The crux of effective leadership is having strong relationships

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
  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.


Are You Ready to Commit?

Goals. I know you’ve set a few to achieve in the coming year. Whether you’ve called them goals, resolutions, outcomes or something else, there are some concrete targets that you’re wanting to hit over the next stretch of time.

Goals are a good thing. They provide incentive and focus. When achieved they are a source of pride and leave you with a sense of accomplishment. Goals are what pull us forward and invite us to step up and into our best selves.

At times, however, the achievement of goals can seem elusive. It’s not always smooth sailing into whatever port you’re headed.  So what can facilitate the process?

Recently, in listening to a webinar hosted by John Assaraf, I learned a key distinction that can make all the difference between achieving a goal and continually falling short. When I first heard this distinction, I wasn’t too blown away; and then the explanation made the proverbial light go off. The distinction really is amazing, and is best summed up by the following question:

Are you INTERESTED in achieving your goal, or are you COMMITTED?

According to John Assaraf (who in turn attributes this learning to one of his mentors), when you are interested in achieving a goal, you will do what’s convenient, what feels good, what fits within your comfort zone. Nothing more. Nothing less than that, and certainly, nothing more.

When you are COMMITTED, however, you will do whatever it takes. You will stretch the parameters of your comfort zone. You will continue to take steps, however small, when the going gets tough. Because this goal MATTERS to you, deeply. And you aren’t going to stop at doing what’s convenient. You’ll only stop when the goal is achieved. Which means, you are committed.

Can you sense the difference between these two approaches? It’s a powerful one for sure. And in the few short weeks since I myself have learned about the distinction, I’ve been able to notice how it plays out in my life.

The key, from my perspective, to being able to set goals to which I’m committed is to be sure that those goals truly matter to me. It’s imperative that I understand WHY I’ve set a specific target, and how my life will be better for its achievement. Then, I can truly commit; and in the moments when things get challenging, I can lean into that commitment, draw strength, and soldier on.

Bottom-line: it’s not enough to be interested in achieving a goal. If you want to reach a specific objective, you’ve got to commit. Commitment ensures achievement, and the stronger your commitment, the greater the likelihood of achievement.  Whatever your goal is, ask yourself: are you interested? Or are you committed?

How Do You Feel About Time?

Time. It’s a constant in all of our lives. Each of us operates within a container of time, creating a relationship (whether we know it or not) with what feels like an intangible commodity.

The thing is, your relationship with time – how you feel about it and operate in the face of it – has a huge impact on your success. How you are with time influences how you are with goals and ultimately, whether or not you tend to achieve them.

Let me explain.

Many folks — dare I say, MOST folks – interact with time from a place of scarcity. The phrase “I don’t have the time for _____________” is used almost without thought. It’s bandied about and applied to everything from scheduling meetings, attending social functions, making self-care appointments, connecting with loved ones, or taking time for fun. Too many people tell themselves that time is limited in quantity.

These people are always racing against the clock. It’s as though time is constantly running down. Within this construct – if time is scarce and limited – your focus isn’t on doing your best or achieving a goal. Your focus is on beating the clock – with nothing more than average results at best.

So, what’s the solution? A shift in perspective.

Instead of thinking of time as a limited commodity, what becomes possible when you think of it as an expansive one? Try it. Close your eyes for a moment. Take a few deep breaths. Now tell yourself that “time expands as you need it”. Focus on whatever task or goal you have as your current priority. And again, tell yourself that time is expanding to allow you to complete it. Time expands as you need it. No need to rush; no need to panic; just the opportunity to focus, hone in, and do what needs to be done, properly.

Having worked with this particular perspective – one that I learned from a former coach of my own – for quite a number of years now, I can tell you from experience, that the shift is tangible. When you slow down and stay in this moment – rather than racing against an upcoming moment – your ability to focus and get things done increases. Your capacity to achieve a goal expands. In short, when you take your eyes off the clock and place them firmly on the task at hand, you’re not distracted in any way. Which necessarily means you can get things done with greater ease.

Bottom-line: time is a commodity. Whether you feel it’s scarce or abundant is simply a matter of perspective. The perspective you choose impacts how well you will achieve your goals. Choose to see and experience time as abundant, and you increase your capacity to focus. This will in turn, increase your capacity to achieve.


