Power and Influence

June 13, 2018

Power your success: Use outside counsel

You need to have a consistent way to get outside perspectives in order to build success. That was a common thread across the presentations of our speakers at last week’s Women’s Leadership Summit. Regardless of whether you use a personal kitchen cabinet, a peer advisory group, or a mastermind group, the point is to be part of a group of trusted individuals who have diverse experience and who are willing to be brutally honest with you and hold you accountable.

Kitchen Cabinet
Dr. Trish Holliday, Tennessee’s Chief Learning Officer and Assistant Commission of Human Resources, talked about her use of a personal kitchen cabinet. This is a group of trusted individuals she brings together periodically to give her straight talk. Trish asks them about improving her personal brand and expects them to give her straight talk so that she continues to be the authentic leader she wants to be. She talks with them about her goals and challenges, and they offer solutions, course corrections, or new approaches.

Peer Advisory Group
Kurt Greene, chair of a local Vistage group of CEOs, talked about the value of peer advisory groups. These are formal groups of like-minded individuals, often working at the same level in a company or organization, who come together monthly (in the case of Vistage) to address challenges and improve their organizations. Kurt stressed the importance of confidentiality, strong accountability, and honest feedback. Those are key to the success of advisory groups like these. But when any of these essential pieces are missing, the value of the group is lost.

My partner Deb and I have been a part of a mastermind group of six business women since 2011. We have become deeply bonded and are invested in each other’s success, both professionally and personally. We meet twice a month and take a retreat together each year. At every meeting, we do a quick check-in about what has happened since we were last together, including celebrating successes. Then we divide the remaining time up and work through individual challenges. I can’t tell you how many times we have helped each other solve problems or offered new ideas or approaches because we bring different experiences and perspectives to bear. Having five other people put their brains to work for you is very powerful, especially because they have no vested interest except to see you succeed.

A Forbes article recently talked about the superpowers of groups like these: formal structure, confidentiality, feedback, expertise (other than your own), and accountability. I agree. Each of these is an essential ingredient in the success of groups like this. The group has to have structure to maintain its purpose. The people in them have to be both open and honest, and be willing to keep all of the confidences shared in the group. And while group members should be like-minded about seeking success, you need them to bring different professional strengths and expertise to the table.

Want to talk more about putting together your own group of outside counsel? Shoot us an email (susanne@ignitesucceed.com or deb@ignitesucceed.com). We’d love to help you get started because we personally know the value.

March 22, 2017

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Think about your day yesterday. What did you tell yourself about the kind of day you had, how well you did a certain task, how you looked, or whether you made the right decision about something?

We are always judging ourselves, comparing ourselves, and telling ourselves little stories about what we can’t do. It’s a human instinct. But the stories don’t stop with just us. Our little judge sets us up with stories about the people we interact with. We go into meetings with stories already in our minds about the other person, why they behave the way they do, what they “really meant” by that comment, and so on. That doesn’t mean you can’t deal with your little judge. You absolutely can, and you must if you want to be an effective leader.

If you want to silence your inner judge, you start by increasing your self-awareness. You have to listen for those little stories your internal judge tells you. Then recognize them for what they are…stories. When they are based in your personal history, look for the positive, empowering lesson the experience taught you, and make that a new story. Just remember, stories are self-talk. It is our choice whether we listen to them.

March 8, 2017

Beyond The Usual Suspects

Mining organizations for hidden talent should go beyond the traditional approach of mirroring those currently in power. The problem with this is that it usually rewards white males at the Leadership skills trainingexpense of women and minorities whose path may look different. In order to solve this, it needs to be a two pronged approach:

  1. Organizations need to develop evaluation criteria that allow hiring managers to go beyond the usual suspects
  2. The “hidden leaders” need to place themselves in leadership opportunities.

If you feel you are a hidden leader, here are some steps to position yourself to be “discovered”:

  • Hone your leadership skills through volunteer work outside of your organization
  • Become know as the connector – knowing how to leverage relationships and solve problems
  • Let others know you understand the bigger picture of your work
  • Volunteer to lead an internal effort that enhances the company (warning – it may not be seen as enhancing the company at first, but building upon the above three tips will help – persevere!)
  • Seek outside leadership training and ask your employer to pay for it. You will be seen as a “natural” leader

I have personally done all these and it works! We can help hone your leadership skills! Come join us!

