In the first year; drawing leadership lessons from parenthood.

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My favorite superhero.

As a new mom, there were plenty of new lessons to take in Caroline’s first year. Particularly, as a new mom of a daughter with Down Syndrome. However, I found that there were many more ups in contrast to the downs (no pun intended) of what I thought might come from having a child with special needs. Silly me, silly my anxiety. In this process, I can’t help but think about how what I learned as a new mom could also be likened to what I have learned as a leader.

  1. Let them cry it out.

Or in other words, it’s okay to sometimes let your team fail. It’s harder than hell to listen to your child cry while you try to drown them out with Netflix and a bottle of wine. And it’s just as hard to let your staff and your team learn some lessons the “hard” way while you sit on your hands and try not to micromanage. But guaranteed, at the end of the day, you will have a child that will sleep through the night and a staff that can successfully see an initiative through, armed with new found knowledge and confidence, whether they succeeded or dropped the ball a little. In the end, both will be okay and all the better for it.

  1. Do not set limitations.

One of the most important things that I have learned from Caroline is that I need to let her do her thing and show me what she’s got. I set high goals, but I’m also there to catch her when she falls from pulling to stand and reaching high up for toys. As soon as she has mastered something, she is onto something else. Through her determination, she calls BS on anything that anyone has written on Down Syndrome and children with development disabilities. Let your child develop into their own greatness. The same should go with your team. The best piece of advice I received on supervision was from a past boss and dear friend of mine; “give them a project and then get the hell out of their way”. If you instill trust in your team, they will respect you all the more for it. Do not limit their greatness; be there to support, but also let them do their thing. I guarantee that you both will be pleasantly surprised by their capabilities that come from this.

  1. When they are hungry, feed them.

And anything you have in your fridge will probably do. Just chop it up into small, manageable bites and make sure it’s soft enough for those kiddos with no teeth. This will help them grow and give them energy. This shouldn’t be rocket science. And when your staff is hungry – whether for new projects or just because they have worked a full day – order in pizza or look at your full plate of projects and see what you can delegate off onto your staff that are thirsty for more challenge and responsibilities. You will need to access — just as you do with children — staff that need smaller, more manageable projects and those that are ready to cut their teeth on something bigger.

  1. Provide encouragement.

Every time Caroline does something new, we make a big deal by shouting and clapping, saying “Yaayyyy, Caroline!” And she looks at us like we just grew three heads. And then she, too, starts clapping and shouting. It’s not necessary to yell and clap and throw a parade every time your staff does something terrific, but it’s also good practice to show some acknowledgement and appreciation more often than not. To praise them in front of others and to take notice of a project that they worked hard on and give credit where credit is due. Praise works the same as food – it does wonders for energy and motivation.

  1. Widen your social circle; find some mentors and folks who “get” it.

I would be remiss to not acknowledge the parents out there – both those that have children with special needs and those who don’t – that have provided support, encouragement and advice within this first year. It’s been refreshing to exchange stories and advice with those parents that get it, that understand your frustrations and also revel with you in your celebrations, understanding just how important both are to your growth as a parent. Do the same with folks in your field; find a mentor, find a colleague that “gets” your work. Reflection and story exchanging is not just important to do but it helps you grow and expand as a leader and provides an excellent opportunity to think outside the box. This will only help strengthen your ability as a leader.

  1. When in doubt, get on the floor and play a little.

There are a zillion things that go through our mind every day and lists upon lists that we are mentally crossing off as we move from one project to the next. We often don’t take time to really, truly enjoy the day by playing a little. Caroline has taught me to slow down and take time to lay back and look at the trees, take notice of the beauty of life, to take advantage of stacking up plastic blocks and pointing out colors. I recall one day in late May, that Caroline and I had laid back on a blanket in the back yard and just laughed at the tree boughs waving in the wind, noticing the clouds rolling by. It was the best 15 minutes I had spent all week. Take some time to do the same with your team; to get lost in the moment a little and have some fun with the work that you all are accomplishing together. To take a moment to enjoy what you are doing and why you are doing it. You would be surprised by what creativity comes to you when you have a moment to take in the day.

