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Articles tagged with: Basic Leadership

A Leadership Call to Action

There is a shortage of great leaders. I recently read an article that reported the shortage of leaders as the most pressing human resource challenge that businesses are facing. This is a crisis. The gap between the challenges we face is increasing faster than the ability, or the will, to produce the leadership necessary to shorten the deficit.

It’s graduation time! I’ve been thinking about the challenges these young people will face as they enter the workforce, and thought they could use a bit of advice. As you read the letter, ask yourself if you have become the kind of leader that our world is demanding our graduates to strive to be.  If the answer is no, use it as a call to action.  Take an inventory of your training, skills, capabilities, and effectiveness and do the right thing. Now is the time and as mentioned in the letter, we are all counting on you too! And be sure to share this with the new grads in your life!

A Letter to Graduates

Congratulations! You’ve done it! You are now officially graduates! Find the time to celebrate. You definitely deserve it. Be very proud of yourselves as this is one of the greatest accomplishments that you will experience.  You have learned many things about both your limitations and your capabilities and now it is time to go out and make a difference in a world hungry for your many talents. As you navigate through life in search of new knowledge and experiences to build on your foundation, I offer this advice to take with you on your leadership journey:

  • Ask questions. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~Steven R. Covey         Everyone has a journey, knowledge and their own worldview. As you embark on your path of understanding, be receptive to and question all other people no matter how different they are from you, in either appearance or thought. In fact, the more different they are, the more your own worldview will expand.
  • Think before you act. Take the time to give yourself a chance to process your words and actions before you proceed. Create in your mind’s eye a story, complete with a beginning and end, of the path you are about to take. Evaluate the imagined results to increase your chances of a successful outcome.
  • Never stop learning. You can put away your books, but you must always be a student. The world is dynamic. We will never know all that there is to know. The best we can do is to keep our minds and hearts open to this wonderfully vibrant creation.
  • Listen. A colleague once told me, that the greatest gift you can give someone is to listen. Spend less time talking and more time listening. Hearing is not the same as listening. Hearing just happens; listening is intentional. Effective listening is an art that must be learned and constantly practiced.
  • Constantly evaluate your surroundings. Be present and aware. Put down your cell phone and interact with the people around you. Don’t be a bystander. You must anticipate and prepare for anything and everything you may encounter.
  • Be empathetic. In my opinion, empathy is the greatest trait a leader can have. Walk a mile in your own shoes and you will get to the next town. Walk a mile in everyone else’s shoes and you will get around the world. I can’t say it better than the author, Daniel H. Pink: “Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”
  • Find something to believe in.  Find a cause, religion, a community organization, politics, or all of the above. If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. Leaders always find a way to give of themselves to aid in the betterment of the world. Perform small acts of kindness: lend a hand, cause a smile, wipe a tear, warm a heart – give of yourself in these ways, and I promise, you will be rewarded.*

As graduates and future leaders, we are all counting on you. Find your place in the world and use all that you have and will learn, to, as Michael Jackson said, “Make it a better place for you and me.” *This life insurance commercial from Thailand captures it best.


Help! I'm Addicted to Micromanagement!

While creating a training program for newly appointed managers,  I reflected on commonly faced challenges, as well as my own personal experiences. One of the greatest challenges I faced as a new manager was micromanagement. In fact, I may have been the worst micro-manager ever (to all of you out there that I may have micromanaged, I apologize).

Micro-Managing to Create “Mini-Mes”

Why Do New Managers Tend to Micro-Manage?

Micro-managing drove me crazy, so I know it drove my team crazy. As these embarrassing and painful growth experiences went through my mind I began to process through the reasons a new manager, or any leader, micromanages. I decided to throw the question out on Twitter™ and received great feedback from my Twitter world, including these answers:

  • Fear
  • Narcissism
  • Need to be in control
  • Lack of trust
  • Do not know how to let go
  • Need for perfection
  • Don’t think anyone can do it as well as they can
  • Someone may get more credit or recognition than them
  • Do not know what else to do

I think all these suggestions can be correct for different people in different situations. Upon pondering my own personal reasons for micromanaging, I found several of these to be true. I was a star individual performer who was promoted to management without any training in leadership. I knew how to do my job well as an individual performer. Once I was promoted, therefore, it made sense to create “mini-mes”. This is a really bad idea. It’s not a way to win friends and influence people. I thought that to increase someone’s performance all they needed to do was to do exactly what I did before I was promoted. I thought this would make them successful, thus making me successful – huge misconception. I know to those of you in leadership, this is obvious, but more often than not, it is not obvious to a new manager.

