Leadership

kindness is a superpower written on brick wall

Don’t Confuse My Kindness with Weakness

We all have extreme power in our ability to choose how we listen, how we react, and how we treat others. Kindness, I believe, is one of our most powerful tools. It is free, and is an incredible investment in ourselves and in others.

A business associate of mine recently called me a “softie” when he perceived my approach to a challenge in a way that did not resonate with him. I corrected him. “No, I’m not a softie. I’m a kind person, and there is a big difference. Please don’t confuse my kindness with weakness.” 

Being kind does not mean you’re afraid to make hard choices or that you must avoid opposition or conflict. Rooting yourself in kindness simply means that you treat people with the respect that they deserve, and that helps ensure the outcome of even the most difficult situation is as good as it can be. 

No person has ever left this earth with a perfect score. We all make mistakes, mishandle situations, and let our emotions cloud our judgement from time to time. Let’s be more kind to each other when we stumble. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You can never go wrong by being kind. Doing so diffuses tension and helps others avoid feeling defensive. Even in the most difficult conversations, when you show the other person that you care, you make your communications more tailored to their needs—and more effective.

When we remember to be kind we act in a way that invites others to do the same. And that’s infectious.

Photo by Andrew Thornebrooke on Unsplash
Turtle Hiding in Shell

Imposter Syndrome Visited Me Today

I’m a pretty confident guy. In fact, self-confidence is one of the top strengths in my toolbox, according to my favorite assessment, The Strength Deployment Inventory. That strength serves me well in some cases, and gets me in trouble in others. It can make me look arrogant at times (which is not a good look on me).

Self-confidence is not on the menu here today, though. Imposter syndrome has shown up as I get ready to launch registration for a new leadership communication workshop this spring.

I’m confident the program is good — maybe even great. I’ve thought about this workshop for over a year, and have planned it well. I’m also sure that it will be a terrific, two-day event. Actually, experience is a better word.

So why do I feel like a fraud today, and that nobody is going to register? What’s going on here? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it the fact that I don’t like promoting myself that’s making me want to close my laptop and go back to bed?

According to Psychology Today, “People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.”

Okay, it’s pep talk time. I’ve got 3 degrees, a proven track record, people who believe in me and my work, and a roster of clients who all count on me to help them be better communicators and leaders. I’ve also founded 3 different companies, and have made several career transitions and reinventions that most people would think were impossible (and many did at the time). I’ve heard more people tell me, “you can’t” and then I’ve shown them that, in fact, I can. 

That feels better…. 

Don’t worry about me. This is temporary. I’ve dealt with it before. Today I’m sharing this feeling with you, because I want you to know that you can overcome imposter syndrome. I’m going to work on it right now.

  1. I’ll start by not comparing myself to others who I admire and who I think do what I do quite well. Nobody else delivers programs like my co-facilitators and I do — we’re one of a kind.
  2. Then I’ll remind myself that perfection doesn’t exist. My programs don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be expert level and make people get tons of value for their time spent (and feel inspired to tell others about the great experience they had).
  3. Finally, I’ll recall that while promoting myself and this new offering is uncomfortable for me, it’s necessary. If I constantly create and never promote, nobody will benefit.

Imposter syndrome be gone! For the rest of today, anyway….

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

Career Journeys, Changes and Transitions

Making a career transition, or any significant type of career change, is hard work. It’s also fraught with risk and uncertainty — yet the payoff can be literally life-changing. 

I know. I’ve done it 4 times. And that’s why I enjoy helping others along their career journeys. Whether it’s figuring out if it’s best to stay or go, plotting the plan to make a transition from a steady path with a large company to a more volatile (and more exciting) start-up or early-stage venture, or designing a complete change that means starting from scratch, I’ve helped people through it all.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that may help you if you’re feeling stuck, or if you’re thinking about what it would be like to make a big (or small) career transition.

Connect Your Purpose with Your Career Path

I know, a sense of purpose can be elusive. But I argue that it’s critically important. If you do the work to find and clarify it, you’ll be more confident heading down the right path. Purpose is often easier to see once you’ve looked at your passions and the value you bring to others. And remember, your purpose can evolve. Mine sure has, but the common thread for me has always been two things: teaching and communication.

Connecting your purpose to your work will help you discover what you really want, and then you can target the position or path that leverages your strengths and passions.

Think Transition, Not Change

Chances are you’re not throwing all your skills and experiences out the window and starting with absolutely nothing you can carry with you. That’s why I’ve never liked the term “career change.” In my experience, I’ve made several career “transitions” — each one building off my knowledge, skills, and experiences to date (but now more aligned with my purpose and current goals). Inventory your skills and experiences and consider how you’ll apply them to the future career you want.

