be elsewhere, problems would still get solved, and answers would still be found. The solutions might not be the ones you’d envision. That doesn’t mean they’re not valid, however.

I’m sharing this because I see too many folks burning themselves out, unnecessarily. It’s lovely to feel valued; and it’s lovelier to feel present, engaged, and fulfilled. If you’re depleting yourself in any way because of some distorted belief that your world needs you, then your world is going to implode sooner rather than later. And such destruction is avoidable.

So, it’s time to start implementing some boundaries, enforcing them, and understanding that any indispensability you might have lies not in you being around all the time and doing everything, but rather in you being healthy, rested, and encouraging those around you to be self-reliant. Leadership (in all its forms) is about having those around you reach their potential, rather than doing everything for them.

What sorts of boundaries can you draw?

Here are 5 to get you started:

  • Turn your smartphone off, and put it AWAY (like, out of your bedroom) at the end of the day. (for those of you who say that you need it for the alarm clock feature, go buy yourself a separate alarm clock — $5, is all you need.)
  • Leave your work at work. If you work from home, close your office door and do not enter it until the next work day.
  • Use an autoresponder to let clients/colleagues know when you are out of the office and when you plan to return. Trust me, they can wait. Better yet, implement and enforce a 24-hour rule: essentially, let folks know that you will respond to messages within 24 hours (or whatever time frame works for you) and then stick to it.
  • Implement an emergency plan that doesn’t require you to be involved. Have a trusted associate who can deal with true emergencies in your absence.
  • When you’re on vacation, turn your email OFF. Be on vacation.

Bottom-line: I know, these boundaries feel challenging to draw, especially if you’ve been making yourself available to anyone and everyone at anytime. Challenging, however, is not impossible. And if you don’t draw them, you will burn out and discover first-hand just how dispensable you are. Because in the words of Abby Lee Miller, “everyone’s replaceable.”

What’s Your Intention?

Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right”.  Rephrased, the essence of Ford’s brilliance is that your ultimate success is rooted in whether or not you believe you’ll achieve it.  Moreover – and this is the core wisdom that I want you to glean this week – your degree of success has everything to do with intention; and the power of intention applies to everything. Let me explain.

Anyone who’s ever travelled with me knows this much:  things tend to flow pretty easily when I travel.  Not necessarily perfectly, but easily.  When dealing with border crossings and customs personnel, we usually get through with ease, even if there are long line ups to contend with.  Parking spots?  Those are easily found.  Waiting for luggage?  Never a hassle.  Flight times, arrivals and departures?  Always smooth and sometimes we even arrive at our destination early.

Many years ago, as I witnessed the harried frenzy of so many people in travel-mode, I made up my mind that travelling would just be something I enjoyed.  I set the intention that travel would be an enjoyable experience in my life, something I would treasure and savour with companions whenever possible, no matter the destination. What I know is that there is no point in getting riled over stuff that is ultimately out of my control.  Sometimes flights get delayed, especially if weather is a problem.   My standing and yelling at a ticket agent is not going to change that.  So, I find a way to make the best of the situation – and I’ve always been successful at this.  This is the power of intention.

I’m talking specifically about travel in this article, because I know that many of you are in travel mode, or anticipating being in travel mode.  The summer holidays tend to encourage travel for many. That being said, the power of intention applies to all experiences. As leaders, you can set intentions around project outcomes, around meeting success, around daily practices, around team function. Whatever you are feeling challenged by, taking the time to set an intention can be of value in ensuring success. Why? Because the nature of intention is such that it precipitates specific action. And the specific action you take, will lead to your desired outcome.

Bottom-line:  intentions can be a pretty good marker for how any experience will actually turn out.  Intentions are different from hopes and wishes –intentions are more solid, more anchored, more likely to be made manifest.  So hold the intention of what you actually want.  Then, do what you need to do to help facilitate it becoming reality.  The only gap between intention and reality is time and corresponding action.  So set your intention, do what needs to be done, and give it time to come true.    Because, I assure you, it will.

journalMeaningful Ways to Mark a Milestone

Today marks an important milestone in our family. Our daughter, Olivia, is graduating grade 8. As I contemplate that fact, I feel my mind fill with questions: how did time pass so fast? How is she not still in kindergarten? What’s next on her path? How will we remember this day? How will we celebrate?

I do understand that grade 8 graduation is one of many milestones that have been achieved to date and, perhaps more importantly, one of many that lie ahead on her life’s journey. But that doesn’t minimize the significance of the milestone that’s here in front of us, today. I say this because too often, we trivialize the significance of milestones, expecting that there are “bigger ones to come”.

While bigger milestones might, in fact, lie ahead, there’s something to be said for taking the time, investing the energy, and pausing for a moment to mark THIS moment.

Understand: not every milestone requires a party or otherwise lavish celebration. All milestones do, however, merit some form of demarcation.  Here are some simple, meaningful ideas for marking milestones in your life:

  • Sit down with a journal and write down what this milestone means for you. How are you feeling? What are you proud of? What are you savouring?
  • Gather a few trusted folks around you, and share your thoughts with them. Celebrate each other.
  • Give yourself time to consider what you’ve invested to make it this far; what did you overcome? What did you learn? How have you grown?
  • Ask yourself what inspirational quote captures the essence of this moment for you: create a visual reminder of that quote and post it somewhere prominent.
  • Create an album or scrapbook that highlights your journey up to this moment.

There are a myriad of ways to mark a milestone. Too often, we limit our ideas to those that are celebratory in nature. Celebrations are wonderful; and, the ideas I’ve shared are a little less celebratory in nature. Why? Because I believe that there’s something more meaningful about in savouring, soaking in, and truly anchoring the experience.

Bottom-line: the achievement of any milestone merits the marking of that milestone. Go ahead and throw yourself a party. And, taking some time to mark the achievement meaningfully can really enrich the experience.

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Writing provides me with an outlet for sharing my insights on a regular basis. I freelance for magazines and publications as opportunity presents itself. I also channel my thoughts into regular blog posts and monthly articles. Blog posts are visible on my blog page, and an archive of articles from my monthly ezine, LAUNCH –as well as some articles from publications – can be found on the “articles” page of this site.


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