I was also fearful. I still made bonuses, but they were no longer based  on my individual performance. Instead, they were based on the team’s performance. In my young mind, this made it even more reason to create little “Me Robots.” If they could do the job exactly as I did, they could generate the same revenue I did, and we should all be happy… right?

As with most new leaders I was tapping into familiarity. I was doing what I knew how to do, but what I was doing was not producing the results I hoped for. It was not until one of my team members was leaving the organization that I had to face the truth. His parting comment to me was “you use the word team all the time, but there is no team here.” It was then that I realized that what I was doing was not working. I decided to educate myself on the skills of leadership. Following are the seven things I learned that helped me to regain perspective.

7 Tips to Help Micro-Managing Leaders:

  1. Recognize that micromanagement causes people to become resentful or turn their brains off: Why should they think if you are doing all the thinking for them?
  2. Become the leader of the team and not the star performer.
  3. Get to know your team members individually, learn what their strengths are and how to motivate them.
  4. Trust that they are able to succeed in their own way, and give them the room to grow and develop.
  5. Create a safe environment for innovation, creative ideas and new processes.
  6. Keep  in mind that NO ONE is motivated by micromanagement, no matter what the reason.
  7. Never be afraid to have a team of people who are smarter than you. When the team shines, the leader shines!

All aspects of the leadership journey are part of an insightful learning process. We never “arrive” and we are always gathering new information to apply. As leaders, it is meaningful to reflect on our journeys, seeking ways to improve our methods and style. As you reflect on your own journey, ask yourself what you have learned and how you can help new managers along the way.

Why do you think leaders micromanage? Do you have some tips to help micro-managing leaders overcome this addiction? Please share  you thoughts by leaving a comment to this article.


4 Tips to Unlock the Potential in Millennials and Unify Your Workforce

We are embarking on a time when we will have five generations in the workforce including: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y), and the newest generation about to enter the workforce, Generation 2020. Many say they have had difficulty leading such generational diversity, especially with Millennials. This is illustrated by the countless negative articles, discussions, and blogs on the dilemma of hiring and working with Millennials, also known as the “Entitled Group”. Concerns are so widespread and misguided that Strategy + Business magazine published an article titled, “Five Millennial Myths: Forget what you think you know about your Gen Y employee”. The article provides insight into the many disparaging myths that shroud this generation.

Each generation grows and adjusts with the dynamic world in their time, facing different events and challenges as they make their way into adulthood and the workforce. One’s world experience is a major part of the fabric that makes everyone authentic. This combination of generations, experiences and uniqueness make it an incredibly exciting and challenging time to lead!

Here are 4 tips for leaders to help unlock the potential in Millennials and unify your workforce:

  1. Unlock their passion. Assign a mentor who will show them the ropes, help set goals, and help them understand boundaries and expectations. Spend quality time with them and learn what motivates and excites each individual. This can be done by administering behavior/personality assessments and conducting regular coaching sessions geared toward helping them find their place in your organization – (for more information on human behavior assessments, contact me at ). By allowing Millenials to feel comfortable and welcome, you give them the freedom to express themselves and find passion in their work.
  2. Promote contributions. Renowned psychologist B.F Skinner said, “You can build a society entirely on the basis of positive reinforcement”. Encourage and promote their insight and ideas by acknowledging and celebrating great input, solutions, and accomplishments. Use positive reinforcement instead of negativity when they don’t quite hit the mark, taking care not to squash creativity.
  3. Ignite creativity and innovation. The Millennial generation is more technically savvy than any before them. They were practically born on the computer and use social media to connect with people and information all over the world. We need to align our businesses and relationships to accommodate their level of connectivity. Maximize the authenticity of the Millennial generation to ensure we do not get left behind or become status quo. Allow them the opportunity to do for you what they do best.
  4. Encourage teamwork. “…there is nothing more important than teamwork. It gives people a sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately makes them better…”—Patrick Lencioni One of greatest contributions of this generation is their ability to function as a team. This is a result of receiving constant (and as the parent of two teenagers, I’m told, annoying) parental guidance and support as well as the trend of recognizing teams’ accomplishments by promoting the “everybody wins” approach to competition. Millennials know that they are never alone in their endeavors and associate being a part of a team with winning. They ask for help when they need it and do not take issue with being a follower. Leaders building highly effective teams would do well to learn from Millenials.