  1. Be an advocate.

I have learned that pushing a little for more services for Caroline and also pushing for higher goals has helped set her up for success and reaching those milestones. I know to ask questions, to get the most information I can from her doctors and therapists and to talk with my husband about what would be best for her, with the understanding that she may struggle with more things than not in the future. I know that she will need us to advocate for her, for her education and for living her best life. I also do not doubt that she, too, will find her own voice in advocating for herself. And when the time comes, I will let her do that. You will know when the best time is to advocate for your team members and your staff and push for what’s best for them, whether that’s a promotion, a raise, a better office space, or providing accommodations to best meet their needs.  They will tell you – and you will also know – when it’s time for them to use their own voice. But in harmony with yours as their leader, it will sound all the more sweeter for providing them with what they need.

  1. Move past your comfort zone and work to understand those that are different from you.

You may surprise yourself; those whom you assume are different than you, are in actuality, probably more like you than different. (if the whole world thought this way, we would be in a much better place).  I cannot tell you how many times a day I am reminded that Caroline is more like a “typical” baby than not. She cries when she is hungry, she poops more than what is probably acceptable in a landfill, she loves to shout when she is excited and shove things that are foreign into her mouth, and really just loves this thing called life. So, I challenge you to take a closer look at that person you avoid at staff or team meetings because you are going on the assumption that you won’t get along with them or that you don’t have anything in common with them or that you feel intimidated by physical differences you see – and try striking up a conversation instead. You might just surprise yourself that this person may have more in common with you than originally thought. That they may not be as annoying as you feared or that their hometown is right next to yours or you take the same train to work. And those commonalities could help improve your work and your team tenfold.

  1. It’s okay to be frustrated and tired. Be gentle on yourself.

Whether you are parenting a child or leading a team, it can be exhausting to manage, provide guidance and oversight and keep all the balls going in the air. Inevitably, one or two or maybe all of those balls may drop and that can send you spiraling into a dark place of frustration, loss of confidence, lack of motivation, and perhaps depression. But continue to remind yourself that you are human, it is not a matter if you make a mistake but when, and you will make many. What I try to remind myself is that these mistakes pave a way to a better you, a parent, a leader, a team member, a family contributor. Be gentle to you – take some time for yourself and know that this too, shall pass.

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Everyone gets pooped out. Even princesses.

  1. You are your own worst critic.

When I visited a therapist over the summer to deal with my anxiety, she asked what specifically brought me to her, why now, when I had been experiencing anxiety all of life? I told her, “I’m here for my daughter. I don’t want her to see me struggle with anxiety and even worse, I don’t want her to struggle with it. I don’t want anxiety to rule our lives.” She understood, and we moved on to discussing tools that I could use to help me counteract this struggle. These tools pointed out ways in which cognitive “distortions” were ruling my life, such as “If your performance falls short, you see yourself as a total failure” or “you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it so exclusively that your vision of all reality becomes darkened”. I found myself deeply resonating with these examples. Being responsible for Caroline shone a bright spotlight on these distortions of which my “inner critic” had been falsely telling me for years. I had been relying on this critic to rule the constant inner voices in my head that fed into my anxiety, instead of focusing on the bigger picture of all that I had accomplished along my journey. As both a leader and a mother, I had fallen victim to this. No more; I realized that by surrounding myself with warmer, more positive and encouraging voices, including my own, only made me stronger. And that in reality, I had much to celebrate in my accomplishments within both of these roles. So, work to squash your inner critic and find one that is more compassionate and forgiving. And once you do that, you will find more space in your head to focus on what’s important; you will be astounded by what you are capable of when the negativity is drowned out.

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Don’t limit yourselves. Don’t limit others. Drown out the negativity. Be playful. Know your worth.

Letter from my 4-year old self

I recently attended a women’s leadership conference where the speaker asked us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves 4 years old again. What were we doing? Were we dancing? Singing? Playing?  Could we see ourselves with that innocent, unbridled energy, racing along on bikes with training wheels, a parent running breathlessly behind us? The first image that came to my mind was when I would put on my red two-piece bathing suit and danced around our living room to Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”. My mother, of course, was horrified. I, however, felt liberated, energetic, not focusing on the lyrics of the song but the way the freedom in which my body moved, the way it made me smile and laugh and swing around with my arms wide open. This exercise was meant to place ourselves back to a time where we felt most confident, most daring, and most carefree with not a concern about what we looked like and with no effort to suppress our enthusiasm or emotions. So, it got me thinking, where did that 4 year old self go? And what would she tell me today?

