Tradition and Reflection

During the holiday season, no matter where you live, you will probably participate in some type of traditional event or practice. Many traditional events or practices are culture-based and passed down from generation-to-generation without much thought about the value or purpose.

This reminds me of the story I heard many years ago – you may have heard it also:

A young woman asks her mother why she cuts the ends off the ham before she cooks it. Her mother told her that she learned it from her mother. So, the young woman asks her grandmother why she cuts the ends off the ham before she cooks it and the grandmother said it was something she learned from her mother. Finally, the young woman asks her great-grandmother why she cuts the ends off the ham before she cooks it, and the great-grandmother said it was because the ham didn’t fit into the pan she had to cook it in.

This is a wonderful example of what happens when we don’t question why we are doing the things we are doing and discover the meaning behind our traditions or rituals.

We have the opportunity as we step out of one year into another, to reflect on what works, , what doesn’t work, what we could do differently or what we should continue to do because it’s our “magic sauce”.  We need emotionally intelligent leaders. Perhaps it is time to  create new events or practices to help you as you grow as a leader, therefore I encourage you to:

  • Reflect – take some time and think about what you have accomplished this year. Even when we face challenges and obstacles, we still can learn from the experiences. Most often the things that cause us to grow are not our accomplishments but our challenges. Everything we do is an opportunity to learn and grow not only as a person, but also as a leader. What do you wish you could have done better? What are you proud of? 
  • Give Thanks – one of the best ways to boost happiness is to show appreciation for a job well done. As a leader, we can thank customers, colleagues, and co-workers for their contributions in the past year; be honest and sincere – maybe even go old-school and send a handwritten  note! 
  • Declutter – this is one I am working on right now! Start small. Clean out your inbox, filing cabinet, virtual or physical work space. You will be amazed at what this simple act will do for your mental health. The end of the year is a great time to assess what needs to stay and what needs to go. Create  a clean-out plan that allows space for possibilities and opportunities in the New Year.
  • Start a new practice – as a leader, what do you do to support your own personal physical, mental and emotional well-being? Could your existing daily practice use a boost? Try adding journaling, meditation, yoga, or working with a coach. Something  as simple as taking a walk to prepare for or  unwind from the day will help improve your well-being. 

I am thankful for the opportunities I have experienced this past year. As I look forward to the new year ahead, I am excited about connecting with new people, places, and opportunities. Let me help you step into your possibilities, lending you the support  you need to show up as your best self. Let’s see how we can make 2022 an exceptional year together!

Data-Drive Decisions

If you think about it, we use data every day to make decisions. I look at my fuel gauge in my vehicle to decide how soon I need to add fuel to the tank, and I check my oil usage to know when I need to change oil (which needs to be done next week!)

I check my fitness tracker to see how close I am towards reaching my daily step or sleep goal. One of my fitness goals is to keep my daily steps between 8,000 and 10,000. Some days I do better than others, but on average I am able to stay on track because I check the data.

I can check my spreadsheet to see how much revenue I have been able to generate in order to meet my business goal. I have a goal to bring in a specific amount of revenue by the end of the year, so I break it down each month to make sure I am on track to reaching my goal.

Before you can collect information about how your business is doing, you need to know what you should be tracking and why. For example, if you want to focus on improving sales, then daily, weekly and monthly sales would be important data to track. However, if you have seen an increase in customer complaints then tracking customer satisfaction data would be important. Having three to five metrics that you are following will help you stay on top of key performance indicators for your organization.  

Once you have decided on what needs to be measured or tracked, then you need to create goals around the data. Using the S.M.A.R.T. goal approach will help you to create specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals. Clearly describing what you want to achieve, what will be measured and why, with a well-defined timeline will help you reach your goal.

The next step is to create a scorecard that identifies what information needs to be measured or collected, by who, and what the target goal is for each month will bring together the data for easy access. A spreadsheet is a good tool to use for developing your scorecard, and make it shareable so that those responsible for tracking data for a particular measurable can input data as needed.

