Leadership Challenges: How High Do You Rank on Your List of Priorities?

Leadership Challenges: How High Do You Rank on Your List of Priorities?

Doctor’s appointments. Physiotherapy. Spa treatments. A meeting with your lawyer. A dinner date with your family.

Any and all of these – and a myriad of other activities – qualify as “personal appointments”. Everyone has personal appointments. Some are more important than others. Sometimes it’s challenging to tend to them as scheduled. For leaders in particular, however, how you act in relation to your personal appointments matters.

Why?

Because it’s an indicator of how you value yourself in relation to everything else on your list of priorities.

Sometimes, by virtue of who else is involved in the personal appointment (your partner, your lawyer, your doctor) how you act in relation to your personal appointments can also be an indicator of how you value OTHERS in relation to your list of priorities.

I know, I know. You’re busy. Sometimes you can’t help but be late. I get it.

And yet, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re probably on time for some appointments. So the question becomes this: how are you able to make those appointments enough of a priority that you can be on time? Or that you don’t have to cancel them? Or that you show up in general?

You see, your decision to be on time, or late, or a no-show – particularly if it’s part of a pattern – sends a very loud, clear message about what matters to you. About what you value. About what you consider worthy of your time, attention and respect. That message is one that you’re conveying to your team, your family, your friends, and indeed, your SELF.

And that message matters. Because over time, the pattern you set, becomes the expectation that you and others hold for yourself.

If you regularly put yourself at the bottom of your priority list, or if you’re regularly late for meetings (putting others at the bottom of your priority list), you’re causing damage. Do it for too long, and the damage becomes irreparable.

I know. You have so many demands on your time. Everyone wants a piece of you. You can’t be in two places at once.

I’m not asking you to be.

What I’m telling you is this: as a human being, and as a leader in particular, how you honour your commitments matters. You need to draw boundaries. Boundaries are an essential aspect of being ablee to lead effectively.

So, if you are heading out the door to attend your child’s concert and an employee wants “just two minutes” of your time (which you know darn well is going to turn into 15) it’s up to you to say (respectfully), “listen, I’m heading out for the day, however, I can meet with you at _________ to chat.”

Remember, everybody truly believes that their particular scenario or challenge is an emergency and in need of your time/energy/insight RIGHT NOW. As a leader, it’s your job to help them realize that not every emergency is one. It’s up to you to manage expectations (which is different from meeting them). It’s up to you to model good boundary setting.

Bottom-line: it’s time to make yourself a top-seed on your list of priorities. If you cannot regularly honour your own appointments, if you can’t stick to timelines and model effective boundaries, you will forever be at the beck and call of everybody but yourself. And that’s no way to lead.

 

Leadership & Perfection: It’s Time to Let Go of the Illusion

Perfection. It’s this ever-elusive goal that is chased by many.

For leaders in particular, consciously or not, perfection is often the unstated (or stated) objective.

The picture of perfection can vary depending on the specific scenario and even on the specific leader involved. What one considers perfection, another may find faulty. In all “perfect” objectives, however, the implication is that things are flawless.

Flawless development of a plan.

Flawless execution of said plan.

Flawless results when all is said and done.

The challenge is that perfect and flawless aren’t actually synonymous.

The best environment in which to heighten your awareness of this is in nature. If you take the time to go outside – in a garden, a park, a forest, your front lawn – and look around, you will likely describe your surroundings as “perfect”. When you look closely, however, you’ll discover that what appears perfect is anything but “flawless”. There will be branches that are broken; flower petals that are torn; blades of grass that are bent; and the list keeps going. Despite these “flaws”, the overall picture is one of perfection. In other words, perfection is found in the way these flaws come together.

Let’s extrapolate this idea to the realm of leadership.