Leadership Rut? Shake Things Up!

Consider this:  in an effort to maintain a sense of sanity, people often resist change.  At the same time, they wish that their lives could be richer, fuller, happier, or whatever other superlative seems relevant. 

Do you see the contradiction?  In case you don’t, I’ll defer to Albert Einstein who so eloquently said that the definition of insanity is doing what you’ve always done and expecting different results (at least, I think it was Albert Einstein…the other way to frame it is to use the Dr. Philism, “if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’re gonna get what you’ve always gotten”). 

The distilled wisdom being imparted by these two folks is that you can’t expect things to be different if you’re so resistant to change that you’re unwilling to try a different approach.  What I call the “you-all-change-while-I-enjoy-the-benefits” mentality only serves to keep you stuck, circling endlessly on the merry-go-round when you really want to be on the ferris wheel.  If you want things to BE different, it’s time for you to SHOW UP differently and DO things differently.

Why exactly does the thought of change result in heart palpitations for so many people?  My experience has been that people often assume that “different” has to be radically so.  Logically, it makes sense that the bigger the change made, the bigger the change experienced.  But logic doesn’t always apply; sometimes the opposite is true.  A very small change can result in dramatic differences.  In other words, change doesn’t have to follow the “go big or go home” ideal all the time, or any time for that matter.  Instead, change can be made in small increments, until the desired effect is obtained.  Want an example?  Well, look at these for a start:

  • You sit down to work on a project and feel utterly uninspired, so you turn around and face the window.  All of a sudden, ideas start flowing and the project gets done easily. 
  • You walk into your office and feel unmotivated to get anything done.  You decide to tackle the pile of papers on your desk — filing, recycling, shredding as appropriate — and find your energy level goes up.
  • You incorporate a regular “family budget discussion” time into your week, with you and your partner sharing financial tasks — bill payments and such — and notice that you no longer feel burdened and weighed down all of the time.
  • You decide to brighten things up at home, so you add a few throw cushions in your living room, and all of a sudden your furniture “pops” (if you’ve watched any home renovation shows, you know what I mean).

These are all concrete examples of how you can implement change in a small way.  Sometimes the change you’re going for is less tangible, but the theory is the same.  Whether you’re feeling drained at work, overwhelmed by client demands, or struggling to spend time with your children, if you want change to happen, you need a different approach.  At the very least, your outlook needs to shift.  So ask yourself, what needs to be different in your life?  What new perspective will you try on?  What small change can you implement today in order to have your life feel fulfilling, meaningful and rich? 

Bottom-line:   if you’re walking around feeling stuck in a rut, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Things can change.  But they’ll only change when you start to do things differently.  Start small if you need to; and start to change in some way. Change begets change. And if you’re wanting things to shift in any way, this is a concept you’ve got to embrace. In short, it’s time to shake things up!

3 Steps to Discerning Leadership Vision

This time of year is always an intriguing one from my perspective. It’s that space of “betwixt and between”. On the one hand, we’re wrapping up one year; on the other hand, we’re ramping up another (or at least we’re preparing to do so).

For many, this time of year can feel muddled. You may feel challenged to finish up whatever outstanding goals and objectives are hanging in the space; simultaneously you can feel pushed to get started on the new objectives of the year ahead.

As a leader, this ‘betwixt and between” space is the perfect incubator for vision. This is the space where possibility, potential and energy converge. Your job as leader is to tap into the energy of this space and get clear on vision, at least for the foreseeable future.

As a leader, your mandate is to discern, hold and manifest vision. In other words, you have got to make time in your schedule for visioning, even while you might feel more task-oriented. Folks around you are looking to you to set the course, to remind them of what they’re working towards and why. If you don’t have a sense of vision, you cannot do this.

So, how do you discern vision? From my experience, there is actually a simple, three-step process to this.

First, create a suitable space. Remove distractions. If possible, move yourself to a new space, one that fosters creativity, whatever that might look like for you.