Working with Millennials and untapping the many talents they bring to your organization should not be difficult for good leaders. Their talents are a gift to us. The ultimate gift that you can give to your organization is to identify all the strengths and invest in those you lead. The returns are boundless! It is our time as leaders to mold and prepare younger generations to be tomorrow’s leaders.

How are you making a positive difference unifying your Millennials with all the generations in your workplace? Share your comments!

Also check out, Do Gen-Y’s make good Leaders? by Michelle Braden and Five Millennial Myths: Forget what you think you know about your Gen Y employee”,   written by Jennifer J. Deal.


Preventing a Leadership Crash From Over-Correcting

Often when I read a book I find myself thinking, “Some of that was strong food for thought and some of it was a little too much for me.” When that happens, I try focusing on what is relevant so there is still a meaningful take-away rather than disregarding the entire book. Authors write to their personal extreme passion, and it’s good to remember that you do not have to agree with everything that is being said to learn something.

Leaders are very similar. We lead out of our own personal passions and values. Whether or not we are always conscious of them, they are present in our leadership. These passions and values are very close cousins to our “hot buttons".

When our hot buttons are pushed, we can have a tendency to overreact or over-correct the situation just as an author may over-write to make their point. I find that overreacting or over-correcting frequently generates results opposite of what is really expected or desired.

Allow me to illustrate… A few weeks ago, I was driving home from a meeting. I am embarrassed to admit I leaned over to pick something up (not paying attention as I should) and, when I did, I slightly went off the road. Normally this would not be a big deal… I would simply correct and get back on; however, when you combine the fact that I was in deep thought, my cruise was on about 72 mph and the startle of hitting the rumble strip, a recipe for disaster was about to unfold.

When I hit the rumble strip, instead of a gentle warning the noise of the strips is intended to give, it shook me from my deep thought and seriously startled me. I overreacted! I swerved (or should I say jerked) the steering wheel to the right. In just a split second my car swerved to the other lane, and I over corrected again to the left. It was in just a second I realized, “I think I might flip this baby.” Fortunately for me (and thanks to my guardian angels) I was able to get the car back under control. Before you know it, everything was back to normal. I settled down, regained confidence and was back to cruising at 72 mph (I was paying much closer to attention though).

Later that evening I was telling my husband and a friend about what happened over dinner. As I explained it, I realized the parallel between what happened to me and what happens when a leader “over-corrects.”

As leaders we can get lost in the moment, in our personal passions, thus losing focus on the big picture and responding without thinking or over-responding to drive our point home. I realize as leaders, being able to respond in crisis is a highly desired trait, but I also realize that there are times we cause the crisis ourselves (such as I did) from over-correcting. Either way, whether the crisis is self-induced or caused by someone else, over-correcting is rarely the answer and usually results in disaster – or near disaster, just as it did when I was driving.

Have you ever over-corrected (over responded or overreacted) as a leader? A perfect example would be, the team is working under the pressure of a deadline (now 8 days past due), a tight budget, everyone is exhausted, you just got an email that the engineering team has not been able to correct the “bug” yet, stakeholders are calling and your lead engineer just called in sick. How do you respond?

Some of you from just reading this can feel your chest tightening. I am sure your story is a little different but the stress is the same. Below are some steps to help you process through over-correcting in difficult situations. I encourage you to take just a minute to go through the questions below – they will help you to be more proactive next time and hopefully reduce the crisis response of over-correcting:

  1. Identify at least one situation where you overreacted/corrected
  2. What was happening?
  3. What hot-buttons were pushed (identify how those are related to your own personal passions and values) 
  4. What was the outcome?
  5. How would you like the outcomes to have been different?
  6. How could you have responded differently to have created a different outcome?
  7. What will you do to create different outcomes in the future?

We Have Heard This All Before….

I was teaching at a conference with a group of colleagues on leadership. As I perused through the surveys I saw one comment that caught my eye (I am not sure why the negative comments always “catch our eye” but they do). This comment for some reason really got me thinking. The comment was, “This was OK but it was nothing new”.

My first reaction was to think, holy cow, should we have been presenting in a different manner, was our material not relevant, what can we do different? I let that settle in my mind for a while and did not share it with anyone else.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered; does everything have to be “new”? I think most of our challenges are not from what we do not know, but rather, what we do not do with what we know.