As leaders, when you look around your surroundings, you will likely notice flaws: flaws in your 5-year plan, flaws in members of your team, flaws in various processes and procedures. Some of these may well need to be addressed – rectified, corrected if you will. That being said, the goal of leadership is not the elimination of flaws. The goal of leadership is ongoing progress towards the achievement of a bigger objective – and such progress can include the supposed flaws.

Bottom-line: as a leader, it’s imperative that you be aware of flaws and challenges and address those as you move towards the achievement of whatever your big-picture goal is. That being said, don’t be so focused on perfection that you stall out. This impedes progress and when it comes right down to it, if you don’t progress, you will never achieve your goal. Progress, not perfection, is the ultimate leadership accomplishment.

How To Respond When You Don’t Know the Answer

Leaders have all the answers.

This is the belief to which many groups and organizations seem to subscribe. When a problem arises, folks turn to the leader – or leaders – for solutions.

In and of itself, this doesn’t seem all that problematic. Except for the fact that sometimes, the leader doesn’t have the answer. In fact, sometimes, the leader hasn’t got a clue.

When this happens, what’s a leader to do?

Too often, leaders default to making stuff up. Indeed, there’s a corresponding belief system that suggests one should “fake it till you make it” – which is the equivalent of crossing your fingers, and bs’ing an answer in the hopes that everything will be just fine. What I want you to know is this: there are some situations in which “faking it” is okay – often, however, it’s neither okay nor necessary.

You see, not only do leaders NOT have all the answers, the fact is THEY DON’T HAVE TO.

That’s right: leaders do not have to have all the answers. Instead, when faced with a dilemma, leaders need only be committed to FINDING the answers. And that can be done with help.

In other words, as a leader there will be times you’re faced with a challenge to which you haven’t got a solution. In that scenario, rather than faking your way forward, you can openly admit to not being sure of the path to take, and enlist the help of others in your process of discernment.  Or you can let people know that you’ll do some research and respond later. Or you can point folks in the direction of where they might find the answer.

As a leader, your job isn’t to be a walking version of the internet. Your job is to know what you know, and be committed to learning more as required.

Bottom-line: as a leader, stop pretending. Stop pretending you’ve got all the answers, and stop pretending that the world around you will fall apart if you don’t know an answer. Leadership isn’t about being a know-it-all. Leadership – effective leadership – is about being real, being honest, and being committed to ongoing growth.

 

The Single Most Effective Way to Stop Spinning Your Wheels!

Picture it: you’re working along at various projects, leading your team forward and feeling that progress is being made. You’ve got a sense of purpose and accomplishment – and all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, a curveball gets thrown your way. And then another. And yet another.

All of a sudden, overwhelm is the name of the game and you actually have no idea how to regain your bearings. The world feels topsy-turvy at best, and a moment of sanity is nowhere to be found.

What the heck do you do?

This past week, while delivering a Leadership training series for an organization, this was the challenge that many in the room were facing. AS these participants were describing their scenarios, there was an energetic paralysis of sorts in the room. It was palpable – and, as you can imagine, totally debilitating.

As leaders, this sort of scenario is something that we all encounter from time to time. The degree of overwhelm may be different for each of us, the specifics will be different, and that common feeling of uncertainty inevitably leads to a frenzy of activity in an effort to get things back on an even keel.

What I want you to know is this: when you’re overwhelmed, spinning your wheels (i.e., working frenetically) is the LAST thing you want to do. Intuitively, I know that you feel the need to DO something. Trust me when I tell you, it doesn’t work.

Imagine driving a vehicle and getting stuck in some mud. When you push on the gas in an effort to get yourself out of the mud, you end up spinning your wheels and digging yourself deeper. If, instead, you stop, allow the wheels to get a grip as it were, and slowly but deliberately move forward, you find yourself on solid ground with greater ease

This, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, is exactly what you need to do when you’re in the overwhelmed space as a leader. The overwhelm that you’re experiencing is the energetic equivalent of mud. Working frenetically and frantically will only serve to drive you deeper into the muck and mire. So, despite the feeling you have that this scenario – whatever it is – needs your attention NOW, the best way out is to STOP.