Second, ask yourself a series of questions:

  •                What matters to you? What matters to your team?
  •                What’s needed within your world? What’s the “thing” that you are being called to provide?
  •                How do you need to show up to make the next stretch of time meaningful?

As you ask and answer these questions, you will start to gain clarity on specific tasks that support the vision. The third and final step, then, is to note these as goals and objectives in order to focus your vision in a concrete manner.

While this time of year lends itself to visioning in a meaningful way, you can always explore vision whenever you wish. Whenever you do, you enrich your own capacity to lead effectively.

Bottom-line: as a leader you are required to have a vision, to hold it, to enroll others in it and to enlist their support in making the vision a reality. You cannot do this if you don’t take time to engage in visioning. The best leaders understand that leadership and vision are inextricably intertwined. Leadership is about so much more than getting things done. When you understand this, embrace it and create space for vision, you elevate your leadership game.   

‘Tis the Season To Be…Stressed Out?

The holidays and stress. They seem to go hand in hand. This is something I’ve had opportunity to ponder over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve watched folks around me start to spin into frenzied madness. Let’s face it; it happens every year.  It’s as though the intention of this time of year is often in direct contrast to what many experience.  Why is that?  Why are things so crazy-busy, driving many to the brink of breakdown, when the season itself is supposed to be about something completely different?

Before I share my thoughts on that, let me confess: overall, I’m actually okay with the busy, hectic pace of the season.  There’s something very vibrant, and alive about the whole thing.  The hustle and bustle is part of the experience that I savour.  It’s busy.  The malls are crowded and loud.  I have to wait in lines – sometimes really long ones! – to make my purchases.  But I’m okay with that.  I always have been.  There’s something about the energy of people that I just love (although admittedly, I am particularly grateful for the peace and tranquility that awaits me at home following a day of shopping).

That’s not to say that such frenzy cannot be draining. It can be, and I need to choose how much frenzy I’ll partake of, before retreating a bit. The point, however, is that I get very deliberate about where I’ll be, how long I’ll be there, and with what energy. It boils down to consciously choosing how I will enjoy my holiday experience.

Now, I get that not everyone enjoys the sort of frenetic pace that seems to go hand-in-hand with this season.  But I have to wonder how much of the frenzy gets created by the unwillingness that many have to just be patient.  What might be possible if, despite the busy-ness that abounds during the holidays – whether brought on by shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating or whatever else – every one of us could make a conscious decision to flow with things, to be kind and patient, to be at our best in the midst of it all?  I’ll tell you what would be possible:  a thoroughly enjoyable holiday.

No matter who you are, what you celebrate, how you celebrate or with whom, what I know for sure is that when you can make the decision to breathe, to slow down, to savour and enjoy the experience – whether that’s the mad holiday shopping experience, or the tension-filled leadership meeting experience, or anything in between – everything flows with greater ease.  That line-up that’s 50 people deep?  It passes much quicker when you can converse with the person in front of you, or do a bit of people watching.  That parking space that seems so elusive at the mall?  It somehow shows up when you just exhibit a bit of patience.  Those crazy family-folk who drive you nuts because they’re just so not like you?  Somehow you can find the humour in being with them – and the loving connection – when you determine that you will enjoy the holidays and all will be well.  How do I know this?  Because I’ve been there, done that and lived to tell the tale.

Bottom-line:  ‘tis NOT the season to be stressed-out, miserable or grumpy.  Unless you choose that.  If you do, my guess is it really won’t be all that fun.  It really is the season to reach into your soul, clarify how you want to experience the holidays, and then determine to do just that.  ‘Tis the season to create the magic, even when it seems like it’s nowhere to be found.  You have the power.  So engage it.  Be deliberate about your holiday experience.  And watch the frenzy turn into fun.

leaderLeadership: Blending Greatness & Humility

What makes you think you’re so great? This is a question I hear a lot of people ask of others.  Heck, sometimes I hear people ask it of me.  Often, there’s a sneering energy that accompanies the question, a taunt of sorts; the underlying suggestion is that you are not as great as you think you are. 

Sometimes, the people on the receiving end of this question are deserving of the taunt; they’re holding themselves as better than others, placing themselves on a pedestal, thinking that nobody measures up to them.