I use spreadsheets to track my data because it is easy to use and it gives me a quick snapshot of where I am so I know what I still need to accomplish. Much like health data such as heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature tell us how well our body is performing, scorecard data is a snapshot of how well your business is performing.

Think about what data you track, and let me know if you need help in setting goals or creating a scorecard to make your data-driven decisions.

Leading in Complex Times

Leaders continually face challenges and discover that some challenges are more complex than others. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, no silver bullet, for the leadership challenges we face.

However, leaders facing these challenges learn two things: what works and what doesn’t work. The thing to remember is that what worked or didn’t work in the last challenge won’t necessarily work in the next.

Lynda Gratton is a professor of management at the London School of Business and wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review. In this article, she recognized that businesses are constantly challenged by change and crises. Lynda explained that leaders need to see what is happening from different perspectives and be able to work collaboratively with others even when they are under stress.

During a Tedx Talk, Matt Beeton described the importance of a leader to first connect and understand himself or herself before connecting with those in the organization. When a leader is able to focus on self-reflection, self-regulation, and self-perception, then that leader is able to receive feedback in a way that is constructive to the challenge at hand. Without self-regulation, a leader could take feedback as criticism and rather than incorporate the feedback, the leader may become emotional and disregard important details.

As a leader, connecting with people is necessary to create a cohesive, collaborative environment where people are able to dissect a challenge and identify solutions. While leaders may be liable for strategic decisions, they don’t have to make those decisions alone, and as Ms. Gratton points out, obtaining different perspectives or viewpoints often brings new clarification to a challenge.

Think about the challenges you face as a leader:

  • Do you try to work through challenges on your own or do you look for feedback and perspective from your peers, colleagues, and employees?
  • How often do you reflect back on your own performance as a leader and look for ways to improve your own emotional intelligence?
  • Are you able to control how challenges impact your professional – and personal – stress level?

The first step in becoming a leader who can navigate complex challenges is to develop one’s own emotional intelligence. Knowing your emotional triggers will help you skillfully navigate conversations and manage stress. When a leader is self-aware, it helps him or her to listen better, find solutions, and build relationships. Being able to accept other points of view often leads to new ways of thinking and overcoming challenges.

Leadership is more about who you are – rather than your title or what you do. In times of challenges and uncertainty people look to their leaders for purpose and passion – be that leader!

I would love to hear about your leadership journey, and let me know if you need support around the challenges you face.

Managing Your Soft Skills

As leaders, we should be consistently updating and upgrading our skills. If you haven’t accessed your skills recently to see where you could improve or collaborate with others who have the skills that complement yours, it may be time to think about doing so. 

So what skills should you focus on? You might take a skills assessment test – there are many out there that you can do for free.  I find that soft skills are in demand, and the five soft skills I like to focus on are:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Management
  • Sustainable Communication

These skills deal with how we manage ourselves and how we respond to the environment. I will touch on each of these briefly, but if you would like more information let me know.

Being a self-aware leader means that we understand our strengths and limitations, including setting boundaries around both. I don’t know about you, but I am better at working with my strengths than managing my limitations. Having back surgery and breaking my knee within a two-year time span made me have to deal with serious limitations!

Spending time at the end or beginning of the week to plan out my schedule helps me use my time more efficiently so that I can implement my strengths during times when I work best. I also make sure to schedule breaks in my calendar to regenerate and refresh my energy level throughout the day. As a leader, it is important to be able to accurately employ my strengths and not let external circumstances dictate my progress. It is also important to be in tune with my values and triggers so that I am positioned to respond rather than react to challenges during the day or week.

Self-management includes being calm and clear-headed during times of stress. In order to be able to accomplish this skill, we must have other things in place such as a healthy diet, sleep, and a way to manage stress through breathing, meditation or exercise. Stress can be brought on by too many changes or challenges that arrive at the same time, and being able to be flexible is key to managing or adapting to these events.