Stop for a moment; or two; or ten. Take that time to breathe, to reground yourself, to be still. And then, when you feel a certain stability restore itself, that’s when you take action and move.

Bottom-line: as leaders we feel a responsibility for keeping things moving forward and with as much ease as possible. When overwhelmed, it can be tempting to kick things in to high gear. Don’t do it. Resist the temptation. Instead, take a break, however small, and THEN – and only then – take deliberate, thoughtful action. Deliberate, thoughtful action from a space of stillness will always move your forward effectively.

What’s Your Reason for Working Hard?

Working hard.

We are taught that it’s a good thing. This idea is so engrained in our collective psyche that, as leaders, we look to be sure that our teams are, in fact, working hard. Always.

Working hard equates to being present, staying engaged and producing results. When our teams are working hard, we all feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. We tell ourselves that things are as they should be.

But are they? Is working hard all that it’s cracked up to be?

Sometimes, working hard can have detrimental effects. Working hard can cause folks to become overworked, fatigued, disengaged and ultimately uninterested in achieving anything. In other words, sometimes working hard can be counterproductive.

How do you ensure that this doesn’t happen?

You make sure that folks are working hard for the right reason.

Working hard simply for the sake of working hard is never enough. It can give the illusion of productivity and purpose, but that’s all it is: an illusion. If there isn’t something meaningful driving the work that’s being done, then no matter how hard you work, you won’t have the engagement, presence and results.

Simon Sinek articulates this distinction really well. He says, “working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

As leaders, our job is to ensure that hard work is revolving around something that folks are loving, something they’re passionate about, something that draws upon their inner drive. This type of hard work – hard work that’s inspired – yields dynamic results every time. Any fatigue that may result – because working hard can definitely lead to fatigue – is fatigue that is accompanied by a sense of accomplishment, not depletion.

Bottom-line: are you and your team working for something that matters? Do you and your team care about the projected outcome and the corresponding work that’s required? If your answer is anything about a resounding “yes”, it’s time to take stock. Find that inspiring reason for the work, the thing that matters, the thing you all care about. And feel the collective passion ignite.

Do You Know How to Work Your Inner GPS?

Direction.  It’s an interesting word to me.  You’re always heading in a direction.  And, you always need a sense of it.

Without direction you actually can’t figure out what it is you’re heading toward.  You’ll still be moving, but you won’t know with what purpose, or to what end.  As a leader, no matter who you are, or the specific situation in which you are leading, having a solid sense of direction is important.

Children often have a clearer sense of direction than adults.  Perhaps more important, children seem to know intuitively how to deal with the challenges that arise that might require them to course-correct.  It’s as though they have an inner GPS that tells them, “since that way is blocked, go this way instead.”  And while children, like adults, have varying degrees of tolerance for life’s obstacles, when it comes right down to it, they know what they want, how to get it and they’re able to maintain a singular focus (yes, even children with ADD can do this).  The question is, how do they do this?  And why are you as an adult less able to do so?

It all comes down to this.  You’ve got the same inner GPS, you’ve just lost your satellite signal, so to speak.  Your satellite signal is your knowledge of what matters in any given moment.  In this world in which you are so inundated with the demands and expectations of others, you’ve allowed your own personal needs, and your sense of what it is that you’re headed towards, to be buried beneath the needs and directions that others put forward.

There’s a way that you – in your effort to stay abreast of all that’s happening, keep up with the times, and get everything done that needs doing – have disconnected from your values.  Erego, you’ve got minimal sense of direction.  So, what do you do about it?

You go back to the basics, my friend.  If you want to reactivate your inner GPS, if you want to reclaim your sense of direction, you’ve got to reconnect with what matters to you – and to your leadership vision – right here, right now.  This can be a challenge, no doubt about it.  Indeed, it’s what many of my clients end up exploring from time-to-time – what matters in this moment?   In this scenario?  And once you determine that answer, ask yourself what it is that you need to do, or how it is that you need to be, in order to honour that thing that matters right now.