Get Good at Networking

You can apply to positions all you want — but that means molding yourself to fit a position that’s been predefined. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re simply looking for your next “job.” But most of the people I help are looking for more than that. They want a new chapter where they can feel more fulfilled — and feel like they’re making a difference. Those opportunities are often created through networking with people who need what you have to offer — even if no job description exists.

To get good at networking, you must define the right avenues for making the connections you need. This means leveraging people you know — and meeting new people — who can help you connect with the right humans who can get you there.

Get Outside Help to Keep You Accountable

Hoping that the next chapter of your career will magically reveal itself is a sure way to ensure it never comes. You have the power to make it happen if you really want it. However, it’s not easy to do and you need to create short- and long-term action plans to keep yourself accountable. 

Figuring out how to make real change happen, or even if making a transition is right for you at the current time, is rarely done well alone. Seek help from a coach, trusted advisors, and other people who have done the work and you’ll be much more likely to stay the course and make it happen.

I’m Here for You

I help leaders transition to more fulfilling next chapters in their careers

Want to learn more about how I can help? Let’s talk.

Check In On Your People

My heart breaks for the people of Ukraine who are living through the unnecessary and cruel effects of war. The invasion, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, political division in our country, and negativity and misinformation fueled by social media have got me feeling frazzled, frustrated, worried, and exhausted. And I know I’m not alone.

These are uncertain and uncomfortable times. As leaders, we must make sure our people know that we understand, and that we care. How do we do that? We must communicate.

  • Check in. Your people need more than check-ins on deadlines or metrics, especially during times of uncertainty. Ask them how they’re doing. Knowing you care about their well-being tells them that they matter. Here are some prompts you can use to start the conversation.

    Before we talk about [insert topic here], I want to ask how you’re doing personally. 
    There’s a lot going on in the world right now. How are you feeling?
    We don’t usually talk much about our personal lives, but I know that I’ve been feeling a bit stressed lately with everything going on at work, at home, and in the world. How about you?

  • Acknowledge, don’t ignore. When world events happen, they impact your people in different ways. It’s important to acknowledge what’s going on, listen, and provide support. Check out this article that shows how some leaders have let their people know they care, and are not alone.

  • Check in with yourself. Leaders are no good for their people if they’re exhausted, overstressed, or burned out. One of the best things you can do for your team is to make sure you’re taking care of you — your body and your mind. You can’t be effective if you’re always running on empty. 

In times of uncertainty, it’s important to take a little extra time to make sure we’re all okay.

Two people in a coaching session having coffee

Top Talent Needs Leadership, Too

Everyone deserves to feel that their work matters and to get feedback, both positive and constructive, so they can grow. But you know what? Some people don’t want to grow or are simply too checked out to care.

Therefore, leaders who are also good coaches can get caught in a trap. They can spend 80 to 90 percent of their available coaching time investing in people who don’t want to be coached. Now, I’m not saying you should give up on people too easily, but if you’re doing the hard work of coaching people who are not responsive to it or who are consistently not improving, I challenge you to flip the equation. 

Instead, dedicate the bulk of your coaching time to your top performers.

It’s easy to think they don’t need your feedback or coaching. That’s wrong. Just because your top performers are good at getting things done (and making you look good as a result) doesn’t mean they don’t need encouragement, praise, or constructive criticism. 

Remember, silence sends a very strong message. Don’t let it convey to your top talent that you don’t care about their achievements, growth, development, or well-being. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Woman composing emails or text messages on her phone.

Setting Each Other Up for Success

When you craft your next email or text message, ask yourself, “Am I writing this to be read by me, or by the person, the human being, who I am addressing it to?” 

Chances are you’re writing it in a style that works for you, and not necessarily them. 

If you’ve ever been to one of my workshops or training programs, you know that the first rule of any communication is to know your audience. This is true for every piece of communication you send throughout your work day — and your personal communications, too. When we are intentional about the way we communicate with each other and respectful of our differences, there is a much higher chance that the results will be more positive.

For example, if you know that Alex never responds to all your questions in your emails, then don’t send him emails with 15 questions embedded throughout several paragraphs of text. Send an email with a brief introduction, and 1 or 2 questions (bulleted out) that he can scan and reply to quickly. Voila, you’ve just set him up for success. He can move fast, like his job requires, and still give you what you needed because you considered his needs as well.

Here’s another example. Let’s say that your boss, Janelle, has been losing track of your emails and Teams chats because there is too much on her plate this week. Instead of firing off 8 different emails during the day on a variety of topics that don’t need immediate responses, collect your questions or issues and batch them into 1 email that she can respond to later. Or, if responses are not needed by the next day, scheduled time to sit down with her and talk through your items. You’ll likely get all the answers you need with no additional emails in her, or your, inbox.