Here’s what she would tell me:

Dance like no one’s watching. On that stage of life, it’s just you sometimes, and it can feel very lonely, but sometimes so very empowering. So give it all you got – sometimes one chance is all you have.

Strut your stuff. Okay, so maybe not wearing a bikini to work. But don’t be afraid to flaunt authentic, silly you. It’s okay, and it’s a fact that people gravitate to those who are confident and most authentic. You have what it takes, sister.

Embrace life with your arms wide open. Life doesn’t stop and so you shouldn’t either. You need to embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly with the same passion and energy that you would in eating that last slice of birthday cake with extra frosting.

If you aren’t having fun, something is probably wrong. This is not to say that every day of your work life has to be a three ring circus, but sometimes, it will feel like it. And in not such a good way. But find a sense of humor and some good colleagues to laugh with. Sometimes, the  most creative thinking stems from laughing about its ridiculousness. And if you aren’t doing work that at the core you are passionate about, the fun part falls away and you are left feeling pretty empty. Trust your gut. It might be time to move on.

Forgive yourself when you fall. Skinned knees and elbows came fast and furious when you were four. But you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off and got back on that bike/dance floor again. So what’s the difference now? We make mistakes because we are human. We learn how to do things differently next time; that’s the beauty of mistakes. We had some thick skin back then that some band-aids and Bactine could fix. So what’s different now?

Don’t let someone suppress your good energy. Just because mom disapproved of the song, she didn’t stop you from dancing. She might have suggested something else that was more “appropriate”, but she still let you dance, that crazy, spinning around the room, tapping your toes dancing. There will be people in life who will tell you “no” and people who will tell you “yes” about something that you are passionate about, something that you really want to try. Listen to them both. And do it anyway.

Above all else, be you. I think it might go without saying that you turned out pretty good. But you also lost that sense of unbridled energy somewhere along the way, the twinkle in your eyes darkened a bit. Although you have had some pretty great moments of success, what has unfortunately stuck with you are the voices of people who told you couldn’t, or that you can’t, or that you aren’t good enough, or that maybe you should think about other options, or don’t be so emotional. Emotional is who you are – it has driven you to much success and to some of the most hardest, most passionate of conversations.

So, for old time’s sake, why don’t you put on a little Rod Stewart? Who cares who is watching? It’s up to you, after all.

 

 

A New Resolution and an Old Trick: Feedback

Feedback can come in different forms and be given at different times within an organization – once a year, once a month, once a day. And for some, it doesn’t come at all. Unfortunately, we can underestimate the power of feedback – giving and receiving it – and how it impacts the shaping of ourselves and others as leaders and contributors to a team. I see feedback as the nourishment to one’s workplace and career; without it, it’s hard to survive or do the best work that you can day in and day out. Feedback – like three square meals a day – provides the energy to do good work, to a lead a team and to be able to give strategic direction. Without it, we become parched of confidence in ourselves and in our work, our energy  zapped which leads to a lack of caring and effort. For those leaders and managers that just “don’t do feedback”  or “pats on the back”, I say, you need to get over it. Feedback is what literally feeds your team – it is what sets them on the right path and gives them sufficient energy and direction to continue to good work – amazing work! – for you. I’m also not just referring to the “good” feedback or those pats on the back. I’m also speaking to “constructive feedback”; the type that we at times hate to give and hate to receive. But once given, it can be so powerful in the professional development of your team and provides the reflective nourishment to shaping yourself and others as a leader. Don’t underestimate the power.

