Monday, April 20, 2015

Tired of Talking: Leadership Means Action

I have been talking about Human Resources Management and Leadership for as long as I have had a career.  It all began in the late 1990s, when I was a Junior Business Consultant full of 'piss and vinegar'.

Back then, I wanted to change my workplace.  I had a great leader who believed in me and encouraged my enthusiasm.  We spoke about what Human Resources was really about (I called it Human Relations) and he gave me opportunities to be involved with organizations that were in the midst of change and better leadership (I worked with a business consulting organization).  He allowed me to design and implement new HR programs in our workplace.  I thought I knew a lot - I didn't really:)  I learned a lot.  But the one thing that has not changed since is my idea about what environment is required for successful business.

From there, I pursued a variety of HR and leadership activities and roles.  I advocated for more people centered HR programming.  I know... sounds crazy that we'd need more people centred activities for an activity that is all. about. people.  But, as you know, HR in a traditional sense is about processes and policies.  In the early 2000s, we were talking about the looming labour shortage.  By 2010, the shortage was here and growing.  Across Canada and the U.S. all the talk was about how low employee engagement was and how difficult it was to attract and retain talent.

Has it changed?  Not really.  It is still all the talk.

I was on a mission to expand the mindset of business and HR leaders and prove that caring and authenticity... transparency and compassion... were where it was at for leadership.  I led a successful program that brought all of these ideas into helping businesses transform their businesses by changing the face of HR Management.  When I left that role, I continued to talk and advocate for business success coming from authentic leadership.

Over the years, I have met others doing the same.  And in recent years, a lot of people are talking about this stuff.  Which is excellent.  I love it.

But here's the catch.  Leadership hasn't really changed.  I have worked with some great entrepreneurs who have the mindset and take the actions necessary to lead this way.  But, I have also worked with or spoken with organizations that do not walk the talk.  They want it.  They say they want it.  But they are stuck.  Or afraid.  Or unsure.

Because of this, and probably my own sense of unsureness and fear, I have cautiously talked about the absolute need for leaders to show their human side and be completely authentic if they want to see true success... if they want to have engaged employees... if they want creativity and cohesion in their workplaces.  I have been tentative about sharing what I know to be true.

Mindful leadership is about being confident.  Knowing when you are wrong... and being open to change... but being confident about what you know to be true.

I got tired of talking and have seriously practiced my own mindful leadership skills.  I'm tired of leaders talking.  If you want an engaged, creative, solution oriented, productive, effective workforce... you. must. be. that. kind. of. leader.  And to be that kind of leader... you must be self aware first.


Until our leaders 'get' that, we will continue to have engagement, retention, and attraction problems. The 2014 Gallup Workplace Survey states that "There are low levels of highly engaged workers, and close to a quarter of employees are disengaged.  More than ever, it is essential for companies to understand the factors that drive sustainable engagement."  Previous surveys reported similar 'revelations'.

When will our leaders get tired of talking and begin walking?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why Presence and Compassion are Critical for Business Success

Your business would not exist without your customers. You need sales.  Even if you are a non-profit or a charity, you need funding and you are serving someone.

When I go to a coffee shop and receive a smile, a friendly comment, an awareness that I'm a regular, or a smilie face on my coffee cup, I tell people.  I return to that coffee shop because I enjoy the experience.  I become a repeat and cheerleader customer.

When I call a service company and the customer service representative is cheerful, listens to my issues, takes time to explain things I may not understand, and has a few light comments - even if it's about the weather - I am more willing to accept their processes and work together to find a solution.

However, when I go to a coffee shop and the barista does not smile and they are too busy to look at me or notice that I'm smiling at them, I'm inclined to not return to so often, and I'm certainly not talking about the exceptional service I received.

When I call a service company and the customer service representative is impatient, self-righteous, inattentive to my issues, unpleasant, or even rude, I'm more inclined to feel resistance building and not want to cooperate with protocol or required procedures. 

We all know this stuff.  When we are the customer, we want exceptional service and we know it makes sense for business and everyone involved.

Why then, do we receive so much poor service?  

Difficulties, challenges, and changes occur all the time in business.  Employees are affected.  When the culture of the business is to just do business, employees will just do their job.  In fact, when there is no attention given to them as human beings, some employees will do less than their job.  When the culture of the business is to give attention to concerns, be patient when learning needs to occur, have compassion for personal and professional challenges, celebrate individual successes, and be truly interested in each employee - authentically - your employees will be more present and compassionate with your customers.

And then your customers will return.  And talk about their positive experience with others - sending more customers your way.  

Additionally, when you and your employees are present and compassionate, misunderstandings and resistance can decrease, increasing efficiencies.