February 22, 2017

Have You Been Silenced?

What was your reaction when you heard that Elizabeth Warren had been silenced on the floor of the U.S. Senate? It turned my insides cold.

My reaction had nothing to do with the politics of what she was talking about. Rather, it was that several men made similar protest arguments. They were allowed to speak. But when a woman’s voice went up in protest, she was shut down, hard.

I flashed back to the many times in my life when I have had “voice-stifling” experiences. I thought about the times in meetings where the thoughts and ideas that I expressed were ignored, until a man expressed similar, or near identical, ideas and was applauded. Has that happened to you? I thought about dismissive attitudes and being told to “sit down and be quiet” (yes, that has happened in the workplace).

I thought about how in my family and in my childhood classrooms, the boys were treated with far more deference than the girls. Their words mattered more. Their voices were expected and accepted.

But I thought we were past that day. Until Elizabeth Warren was silenced. And that made me angry!

What about you? Have you ever been silenced? Is it still happening to you today, or have you found your voice?

January 11, 2017

Hidden Figures

The Movie “Hidden Figures” is in the headlines. It is about three black women responsible for making great strides in the success of NASA and the space program back in the early 1960’s. It is a piece of history we haven’t known about for many reasons. In an article this weekend in Parade magazine, they gave two reasons:

  1. A lot of the work these women did was considered classified and they couldn’t talk about it
  2. “We were just doing our job” as the lone survivor, Katherine Johnson says.

The second reason is why women should step into their power. There are too many of us that “just do our jobs”, yet either have so much more to offer OR don’t take the credit we deserve!

The title “Hidden Figures” is so apropos for various reasons.

  • We, as a nation, have even gone backwards when it comes to women in computing. Women account for 24% of computing jobs today, down from 37% in 1995. According to studies by Accenture and Girls Who Code, the solution is to develop more tailored programs that appeal to girls’ interests in middle school. Getting more women into computer science could boost women’s cumulative earnings by $299 BILLION and help fill the growing demand for computing talent.
  • Women tend to “hide” in the background or on the sidelines. Giving girls and young women self confidence and support early on can serve as catalysts (pun intended) to stay in STEM programs.
December 14, 2016

Holiday Productivity Tips!

During the month of December, many people slow down in their business life and ramp up in their personal life. Taking the energy of the season and using it in both arenas can give you a head start for the new year!

Here are some tips to have a more productive holiday season:

  • Keep moving forward – you will be ahead of the game come 2017 if you keep moving ahead while most stop moving during this time of the year.
  • Network! – this is the best time of the year – there are more social events than ever.  Start conversations, learn from others and share your passions.
  • Capture the energy of the season.  Don’t get bogged down in the “to do’s”.  Bustle in your personal and business life!
  • Reflect – on the good and the bad.  We often learn more from our mistakes than our successes, BUT we often forget about our successes.  CELEBRATE them!
  • Use the “bonus week”.  This is the week between Christmas and New Years. Love this week because it is usually quiet around the office and you can get so much done.

Here’s to a very PRODUCTIVE holiday season!

November 9, 2016

When Doors Open

We’ve all heard the saying “When one door closes, another one opens”, but let’s think about that open door………

doorsopenJoann Lublin’s second chapter in her book, “Earning It” is titled “Doors Open with a Strong Push”. She talks about situations where women received a strong push for advancement. That push can be internal or external.

Think about examples in your own life. Were you ever SO CLEAR about what you wanted that you would do anything (ethical) to get it? That would be considered an internal push. Starting at the bottom of an organization and working your way up is an example that many of us may have experienced.

Maybe it was a mentor, friend, parent or spouse that pushed you through that open door. In this chapter, Lublin lists some “Leadership Lessons” pertaining to “Doors Open with a Strong Push”:

  • Be tenacious about looking outside of your comfort zone
  • Find Influential internal (company) allies
  • Confront self-doubts about your capabilities
  • Be willing to start at the bottom

Typically opportunities don’t fall in our laps. We need to be thinking strategically, especially in the corporate world and taking that push wherever it comes from.