One of the great things about blogging is the reflective exercise and reminders it gives me in my own work. So, let’s start the new year off with a  feedback – and a feed forward – “nourishment” plan:

  1. Performance reviews and/or providing feedback to individual members of your team are like dentist appointments: sometimes painful, always cleansing and should happen at least every six months. These reviews are key to ensure that each of you are on the same page of where the organization is headed, areas of where you need to grow and areas in which you are excelling and moving the goals of the organization forward.
  2. Praise in public, punish in private. Constructive feedback should always be given in a 1:1 situation. It is never a good idea to berate someone in front of a large studio audience. We are not NFL coaches. We are coaches, at times, yes, but we are also meant to develop someone professionally and personally. Therefore, mistakes and constructive feedback should be delivered in person – avoid e-mail! – and 1:1 meetings. Praise, on the other hand, is always well received in public – whether through a speech, a toast, introducing your team members to other stakeholders with pride, etc. People feel good when they see that their good work is appreciated in front of others. However, some become embarrassed or do not like to be the center of attention – so make note of that, and try to find understated ways in which they like to receive feedback.
  3. A word on constructive feedback. It should be just that – constructive. It is not yelling, berating, threatening or belittling. It should be firm, honest and with the follow-through and promise of support that you would help the person reach their personal best. It should not be done through e-mail or text – tone gets lost and so does the purpose. Most importantly, your team members and/or employees deserve better than that. They deserve hearing it from you in person and provides them space to ask follow up questions and have a more productive conversation.
  4. Asking for feedback: the more you do it, the more you become accustomed to it. At first, it’s like taking a dip in a pool on the first day of summer- cold at first, but then you warm up to it. It becomes routine – it should be part of how you are developing yourself overall as a leader. And if folks aren’t being honest with you –  it might have more to do with you than them. Are you often defensive when hearing from others? Do you not listen all the way through a conversation before responding? Do you constantly have a retort and/or excuse for something that goes wrong? When asking for feedback, you need to be honest with yourself and others. You need to acknowledge, affirm and apologize. And then move on and learn from it and make changes where appropriate. And be reflective on what you hear – no one is perfect, so you are not exempt from this. You will screw up from time to time and you will want to know from others on how and why.
  5. If you find that your organization is floundering, losing direction or others are unmotivated, uncaring, exhausted – it may have a little something to do with the lack of feedback. You might not be able to afford a raise or move folks to a different position with an organization – but a you can always provide feedback. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking someone out to lunch or dinner and/or to take some time out of your busy day to check in with your team and ask these important questions. How do you think you are doing? How do you think the team is doing? How do you think I am doing? What do we need to change? What motivates you?  Instead of asking “what’s the matter” ask “what do you need”?

So add feedback to your new list of resolutions; an old trick that’s tried and true to developing one as a leader and as a professional. Think back to times where you have given or received feedback – and think about the impact that it had on you and the ripple effect on the organization. Make it part of your routine – nourish your team and nourish yourself this year. Happy New Year!

Leading in a state of possibility; are you a fence builder or a stone wall mason?

For those of us who like routine, hate change and struggle to think outside of the box – I get you. You like your coffee with 2 creams, no sugar and order it at your favorite coffee shop at exactly 7:15 AM every morning; or you go to bed at 9:30 every night with a glass of milk and read for approximately 20 minutes before lights out; or you go to the gym every morning at 5:30 AM and run on the treadmill for 25 minutes, bike for 10, stretch for 5 and home to shower. Or, all of the above. Things are timed perfectly in your life. It works for you. It may not work for everyone – but thinking about anything different gives you heightened anxiety and a bad case of hives.

We sometimes approach our work in the same way. “But we have always done it this way.” “Our meetings are always an hour long and should always be held in the conference room.” “That’s just not going to work, it’s not in the budget.” “No one will ever go for that idea – think of something else.” Or my personal favorite:

“How can you possibly make a difference in doing what you propose?”

Imagine for a moment if we lived in a state of possibility; if there were no barriers of budgets, naysayers, administrative red-tape or hoops to jump through. If we could literally get out of our own way and think about what we want to do rather than focus on only what we believe to be realistic. I bet we would astound ourselves with what we could come up with.

So, the next time you are leading a meeting with your team or staff, start with these questions:

What would you love to see happen in our company or organization?

What would be on your wish list if you were the CEO?

If you were to add a line item to the budget, what would it be and why?

What would be the ideal situation that you would like to see happen for the people, organizations and/or community we serve?

What is one thing you would change in our organization? Keep?