Being flexible is something that you may have learned or still need to learn. Flexibility as a leader is one of my superpowers and I have developed this power over the years. Meeting new challenges or seizing opportunities to stretch my comfort zone have helped me be more flexible. One key self-management strategy is to stay positive and look for the best in each situation regardless of what is happening around you.

A socially-aware leader is able to walk into a room and read the emotions of those in the room. This can be accomplished by looking for non-verbal signs of engagement or disengagement. People who are engaged and ready are usually watching you and have a relaxed posture. Whereas those who are not engaged are distracted and may have their arms crossed or a scowl on their face with little or no eye contact.

Since we don’t usually know what happened to each person in the room before you entered, you may find having a few minutes of ice-breaking comments or interactions gets people ready for you to interact with them. If you don’t already have a relationship with the people in the room, taking the time to create a connection with them is important.

Leaders who understand relationship-management are able to encourage teamwork and collaboration by bringing people together around a shared vision. Building relationships takes time, and is about finding common ground; people often bond over shared experiences, emotions, and knowledge. Relationship management is also about being able to identify the right people who can work together, so being able to identify complementary skills, leadership styles, and work ethic are important.

As a leader focused on relationship management, remember to cultivate abilities and skills through mentoring and coaching. Mentoring is usually a longer-term relationship where you may share your experience and knowledge on a regular basis with a team member who is looking to gain a better understanding of your business or for their own professional development. This is a great tool to use when working with succession planning. Coaching is often used for a specific task and specific time period, and is designed to help those you are working with move through a challenge or address a specific issue.

Leaders who communicate well have the ability to increase engagement. Communication is not only about speaking well, but is also about listening and writing effectively. Listening is about being present and actively listening – this means no distractions such as thinking about what is coming up next. Active listening means that you are seeking to understand not only the words but intention and emotion behind the words of the other person. Written words have an impact, and it is important to read over what you write before you send it regardless of what delivery format you are using – memo, email, text etc. 

I find that these five soft skills are valuable for leaders who want to make a difference in their organizations. It doesn’t matter how many people you are working with; you can always make a positive difference by sharing your insights with others. The key is to keep yourself in a professional development plan for improvement.

I hope you find these five soft skills helpful, and let me know if you need any more information or would like support around developing your soft skills. Be sure to check out any upcoming events.

Intentions, Gratitude and Celebration!

For me, these three words are connected. When I set my intention for the day it helps me to stay focused. At the end of the day, I practice gratitude for what I accomplished and celebrate my daily wins! I will be honest and say that I don’t do this every day, but on the days I do I find my energy and productivity are higher than on the days that I don’t.

Setting an intention can be the driving force behind leaders reaching their goals. An intention is a state of mind rather than an action. For example, on days when I know I have a lot of things on my plate and deadlines are looming, I will set my intention to be gentle with myself. This helps me to overcome my perfectionist mindset, while focusing my energy on what I am able to accomplish rather than beating myself up for not doing as much as I thought I should do.

I also have days where my intention is to relax. I have work I love, and often find myself focused on my goals 24/7, but this is not good for my creativity or my mental health. Slowing down and not working can be a challenge for me. I read for relaxation, and have to make myself read fiction so that I don’t get pages into the book and make notes to start a new project. I have also learned that I cannot listen to non-fiction while driving or I do the same thing – try to take notes while driving – not a good combination!

I find that gratitude needs to be authentic. There are so many things that touch my life:

  • People who call just the moment I need them
  • Ideas that pop into my head to solve a problem
  • Having time to step outside during the day and enjoy my surroundings
  • Being part of teams that support one another
  • Family and friends who love me as I am

You get the gist. Some people practice gratitude to start and end their day. I find that some days I practice gratitude all day long, and on others ending the day with gratitude closes out the day on a positive note.

What are you grateful for? It can be as simple as having a safe space to work or live, having an amazing meal with friends, or taking a walk in the park. Gratitude is personal, but when you write it down it gives it more power. I would challenge you to start a gratitude journal so that you can go back to days when things are not going as well as you had hoped for. You will find energy from revisiting past experiences.