These are just a few examples. You get the idea. 

Here’s my challenge to you. During your day today, pay special attention to 3 pieces of communication you send to someone else. With each, whether over text, email, Zoom, Teams, or in person, consider this question: 

How can I set this person up for success?

It will make your communications more productive, I promise. The bonus is that you’ll save time and reduce frustration on both sides. 

Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash
Grow Good Leaders

Lead, Follow, and Get Out of the Way

You’ve probably heard the famous quote, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” It’s used a lot in business and has been attributed to several influential individuals including Lee Iacocca, Ted Turner, and even Thomas Paine. 

The quote is an either-or proposition. You either lead, you follow, or you avoid interfering with those who have stepped in line and are playing their respective roles.

But leading well also means knowing how and when to follow — and knowing when to get out of the way

How can you help someone you’ve trained and developed take the lead?

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Lost and Found

Every time I veer from my purpose as a teacher and coach with a passion for helping others be better communicators, I get lost. 

It seems easy to look back and pinpoint exactly where I’ve gone off course in the past. Reflection is powerful, isn’t it? There were times when I was making a decision based on what I thought was the “right” move but that was not necessarily what was true to my purpose, or vision for my future. Sometimes I even made decisions based on what other people wanted me to do. We’ve all done that, I know. The problem was that I couldn’t clearly articulate my purpose to myself, let alone others, until I did the work to define it clearly. Then I was able to stay on course more easily. 

Nobody’s path or story is straightforward. One of the only things we can guarantee in life is that things will change. However, your path might feel quite haphazard at times. Mine did for years.

When you find your purpose, your path has a guide that keeps you on track even if the track changes.

Finding Your Purpose and a Clearere Path Forward

If you feel a lack of purpose, or if it’s been elusive and you can’t quite define it, I encourage you to start by writing a few things down and pondering them for a bit: 

  1. Your passions
  2. What you value
  3. The value you bring to others
  4. What you really want in life, and in your career

Do you see any common themes? Is there a thread that keeps emerging? 

I know the feeling of being lost so well that I can see it coming from 30 miles away. The good thing is that now, I can get back on track without missing a beat (most of the time — I’m still human).

Do the work to find your purpose and claim it. If you need help, I’m here for you.

Conver-Speaking

When I led a brand communication agency, I had to do a lot of pitches. In preparation for each pitch meeting, my team and I would craft a presentation that would tell the prospect a story that we thought would resonate with them. It would include an assessment of their situation, our proposed approach to solving their problem, and samples of previous work and the results they created. Then, I’d rehearse the presentation to death. I was always confident and ready to present it by meeting day.

80 percent of the time, I would not present it as planned — and that was by design

My goal when walking into the room was always to get my audience talking first. If I could do so, the meeting would naturally become a conversation — an opportunity to share experiences, pain points, and potential solutions as real people genuinely interested in collaborating. Would I use the slides we had prepared? In most cases, yes. But I would jump around and bring up examples as the conversation warranted. It all depended on how the conversation went. A few times, not a single slide was shown and we still won the work.

20% of the time, the people in the room needed to see the traditional pitch, and I would give it to them. Still, I would try to treat the presentation as a conversation, getting them involved along the way as much as possible, and trying to make it a two-way dialogue instead of a monologue.

Next time you need to present, think about your audience and what they need to hear from you — and also why you both are there. Then consider how to make it more of a conversation than a speech or presentation. It’s not always possible, but when it is, a two-way dialogue will make it easier for you to build a stronger relationship from the start.

Investing In Others

I received a nice compliment yesterday. A client said, “You really invest yourself in other people. You’re always fully there; truly wanting to know about me and also hearing what I have to say. Thanks for that.”

What a kind thing to say. I’ll admit that I am a guy who really wants to help others unleash the power of their strengths. I see the good in people, almost to a fault. And I know the power of good communication — especially listening.

The truth is that the investment I make in my clients is done with the goal of helping them invest more in themselves. Often the work I do as a coach is about reflecting back what I see (and hear) in my clients. 

But his compliment got me thinking about how little we really invest in each other when it comes to doing the hard work of making others feel seen and heard in the workplace. Even at home, for that matter. My work is about giving people a safe space to express themselves and explore their strengths, blind spots, and challenges so they can improve their own performance as leaders and professionals, as well as their relationships both personally and professionally. Yet there are times that I fail to do so when I’m “off the clock” and spending time with my family. I’m going to change that.

I encourage you to invest in yourself. Always. Let’s also make sure to invest in those around us who matter most by giving them the attention and support they need to reach their potential. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. We simply need to take the time to make that happen.

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