This kind of thinking gets people’s creative juices flowing, not to mention, it empowers them to be active contributors to the health and future of your organization. So maybe some things they propose might not be able to happen. So what? At the very least, you have introduced thinking that is not a routine, that is unexpected and that is bold and daring. You have made your team feel part of something that is bigger than themselves. Do their goals and dreams and wishes align with the organization’s vision and mission? If they do or don’t – you now have some great information on re-vitalizing what might have been getting stale. You understand where people’s heads are at. And that might not be where yours is.

Build some fences through their – and yours! – thinking – don’t keep putting up the stone walls. You only bring on discouragement and mistrust from your team – and in the meantime your organization becomes static, boring and not open to positive movement of change. Think boldly! Give it a try.

(Many thanks to my good friends at LeaderShape© for inspiring me (and this post) to “lead and live in possibility”!).

Passing the torch: Transition, training and avoiding leadership turmoil

Have you ever taken on a new position eager with anticipation to roll up your sleeves and get started, only to sit down and think to yourself “I have no idea what I’m doing”? It’s even worse if you are left with no map in which to navigate from. You begin to hit brick walls, become frustrated and disinterested and withdrawn. You hesitate to ask others for help because you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you are doing, God forbid. People hired/voted you into the position for a reason and so you need to prove yourself. Which is kind of hard when you have nothing to go on. So you might make something up or become lost in the minute details of the work. You are scheduled for meetings and receiving e-mails knowing very little and not being able to offer a lot of help. This is not what you imagined your initial first few weeks to look like! This is not how you want to demonstrate who you are as a leader.

Here’s what most likely happened: whomever was your predecessor neglected to “pass the torch” to you and/or your team. Or in other words, there was no effective transition between the predecessor and the successor. And most likely, we recognize this only because we probably have done it ourselves. Sometimes we get so caught up in the “what’s next” for us – packing up our boxes, cleaning out our desks, preparing for graduation, attending going-away parties, that we neglect to finish tying up those loose ends of our previous work. And although we most likely were really proud of what we accomplished while we were there, the lack of transitioning the next person/team in unravels all of that great work. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you – and others – avoid “leadership turmoil” and to train and/or transition folks effectively. These tips can be utilized whether you are the one who is transitioning or the leader who is training.

  1. Let people know you are leaving – and if you can, give plenty of notice. I know that seems like stating the obvious, but make sure that you inform others of your plans and also whom might be taking your place. Introduce – if you are able – that new person to colleagues, peers, stakeholders of your organization. It’s so appreciated not just by those whom you worked so hard to build relationships with, but also by those who are coming into the position. The welcome mat is out – the new person already feels part of the organization. Trust me – this goes a long way!
  2. Work with your boss/leader/organization head on your transition plan. If you need to leave prior to your successor coming in, you will want things in order. And vice versa; if you know someone is leaving, work with them in getting themselves organized so you look like you know what you are doing on the successor’s first day.
  3. Get organized. Binders are my thing. A previous boss of mine called it “If I get hit by a bus” binder/plan. Things can happen – hopefully nothing that involves a bus – that takes us out of our current position and sometimes quickly with no warning. So it’s smart to have a back-up plan. I have a binder for every program/event that I’m in responsible for. I have a timeline and a to-do list at the front of that binder and have tabs of different sections of that project throughout. I know – I’m a little Type A and geek out on office supplies. If you don’t like binders – you can emulate the same work by simply creating folders in DropBox. And then remember to share those folders with stakeholders and your successor.
  4. Have a conversation – maybe several – with the person that is taking your place. If you have already left the position – make sure to follow-up with the new person via e-mail or offer a phone call to talk through responsibilities. Sometimes we leave positions or jobs with a bitter taste in our mouth and would rather eat dirt than help out that company or organization. But then you need to put yourself in that person’s shoes; don’t be a jerk. Lending a hand to others and putting someone on the right track of where you left off is always the right thing to do. Swallow your pride and pick up the phone.
  5. Keep good notes and organized files. No one likes to come into a space that doesn’t make sense or has no rhyme or reason to it. Even if you go by the mantra “a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind”, that doesn’t work here. To me, that’s not helpful, it’s just being lazy.
  6. If you left unfinished projects behind, make a note of it. It would be unfortunate to leave a project you were passionate about in such a way that it is not not easy to pick up where you left off.
  7. Make a list of stakeholders and colleagues (and their contact information) that will assist with and be important to the work you were doing. The new person can then reach out to those folks and make the appropriate connections and start developing relationships themselves.
  8. Be honest, forthright and positive about the future of the organization. Remember, a person’s perspective on the new situation should be allowed to be shaped as they direct it – not you. You may have had a negative experience within that position, but you need to be diplomatic in how you share your experiences your successor. Be honest and forthright about people, potential conflicts and sticky situations that could arise, but be clear in how this person should take it upon themselves to draw their own conclusions and create their own opinions.
  9. Know when to take off the training wheels. There is a line that needs to be drawn between being helpful and being used as a crutch. At some point your successor needs to think, act and work on their own. They were hired for the position for a reason – because people trusted them to do the work. Not for you to yank the puppet strings behind the scenes. You left, remember?
  10. Resist the urge of being frustrated if things change after you are gone. Let it go, let it go…It’s not your gig anymore. Someone else needs to make their mark. And who knows? The better you have transitioned that person – the higher the probability that they are still carrying a piece of your torch.