Bottom-line:  to paraphrase the words of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re heading, then it doesn’t matter what road you take.  And if you’re okay with that, if you’re okay with just ending up wherever you end up, then fine.  Keep doing what you’re doing.  Leaders, however, are rarely okay with just ending up wherever. So, if you really want to fulfill your purpose, then take a moment and get clear on where you’re heading.  Check in with your overriding values and adjust your direction accordingly.  This will ensure that where you end up, is always where you are meant to be.  Happy travels!

5 Keys to Making Change Happen

Change. It’s one of those things that everyone claims to want. In the world of leadership in particular, “change” seems to be that quality that leaders everywhere are trying to embrace, and striving to create. Yet, change seems so elusive.

The idea of change carries with it a sort of “double-edged” quality. One the one hand, there’s excitement at the thought of change. On the other, there’s a very tangible fear that translates into resistance. It’s almost as though you can hear the following thought in the undercurrent:  “I absolutely want the scenario to change – it totally excites me –but I don’t want to DO anything differently. I don’t want to BE different myself.”

To which I feel like saying: are you freaking kidding me?

Here’s the thing: you cannot – and let me repeat that, you CANNOT – stay the same, or do things the same way, and expect that the circumstances around you are going to change.

In other words, no matter how much you like the idea of something different, no matter how clearly you can see the merits and benefits, if you aren’t actually willing to change yourself – change how you be, change what you do, change the thoughts you think – things around you will not change.

As a leader, it is imperative that you get this, and that you model the required flexibility and adaptability for your team. You must set the example so that others can learn in service of creating whatever change is needed.

Here are 5 keys to affecting change as a leader:

  1. Get clear on what you’re changing, and why. Change just for the sake of change isn’t nearly as meaningful as change that’s anchored in solid rationale.
  2. Ask yourself what thoughts and ideas you hold that align with your desired change – and what thoughts and ideas you need to release. Speak with your team about these, and share how you yourself will be shifting in your approach.
  3. Normalize the fear that you feel, as well as the fear you notice in others. Don’t make folks wrong for it; name it and then find ways to move past it.
  4. Call folks out on inflexible thoughts and behaviours. In other words, when you see folks acting with rigidity, respectfully point it out so that they can learn, change and grow.
  5. Point out and celebrate any and all progress, however small. Give people a chance to see how their flexibility is serving the bigger picture.

Bottom-line: while there seems to be truth in the idea that “nobody likes change”, the fact is that change is necessary to growth and evolution. As a leader, you must model how to be with change and make it happen. And it starts with you actually showing up and doing things differently. When you consciously change, in service of a grander vision and illustrate the correlation, folks around you will be more inclined to change as well.

The crux of effective leadership is having strong relationships

Often, we think of leadership as the ability to hold a vision, to motivate, to inspire, to set a course and follow through, to create a plan that yields desired results.  Each of these is definitely an aspect of leadership, and being able to do these things well is important. However, none of them is as important – indeed, none of them really matters – if, as a leader, you cannot establish and maintain strong relationships.

Often, when I raise this point in workshops or coaching conversations, the question that arises is “which relationships?” My answer is, all of them.

I know, that seems a little daunting. And yet, I stand by it. As a leader, you are responsible for building, nurturing and maintaining strong relationships with ALL of the folks around you.

What is the essence of a strong relationship? It boils down to 3 qualities: Accessibility, Communication and Trust.