After many years of leadership, training and coaching I realized being accountable and following through with the knowledge we have is the greatest challenge. If we are not careful we are always looking for the newest, latest and greatest trend in leadership and not even applying what we have already learned. The wisest man on earth once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” If we believe that to be true then the challenge is not finding a new way to lead, but to apply what we have already learned. I think we have to guard against the desire to be stimulated with something new (or at least what we perceive as new) and practice executing what we already know. How many of us go to a conference, get several great ideas, maybe try one or two when we get back to the real world, put the conference binder on the shelf and go back to our routine?

I would love to hear what you think. Is taking on new information or a new way of saying/doing something more exciting than actually doing it? If so, how does a leader bring the two closer together?


Is There Such a Thing as “Leadership Commonsense”?

I was recently coaching with a leader who was frustrated with one of their first line supervisors. The complaint was stated like this: "He just doesn't have commonsense when it comes to leading people".

What do we mean by commonsense leadership? Commonsense is defined as sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence. Webster describes commonsense as "the unreflective opinions of ordinary people". Therefore, would we define commonsense leadership as the leading of people from our individual "native intelligence". I thought about this for a few minutes. So, we could have leaders that run the gamut of Michael Scott from "The Office" to maybe a Warren Buffet! That could be like rolling dice with your leaders. Is that a risk that you're willing to take?

The problem with commonsense is that in the best of times, it is our "red flag" detector, the little spot in our brain that says "That doesn’t seem right." In the worst of times, though, it’s that little spot in the brain that says "That seems right" when it isn’t. And if commonsense comes from experiences and experience is the great teacher. Why are we still in a mess?

Duncan Watts, who authored Everything is Obvious - Once You Know the Answer, states that "commonsense is a hodge-podge of accumulated advice, experiences, aphorisms, norms, received wisdom, inherited beliefs, and introspection that is neither coherent nor even internally self-consistent". As evidenced by these famous commonsense quotes: " Two minds are better than one vs. too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth" or Try, try again vs. stop flogging a dead horse". And if "experience is the best teacher", when should one also "maintain a beginner's mind"?

Back to my leader's complaint about the supervisor lack of commonsense. In reality what the leader was saying was, "Why isn't this supervisor doing what I do?" But when you ask some to use their commonsense, you are asking them to do what is common and makes sense to them. If you want people doing what you would do then you must train, mentor, coach to that. A word of caution - trying to pass along your commonsense is going to be very difficult and (I know that this will be hard to hear) your commonsense approach may not be the best in every situation.

Here are four things to consider when leading others to find their own “leadership commonsense”:

1. Commonsense is individual - drawn from personal experience. And often that personal experience is not common nor consistent. What we gain is impacted by our interpretation of that experience at that moment in time coupled with our past experiences. Research states that we pick and choose what we remember about experiences and that our memory tends to forget details that are less favorable. And those different interpretations will give inconsistent and sometimes uncommon sense. An organization and/or teams need a common, consistent approach to problem solving. Creating an environment of collaboration and shared experiences that connects to a shared vision will produce better results.

2. Commonsense accepts obvious answers - because commonsense always has an answer. You immediately dig back into your past experiences looking for commonality or at least similarity to the question/concern at hand. The answer seems obvious because you have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt. Leaders should never overlook the obvious but we too often want a quick answer. We don"t allow time for the not so obvious. Instead of always having the answer - we may need to ask a question. Leaders need to ask the "Why". Why is this an issue? Why is this happening again? Why is the team struggling? Why are our results inconsistent? To find the answer you need to understand the why and the why may not be obvious.

3. Commonsense can be vague - because you're following your "gut". When you are following your "gut", it may be hard to give concrete direction or advice. We say things like "Just trust me on this." or "We don't have time to discuss the details, just do it". Often it is precise actions and directions that are needed. It is a must for any successful organization to have a strategic plan with specific goals that is communicated widely and often.

4. Commonsense produces inconsistent results - each "commonsense" leader sees his role and responsibility differently. We find ourselves deep in the "If onlys"..if only we had the right people leading, if only we could find the right incentives, if only they were more competent. All this actually proves that common sense is not that common. To get the desired results an organization must know what will take to produce the desired performance every time. The only way to know this is to have specific processes, personal accountability, and measurable outcomes that align with the strategy and goals. This requires hard work and time but so worth the investment.

I agree that commonsense is good at making the world seem sensible - by allowing us to reject explanations that don't coincide with our experiences and ignoring counterfactuals. In reality, commonsense may be less about a way to understand our world but more of a way just to survive without having to understand. This is possibly one of the reasons that we don't learn and grow from our and other's experiences. May I suggest that perhaps its time to view our organizational struggles like how medical science views finding cures. No one in the science community is throwing up their hands just because finding a cure is complex and hard. Let's apply that same admirable resolve to our organizations - do the hard work! The reward will be a healthy, productive organization.