As much work as this may seem; it leaves things a lot cleaner – including your conscience – in the end. And it helps sustain your credibility and integrity as a leader. Pay it forward.

Are we coaching or yelling?

This past weekend, I spent a beautiful October Saturday afternoon at a local college football game. Sadly, the team we were rooting for lost. It was a tough and disappointing game; I watched the team walk off the field and into the lockers with the weight of the world on their shoulders, barely glancing at the string of little kids lined up to slap their hand or get their autograph. The offense and defense were on completely separate pages that afternoon; while the defense was strong, the offense seemed to be all over the place. The last play of the game, the team had possession and could have won the game. But because it took too long for the team to make a decision, time on the clock ran out.  This seemed to be the case for the entire game. The players weren’t able to think on their feet, they seemed apprehensive in coming together to make a solid play, and no one seemed to be communicating with one another.

And then, I took notice of the coach. I remembered him from previous games I saw on TV and on other teams he had coached; he always seemed to be shouting obscenities, yelling in his player’s faces, arguing with the referees, pointing at everyone else it seemed but himself. He wore a constant scowl, and it was obvious that the players were walking on eggshells around him. I reflected on this on our way home that evening. I first thought about the players and how they must be feeling that night, their heads hung low, obsessing over plays, thinking about what they could have done better. I saw them blaming one another, blaming themselves, and becoming more discouraged and less confident in their abilities. And then I thought about how powerful tone, communication and body language can be when it comes to leadership. I realize that this type of behavior is not unlike other coaches; I have seen other coaches get frustrated, argue, slam down their clipboards and stalk off the field. But the fact that this coach’s behavior was consistent game after game, noticeable by fans and announcers alike, quickly becoming his “signature” behavior was what concerned me.

This coach led by fear. He thinks by yelling at his players, berating them game after game, practice after practice, setting a tone for the game and the fans’ experience by  using obscenities, anger and a lot of hand gestures to communicate will bring him power and successful wins. However, what has ended up happening is that his team has slowly begun to unravel. They have begun not to trust themselves nor their team mates in making decisions about plays or direction. While they may have become strong at backing off the opposing team, they lack the support and direction when they have the ball in their possession; how to think on the fly and how to get one another to agree on a play. They literally have become paralyzed by what their coach might do or say if they were to make a mistake or a wrong move.

I admit this might be a lot of speculation on my part. But after years of working with college students – whether on a team or an organization – as well as seeing good leaders and bad leaders (including personally being part of an organization where the leader led by a culture of fear), I can easily take notice when people are paralyzed by the possibility that they might make a mistake and the consequences that might follow after. Leadership is all about making mistakes – learning from those mistakes – and sharing with others what you have learned. When a leader leads by fear and a bad attitude, it impacts the team in such a way where they are unable or afraid to make a decision, and that’s where your team ends up falling apart. They can’t communicate strategically with one another, or be expressive about their own creative ideas for fear it won’t align with the leader’s. When someone leads by fear, the followers grow accustomed to walking on eggshells, concentrating too much on not trying to upset the apple cart to be involved in the actual details of the decision or reflective on the problem itself. And most importantly, they have no clue what the leader wants or needs from them.