  • Accessibility. In many company cultures, this can be known as an open-door policy. What it boils down to is being visible and available. Everyone knows that the mantle of leadership necessarily carries with it the burden of responsibility. However, good leaders are those who make themselves available to others, even as they carry such responsibility. Opening yourself up to field questions, to hear concerns, and address challenges – this is what good leadership requires.
  • Communication. This is not solely about the dissemination of information. Yes, you have to be able to get your message out there, AND, you have to be able to hear what’s going on around you and respond appropriately. You have to be able to listen, to clarify, to understand. As a leader you have to have your ear to the ground at all times, being aware of what’s happening and addressing challenges as they arise. This is the hallmark of good communication.
  • Trust. This quality is essential to all effective leadership. If you do not build trust and act in a trustworthy manner, you fail to set the foundation for good relationships, and in turn you undermine your leadership. Trust is built by being honest, by being humble, be being real. Trustworthy leaders are those who are vulnerable and those who are accountable.

Bottom-line: If you want to pride yourself on being a good leader, then you’ve got to invest in building strong relationships. It takes time, energy and commitment to do so. And, the pay-off for all concerned is a strong, effective workplace. Focus on relationships and the rest will fall into place.

How’s Your Perspective Impacting Your Leadership?

Groundhog day.  Here in North America, it’s as much a part of February as Valentine’s day. Basic folklore says that on February 2nd, otherwise known as Groundhog Day, the groundhog will emerge from its burrow and if it sees its shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  If it doesn’t see its shadow, then it’s only 6 more weeks until spring.  

When I was a child, my understanding of this day was “if the groundhog sees its shadow we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter; otherwise, it’s spring!!”  This, of course, doesn’t make any sense at all.  According to the calendar there are 6 more weeks of winter regardless.  The official first day of spring doesn’t arrive until March 20th (or is it the 21st??).

At any rate, folklore aside, what I want to point to is this:  Groundhog Day is a powerful example of the power of perspective. In a nutshell, the perspective you hold – the way you choose to view something – plays a powerful part in determining the choices you’ll make and the way you’ll show up in the world.  Why does this matter?  Because the choices you make and the way you show up make a difference in how you live and lead in your life.

For example, if you choose the position that “there will be six more weeks of winter” as opposed to “there are six more weeks until spring”, where is your focus?  With the first statement, your focus is on winter.  Not only that, your focus is on the fact that there’s more winter to endure before the arrival of spring.  When you make the ever-so-slight shift to the statement, “there are six more weeks until spring” your focus is on spring, and on the ensuing countdown.  It’s a perspective of anticipation as opposed to endurance.  And when you’re anticipating or expecting something, the way you approach it is different than when you’re enduring something.

If you take this lesson and extrapolate it to your leadership, the question I’ve got is this:  are you enduring things?  Or are you anticipating things?  Are you putting up with things?  Or are you looking forward to something?  Please note: there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these perspectives.  Each one is valid and rooted in a modicum of truth.  What changes, however, is the resulting attitude you’ll hold, the choices you’ll see and the outlook you’ll embrace.

When you stand in the place of anticipation, looking forward, there’s a way that you hold a certain excitement and joie de vivre.  When you stand in the place of enduring and putting up with things, your approach is one of trepidation and despondence.  Which one will serve you better?

I know that there are times where endurance is what makes sense.  This is especially true if you’re dealing with a crisis of sorts.  And yet, even in that crisis, when you can shift your focus to one of anticipation – if only for a moment – you can navigate the challenges with just a bit of ease.  Understand, this isn’t about pretending that the challenge or crisis doesn’t exist.  Instead, it’s about understanding that even while the challenge is there, there is something to look forward to.  No matter what storm you’re weathering, the sun will come out in the days ahead.

Bottom-line:  when it comes to leading to the best of your ability, to navigating leadership challenges effectively, there’s something to be said for getting deliberate about your perspective and approach.  Over the next six weeks, will you endure?  Will you anticipate?  Or will you choose something else altogether?  Find out what will serve you best.  Then choose that approach, and lead from there.

Are You In The Best Space to Lead?