What are your thoughts on “leadership commonsense”? We would love to hear your feedback and/or answer your questions. If you are interested in learning more about working with a coach for yourself and/or someone you work with please contact us today at 804-502-4319 or . You can also contact JoAnn directly at .


Making a Difference

Most of us want to have an impact on something, especially as leaders. We want to matter and make a difference. I have found this to be true in the work place as well as with our loved ones, neighbors and communities. Abraham Maslow, a founder of humanistic psychology and creator of the hierarchy of needs, tells us that self-esteem and the need to contribute, be respected, and needed is an innate human necessity.

Some jump in head first and commit, others sit on the sidelines waiting for the coach to put us in the game. Regardless of your situation or desire, making a difference begins internally. It starts with you. Taking the time and effort to get to know yourself is the absolute best way to begin to make a difference.

Getting to know yourself (mentally, physically and spiritually), will help you prepare to make a difference and prepare for what the world may demand of you. Below are three things I aspire to. I hope these things will encourage you as well:

  1. Exercise - You may have heard this from different people and sources on many occasions. I would like to share it with you yet another time, because it is so important. You may be surprised how much of a difference you can make when you reap the benefits of a sound body. I find that when I run without my headphones, my mind is just as active as my body. I’ve solved some of my world’s greatest problems in just 4 miles!!
  2. Arrive early - This is especially hard for those of us with chauffeur responsibilities. Set your alarm 15-30 minutes earlier to give your body a change to transition from slumber to wakefulness. Try to leave for the office or your appointments 15-30 minutes early as well so that you can give your mind a chance to transition into your work. Reduce what I will call “shock of circumstance” by giving yourself a chance to adapt to, think about, and reflect on your immediate environment.
  3. Slow Down - This is a type of meditation that I have adapted from the book, “Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game” by Dr. Joseph Parent. Regardless of the game or situation, the key word here is mental. Find five minutes during your day, every day, for clearing your mind, relieving stress, and/or preparing for action. Find a quiet spot where you will not be interrupted -- an office, closet, or even the bathroom will do! Turn off the lights and sound and close your eyes and just sit. Let your head and chin rest by removing the stress on your neck. Release your shoulders by letting them drop. Let your arms rest on your legs and place both your feet flat on the floor. Relax your muscles and body and feel yourself breathing. With your mind’s eye count from 1 to 100 or slowly recite the alphabet. Concentrate on every number or letter. Without moving, feel your toes and slowly move from there to every part of your body individually. Once done visualize yourself being perfect, doing everything perfectly, and making a difference.

Now it’s time to focus and go out to do great things. As leaders it is imperative that we know ourselves, our capacities, as well as our limitations. We need to use tools and do exercises that prepare us to make a difference and inspire others. Please share the tricks of the trade that help you.


Help, I’m A Control Freak!

Dear Michelle,
My husband and even my dear friends refer to me as a control freak! I own and operate a catering business, and yes I’ll admit I have a tendency to micro-manage (one time I almost divorced my husband and now ex-chef just because I thought his cilantro pesto was too salty!) How do I break away from my compulsion to control everything while maintaining top notch food service and quality for my clients?
– Control Freak in Harrisonburg, VA.

Dear Control Freak,
You have taken the first big step with any personal challenge and that is, “owning it”. In order to improve a behavioral pattern we have to first be aware of it, the second step is to make a plan of action. Most of our problems do not stem from what we do not know, they manifest from doing nothing. Below are some suggestions that should help:

  1. Open your mind to other people’s opinions and ideas – your way is not the only way.
  2. Wait, breathe, and think before you respond – this gives you a window of opportunity to mitigate a situation without regrets.
  3. Practice self-observation and keep a journal – this helps you to “see” yourself from an outsider’s perspective so you can correct mistakes.
  4. Set one goal at a time for yourself – changing a long-time behavioral pattern takes time, so be patient and try not to get overwhelmed.
  5. Set up accountability partners – confide in 1 to 3 trusted people about your new goals and give them permission to hold you accountable to the behavior changes you have set for yourself.

Changing anything takes time, but staying focused, developing a plan, and surrounding yourself with accountability partners will keep you on track. Following these steps will relieve stress on yourself and your business colleagues, plus give you more fulfillment in your life. Now how do I get a hold of some of the cilantro pesto?