July 20, 2016

Sorry, Just Wipe These 2 Words from Your Vocabulary

We all need to speak like the leaders that we are! There have been numerous studies on how we (especially women) undermine what we are saying verbally or in emails by using certain words. The top two on that list are:

  • Sorry
  • Just

Both are used as “permission” words: “Just checking”, “Sorry, do you mind…?” and are used as a “warm up” to a request.

These words are culturally ingrained. Most of the time, we don’t realize we are saying them. Instead of coming out and asking for what we want, we hedge our bets with these words. Other commonly used “permission” words are:

  • But
  • “I’m no expert, but…”
  • “I think ….”

This has become top of mind in the last year or so, as many articles, studies and even TV Commercials have addressed the subject. There is even a Chrome browser extension ‘JustNotSorry‘ to catch words that diminish our message!
So now that this has been brought to your attention, think of ways to become aware of how you use these words. Are you using them without even thinking about it? When you do catch yourself, look at the message with and without “the word”. See how much stronger your statement is without the “just”, “but”, “I think”, etc. Challenge yourself to speak and write as the real leader you are and wipe these words from your vocabulary!

July 13, 2016

Leadership in Scary Times

In the same week that we celebrated our nation’s independence, we saw unspeakable acts of violence happen around our country. And we watched much of it live, either on television or on the Internet.

Change SamePeople from all walks of life are stepping up and stepping out to express their thoughts and feeling about the growing divide in our country. What are we to do? Do we sit by and watch and pray for peace? Or do we do more?

Leaders do more. But what? As we move through our daily lives of holding down jobs and taking care of families and supporting volunteer organizations, it can feel like there is little time left for anything else.

Hands in a Circle
But leadership happens in small ways, too. It happens when we challenge someone who is saying hateful things. It happens when we step up and defend the rights of a co-worker or friend. It happens when we demand that our leaders listen by making a phone call or sending an email to them, demanding action. It happens in a really big way when we teach our children about truth and honesty and courage.
In these very tumultuous days, look for ways that you can lead in your life,ways that you can be an agent of peace and change. Look for ways to reach across divides, and then reach.

As many have said, we can get through difficult times if we do it together.

June 15, 2016

Who You Know DOES Matter. Here’s Why.

Photo by Dean Wissing on Flickr“It’s not what you know, it’s…”

You know the rest of that saying, don’t you?

“It’s not what you know – it’s who you know.”

Often accompanied by rolled eyes and a shrug of the shoulder, we say it with resignation. We say it as if there’s nothing we can do about this outrageous injustice, where clearly our own talents are neither recognized nor appreciated.

But is that really true?

Sometimes, of course, it is.

You may have seen your share of examples. He got the job because he was the CEO’s teammate back in college. She got the contract because she has political connections that could help the company.

Those situations are common, it’s true.

But there are other ways of looking at the power of connections as well.

First, knowing the right people can make your job as a leader easier.

That isn’t because you’re trying to beat the system, but because you need to get things done – and done well.

When I led a department for a residential treatment center, I was responsible for hiring good therapists. Our work with adolescents and their families was complex and challenging, so we needed the best for the work.

I ran ads and took applications from the public, but soon learned that wasted precious time. I spent hours interviewing candidates who were nowhere close to what the job required.

Eventually, I stopped running those ads.

Instead, I’d call other professionals I trusted, and tell them what I needed. If they knew candidates worth consideration, they’d send them to me personally. Because the referrals came from clinicians who understood the need, the applicants were much stronger, and the entire process faster.

In short, I was more effective as a leader, because I called people I knew.

Second, being known, gives you a greater impact.

One of our strengths here at Mountain Laurel Leadership, is our “circle of influence”, that is, the personal networks we’ve created over the years. We’ve each done a lot of different things, gathered a lot of experience and skills, and made a lot of good contacts.

In other words, we know people.

So when someone needs help in an area we understand, they’ll often call us for ideas. And usually we can help, or we know someone who can.

What you know does matter – but who you know matters too.

And sometimes, that’s a very good thing.

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