No matter who you are, your surroundings influence you.  The quality of the space in which you find yourself impacts everything, from the way you think to the way you express yourself to the way you move.  Don’t believe me?  Take a moment and think about yourself in various circumstances.

How are you when you’re at a big surprise birthday party?  What are you like when you’re at a small, intimate dinner for two?  How do you behave when you find yourself in the loud, hustle-and-bustle of your local shopping mall?  What’s your energy like when you’re at the beach?

I can assure you that you are different – as in you show up differently – in each of these spaces.  While your core being is the same, your energy shifts.  Admittedly, some of this is a function of your own expectations of yourself.  If you’re going to the beach, you’re likely expecting to relax, and so you show up in a more relaxed energy.  If you’re going to a party, you know that it’s about having a good time and being entertained, if not entertaining, and so you show up accordingly.  But expectations aside, there’s a way that the very nature of the different surroundings is enough to change the way you show up.

Why does this matter? It matters because this influence exists whether you’re aware of it or not. When you’re not aware of it, the changing energy can happen so subtly, so gradually, that before you know it, you find yourself feeling uncomfortable and to some degree unsure of what’s going on.  And when you’re uncomfortable, what you’re capable of isn’t optimal.

As a leader, it’s vital that you be aware of your surroundings. You need to consider the environment both for yourself and for your followers.  You need to give some thought to the elements that are changing and how those changes are impacting behaviors, decisions, productivity and team dynamics. The key is to ensure that the environment around you is conducive to everyone being at – and working at – their best.

Some elements of your environment are, admittedly, out of your control. A great example of this is the sun. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the idea that people are generally more upbeat and productive when the sun is shining. When the sun has been absent for a while (as it has in my neck of the woods for the past week!) energy in all its forms decreases. Moods deflate. And, consequently, your work environment is adversely impacted.

While such elements as the presence of the sun are out of your control, other elements are very much within your control. With this in mind, here are some easy to implement strategies for surrounding yourself with energy lifters to ensure that your surroundings are conducive to being at your best:

  1. Open your curtains. Let as much natural light into your physical space as possible.  Then situate yourself as close to one of these windows as you possibly can.
  2. If it’s not too cold, crack open a window. Let the fresh air in, if only for a few moments.  Fresh air circulating is a great thing!
  3. De-clutter your space. Too much clutter – piles of books, papers and files – will bring your energy down, every single time.  Hire a professional organizer to help you if this is a challenge that seems larger than you can handle.  (In the London, ON area I can highly recommend the services of Pauline Hoffman.  Check her out at justintimesolutions.com).
  4. Change up the volume. If the silence is driving you batty, go hang out where there’s some background noise, maybe at a local coffee shop.  If the constant buzz of conversation is getting to you, find yourself a quiet space, an office with the door closed.  Play around with what serves your needs best, then change the volume of your space to meet those needs.
  5. Increase the diversity of your playlist. Whether you prefer your music on CD’s or on your computer’s hard drive, ensue that you have a variety of music available to provide options for lifting your spirits or keeping you in a balanced space. 
  6. Rearrange your furniture. Sometimes, shifting things around will change your view – literally – and erego will change the way you feel.
  7. Add a pop of colour. Could be flowers, could be a colour swatch, could be your computer screen saver, heck – it could even be the clothes you’re wearing.  But find a colour that raises you up – something bright, cheerful, energizing.

Bottom-line:  your surroundings have a big impact on who you are, and how you show up.  Some elements of your surroundings are beyond your control, such as the weather.  Other things, however, you can definitely influence.  Take charge of those things, shift what needs to be shifted, and watch how your leadership game is elevated.

 

Blog Categories

What I Write

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.

Topics

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Social Media

Follow me on Facebook (Stellar Coaching & Consulting), or Twitter (Gail Barker @stellar7) and stay connected! Get daily questions, quotes, bits of inspiration to help you live with vision, lead with integrity and speak with confidence!

Previous Blog Posts