Give your employees your attention.  Be present with them.  Take time to sit and listen.  Ask questions.  Make it part of your regular routine.  Don't do anything else while you are talking with them.  Be compassionate to their concerns.  Find your human side and bring it.  Allow your employees to be compassionate to each other's concerns.  Watch what happens when your culture becomes more human.  

Being more human and personal at work actually can improve business.  Your employees follow your lead.  Be more present and compassionate with them, and they will be more present and compassionate with each other and your customers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why Saying No Is Important for Your Career or Business

Business leaders - whether they are team leaders, project managers, c-suite executives, or entrepreneurs - have a lot on their plate.  They often need to bring work home.  It is expected that they work late, arrive early, and answer their phone and emails on the weekend.  It is expected that they will say yes to every request from their seniors or clients or colleagues.

This behaviour has known to help a leader build their career.  It demonstrates their commitment and work ethic.  It tells current and future bosses they are willing to put in the hours and they are dedicated to the organization.  It is necessary to move forward in one's career.


We know that you hit a wall after so many hours of work and then your productivity declines. We know that work-life 'balance' is important.  We know that overworking on a continuous basis is unhealthy and can lead to all kinds of health problems.  We know that workaholic tendencies lead to higher levels of stress and being on autopilot, which leads to errors in judgement, mistakes, and reacting (sometimes in anger or frustration) rather than responding with thought.

We also know that breaks are important for clearing our mind and being innovative and creative.  We know that in order to effectively problem solve, we need a calm mind.  We know that time away from work, no matter how much we love our work, is good for our health, our souls, and our organizations.  We are more productive when we take time off and take regular breaks from work.

So why do so many people work so many hours?

When I have this discussion with business leaders, they mostly tell me that they have too much work to do.  They enjoy the work they do.  They like working with their colleagues. They often like the organization they work with and the industry they work in.  But there is just so much work to be done and they have a responsibility.  It is part of their job.  They desire a positive performance 'review' (more on that later).  If they do not get the work done, they will be held responsible... could lose out on a work opportunity... could taint their reputation... could be fired.

Phew!  That's a lot of fear going on. It's exhausting.

Add to all that - they do desire to take more breaks, to have weekends free to do the things they enjoy with the people they love, to not have so much work to do, to have the mind space to problem solve creatively, and to be more productive.  But they do not see how they can do that and also have the career path they desire.

So they choose the career or business.

Sometimes they tell themselves, "This is temporary."  "I will have all that I desire once I reach a certain goal."  "I feel fine.  I love the work.  I am not unbalanced.  When I feel unbalanced, I will stop working so much."  But that time often doesn't come.  The work piles on more and more and the leader's 'free time' becomes less and less.

So what can a business leader do?

Awareness is the first step.  Taking stock of how you are working and living and realizing that you work too much (if that is the case) is the first step.  Realizing the real reason for saying yes to so much will help to say no in the future - because we often say yes in order to try to control what other people think of us.  Trying to control what others think of us will never make us happy or content or successful.  It is a waste of your time and energy.

Once you are aware that you are working too much to have the life you want, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I want to change? 
  2. Why do I want to change?
  3. What do I not want and what do I want?

Once you have all of that done (coaching helps move through this process:), it is time to start saying no.  Say no to your bosses.  Say no to your colleagues.  Say no to potential partnerships.  Say no to employees (yes, they put the work on you too when you do not use a leadership approach to inspire, influence, and teach).  Say no to committees.  Say no to boards.  Say no to that extra piece of work.

BUT.... only if it makes sense for you.  Realizing what you do not want as well as what you do want is important in order to know if saying no makes sense for you.  What you want and do not want includes the entire 'wheel of life'... so it includes things like finances, social/leisure activities, family, career/vocation, physical health, mental wellness, emotional well-being, spirituality, and physical environment.

There are times to say yes.  Those times include when the request is aligned with the team/organizational vision and goals; aligned with your vision and goals; will impact something important; will use your strengths and provide an opportunity to demonstrate them; and will build relationships that align with the work and life you want.

Do not say yes to please others or because you are afraid of what they will think of you if you say no. That results in being overworked, stressed, and not only unproductive, but it could lead to errors and deteriorating relationships.  It can lead to dissatisfaction and discontentment.  It could lead to disengagement.  If you are a leader, this will NOT result in progressing your career or business.

It is OK to work hard and even work extra hours.  But if is not aligned with what you want holistically in your life and career or business, it will drain you and could lead to wellness issues or a decline in passion.

Know when to say no.  Then, when you say no, you will do so with mindfulness and intention. It will not be a knee jerk reaction that may cause the person making the request to see you in a negative light.  Rather, that person making the request will probably admire your integrity and leadership - and may be inspired to do the same.

Now, that's a way to progress your business and career.