Often, however, the person on the receiving end of the question isn’t the culprit that he or she is being portrayed to be.  Instead, the culprit is the asker of the question.  Why? Because he or she is stuck in their own perceived shortcomings. So rather than take a moment or two to discover their own inner greatness, they’ll stand in their perceived “weakness” and endeavour to bring others down to that level.  After all, it’s so much easier to stay stuck where you are, rather than rise up to where you want to be, right?

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that there is a fine line between excessive pride and excessive humility (actually, this week’s quote to ponder nails this issue on the head!).  Neither of these perspectives will serve you very well, no matter who you are.  When you hold yourself as greater than what you are, needing to learn nothing from others and always at the top of your game, you will eventually take yourself out of the game. On the flip side, if you place yourself on a “lesser playing field” of sorts, you’ll rarely be asked to join the game and, if you are asked, you won’t be able to play to your full potential, because others won’t necessarily put in the effort to find out what your potential is.  Or, if they do invest the effort, they won’t do so for long; they’ll stop championing you forward the minute they realize that they’re more invested in your success than you are.

Part of your job as a leader is to discover, know and own your inner strengths.  What are the particular gifts and talents that belong to you?  What are you great at?  Where do you shine?

Another part of your job as a leader is to balance this knowledge of your strengths, with knowledge of your weaknesses.  Where can you use support?  What is your Achilles heel?  Where do you fall short? Once you know these two sides of you, you need to stand in what makes you great, while acknowledging where you need help.  This is the essence of confident, effective leadership.

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, one of the things I know for sure – and this is confirmed for me as I look around the world – is that each and every person on the planet has an innate set of gifts, strengths, and talents as well as areas that need some refinement.  Everyone knows something; nobody knows everything.  As a leader, your responsibility is to truly stand in your greatness, knowing that there is greatness in you, and balance this with the knowledge that there are aspects of you that need some work.

Bottom-line:  downplaying your greatness is just as much of a disservice to your leadership as making yourself better than you are.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance; and there’s a fine line between humility and lack of self-esteem.  In both cases, bring yourself right up to the line – and make sure you don’t cross it. Own all of who you are, completely, and watch your leadership capacity soar.

personal-growthThe 3 Most Dangerous Words for a Leader to Use

“Dangerous” might be an odd adjective to use when it comes to words. And yet, as I went about my work this past week, it occurred to me that a particular phrase – comprised of 3 words – could be very dangerous when used by leaders. And my guess is that you’ve heard this phrase used – by leaders and others – many, many times. The phrase is…

“I Already Know.”

I can feel the incredulity as you read that phase. I can hear the disbelief. How on earth can “I already know” be a dangerous phase?

Here’s how: it gets in the way of growth, learning and expansion.

When you approach a situation with the energy of “I already know” it closes you off from becoming something more. It shuts down your willingness to absorb something potentially new, if only a fresh perspective. Saying “I already know” actually keeps you small.

This is problematic for anyone, and for a leader in particular. Effective leadership requires growth, expansion, stretch. This in turn requires you to hold a beginner’s mind, an open mind, especially in the face of learning opportunities.

So, when you’re presented with a learning opportunity of any sort, saying “I already know” cuts you off from becoming what you could be.

Here’s another thing. If you truly KNOW something, you act on that something. In other words, if you KNOW how to be an effective communicator – you’ve taken all the workshops, attended all the PD you can – then you will communicate effectively. Period. If, however, there are times when your communication is ineffective, there is probably more that you can learn. AND THAT’s OK.

Sometimes, especially for leaders, there is a mistaken idea that if you don’t know something then you’re not capable or good enough. This simply isn’t true. Not having knowledge isn’t a problem in and of itself. Not being willing to gain knowledge, however, that is problematic. Which is why the phrase “I ALREADY KNOW” can be problematic.

Bottom-line: effective leadership requires a willingness to be on a constant learning curve. It’s about growth, stretch, expansion and evolution. The only way to grow is to expand knowledge. Telling yourself that you ALREADY KNOW gets in the way of that expansion, which then inhibits effective leadership. So embrace a beginner’s mind, forget what you know, and open yourself up to new possibilities.

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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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