Think about what your daily wins might be. A win could be speaking up in a meeting when you are usually silent. It might be learning a new process or software platform. It might be finding time to listen to a colleague. It might be managing your energy levels throughout the day so you aren’t completely drained at the end of the day.  

Remember to celebrate your daily wins by:

  • Sharing your celebrations with your co-workers, friends, and family.
  •  Adding your daily wins to your gratitude journal.

We are amazing people, and we need to celebrate who we are and what we do more than we do!

If you would like support in setting intentions, having an attitude of gratitude, or celebrating wins, let me know – jillian@wisewomenleadership.com

Prepare for the Future

Back in the 1990’s, Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, explained that “only by changing how we think can we change deeply embedded policies and practices” and “radical change in how work is done inevitably leads to the definition of new jobs with new skills requirements”.  Fast forward to 2021, and these words still have meaning.

During the 2020 pandemic, many businesses were trying to function under existing policies and practices which no longer served their employees or their customers. Rather than creating a strategy to deal with the changes brought on by the pandemic, many businesses found themselves reacting to the change based on those existing policies and practices – and we know how well that works!

Over the years, we have seen the need for new jobs and new skill requirements. Moving from highly industrialized process-driven work to more technology-based critical thinking work created the need for the up-skilling or retraining of workers. Along with these ongoing changes, colleges and universities find themselves struggling to prepare their students for careers that continue to evolve – or perhaps have not even been envisioned yet. 

In my father’s generation, workers often stayed with the same company until they retired; in my generation the calculation was that we would change careers at least three to five  times. As we move forward, the current and future generations are going to experience far more change in the workplace as businesses adapt to changes in technology, organizational structure, environmental concerns, and  changes yet to be identified.

Change can be challenging, but it also offers new opportunities, so how can we prepare ourselves for the future? In my experience, I find that when people are doing what they love to do, are interested in learning , and are thinking about things that interest them, they will be productive regardless of what is changing around them. Working in what is called a “Zone of Genius” means that you have an innate talent that is focused on your passion, and at the end of the day you feel energized rather than depleted.

We need to decide if we are going to react to change and add skills as we have to, or be proactive and consistently learn new skills that can be used in a variety of industry sectors. For example, understanding and building your emotional intelligence can be used no matter where your work takes you, as well as good communication and problem-solving skills.

Are you stuck in your career? Do you need help in developing a strategy to help you change or grow? Contact me and let’s talk about how I can help you to refocus your energy and find work that you love!

How to Build and Sustain Business Trust

I recently listened to a TED Talks Daily podcast where Marcos Aguiar, an engineer and consultant, talked about business ecosystems that build and sustain trust. He began by asking how many people would allow strangers to pick up their children, drive them around town, drop them off at a remote location and pay them to do so. 

He then shared that this was the foundation of a company started by three women that began in one city and grew to others that transported children to and from after-school activities. This organization was built on what Marcos calls systemic trust – trust in the business or system.

From a study he conducted, he identified various factors that are used when building an organization based upon trust. Four of the factors are:

  • Access focuses on who is (and who isn’t) allowed to interact with the organization.
  • Incentives provide rewards and motivators for specific types of activities and behaviors the organization expects.
  • Transparency communicates a clear message to the consumer, and an example of this is reviews by customers about the business
  • Contracts allow parties to agree to terms and conditions of doing business together.

Marcos shared that there is not a single tool that can build trust by itself, and that most businesses seemed to use three to five of the tools he identified in the podcast. 

Another interesting concept he raised was that most businesses that build trust used both digital and non-digital tools when designing their systems. Think about this for a moment. When you buy things on online shopping platforms or use a particular online service to book your next trip, why do you trust one business model over another?

How do you build trust in your business with your customers, clients, contractors, or suppliers? What tools did you use to build and sustain that trust? How could you incorporate the tools that Marcos mentioned?

Does any of this resonate with you? Would you like the link to the original podcast? Drop me a note and let me hear from you!