There is no way a team can make an effective play when they feel paralyzed or stifled by sharing their own ideas, communicating effectively with one another or pushing back on what ideas might be taken for granted. You aren’t coaching when you are yelling or berating or punishing. You are only pushing your team members away; and you are impacting the productivity of your team. No one can distinguish your strategy or vision when its communicated in such an ineffective way.

An old boss and mentor of mine always said “Praise in public, punish in private.” When one feels berated or punished in front of an audience and/or fellow team members, it does something to one’s character, confidence and ability to move to on in order improve upon themselves. However, when a coach takes the time to pull an individual aside to provide effective and constructive feedback, there might be an initial sting, but the growth and opportunity for change is there. And when a coach takes the time to speak effectively with the team in a tone that can be listened to – the team is able to respond effectively with confidence and direction.

I was not surprised the team lost that afternoon. They had lost complete faith in themselves as a team – and that’s only because the coach allowed them to get there. Are we coaching our team or leading with our own fears and insecurities? Are we communicating through anger and frustration or through constructive communication and positivity? Motivating a team starts from the top. Coaching your team through growth and development will guarantee you wins along the way. Make sure you celebrate!

Banning the boss; why is it such a dirty word?

There has been a lot of talk lately about banning the word “bossy” (this specifically for women). Women – or girls – are afraid of stepping up into leadership roles so as to not be labeled “bossy”. And no one is calling the behavior for what it really is: being a leader. And although I can go into the double standard discussion of why women leaders are considered to be bossy (or the other “b” word), and men are just being leaders, let’s talk about the word in general. Why is it such a dirty word? There are songs out there about bad bosses. Movies out there about bad bosses. Even cards to get your colleagues on their birthdays that commiserate your shared frustration with the hated boss. Why all the hate?

“Bossy” or the act of being bossy, can mean a variety of things: bitchy. assertive. intimidating. demanding. controlling. It also can mean: productive. confident. futuristic. demanding. self-assured. Although the last string of words are much more aligned with leaders – being “bossy” is always given the bad rap. For example, my staff at work call me “boss lady” with much affection, and always respect. I even have a name plate on my desk called “Dr. Boss Lady”. And that makes me swell with pride. However, I can sink down in my seat in a hot minute if someone says to me, “you know, you are being really bossy today.” Really? ‘Cause I hope so. ‘Cause, you know, I’m the boss.

My mother said that I came out of the womb making a statement; crying so loud, the nurses even commented on it. This would be the first of many times that I embarrassed my mother. However, there are many times after that where she would marvel at how easily I could speak up to make sure my voice was being heard in whatever situation that called for it. But there were times I could have said so much more, but didn’t because I was afraid to come across as being bossy or -horrors of all horrors! – mean. However, I think that when we grow  into our leadership positions and become more comfortable with our role(s), we become okay with the word bossy. And I did. And I started to say all that I was feeling and speaking up that much more. But it’s still work in progress.

I think that all bosses – whether you are men or women – cringe a bit when they are accused of being bossy. It puts us on our guard, whether we like it or not. Sure, it may make some of us swell with pride and say “Good! That’s what I was going for.” Because here is the truth; no matter how you slice the cake, being bossy gets you noticed, gets your voice heard and people pay attention. Sure, some people may not agree with what you say (cue the other dirty words that go along with bossy) but if someone is being bossy – what they are really being is directive, honest and upfront. And some people don’t like that. They don’t like being told what to do, and they sometimes they don’t like the delivery in how it’s told. I get that. But again, I could write a whole separate blog about gender roles and what it means for women to tell other men and women what to do as opposed to men doing the telling. What I’m saying is that being a boss is reality.

I wanted us to think for a minute on what it means to be a BOSS. Today, you hear a lot of people say or comment “way to be, boss!” or “boss” as if it is a positive thing. It is. But I think that it is always attached to a more masculine way of being. And that needs to change. Because we are all leaders, we all have something to say, we all have some idea to share, and the job always needs to get done. And if we are the ones that need to make it happen, then unleash the flying monkeys and get out of our way. Leadership is about delivery, tone and enabling others to get on board. So embrace the bossiness for what it’s worth, but call it for what it is already disguising – and that’s leadership. And I’m all ears for an alternative word, but for now, you can just call me Boss Lady.