culture

Leadership Starts at the Top

leadership starts at the top

With consistency, across various industries and sizes of organizations, I find that patterns and challenges within our executive leadership teams present as issues elsewhere in the company. For example, a lack of trust among members of the executive leadership team may present as a lack of trust across the organization or what sometimes shows up as “a lack of trust in management.” Difficulty speaking truthfully with other members of the executive leadership team may show up across the management team, as difficulty addressing performance challenges head-on or having tough conversations. Fear or uncertainty among teams of co-founders may present as gossip and drama within the organization- rooted in fear.

I am grateful to work with many leaders who both understand and embrace this. This means that, together, we invest just as much time and energy (or more) at the highest level of the organization as we do in supporting evolving and emerging leaders. This might look like 1:1 executive coaching for top-level leaders within the organization; it might look like group coaching and strategy across teams of co-founders to increase trust and explore how to best serve a growing and scaling organization; it might look like executive intensives where we go offsite together for a day or two and have important, fierce conversations about how the executive team can operate most effectively in service of the organization.

While engagement-related initiatives can be effective if they’re done right, and fun committees can, indeed, be fun, I believe that oftentimes, our engagement and culture and people related opportunities present an opportunity for deep work and reflection at the highest levels of our organizations rather than a committee a survey. As the saying goes, Leadership Starts at the Top.

As leaders, here are some things we might consider.

  • For challenges we face within our organizations: in what way might this challenge be present within our executive leadership team, as well? What could it look like to explore this challenge together?

  • In what ways are we actively focusing on our own growth and development as executives, leaders, and/or co-founders, alongside the work we are doing to help others in our organizations grow and develop?

  • What dedicated, safe spaces exist for us, as leaders, to be vulnerable and talk about the things we can’t talk about anywhere else?

  • What is the greatest opportunity before us as leaders? What would it look like to run toward this opportunity?

  • What is the greatest challenge we are facing as a leadership team? In what ways are we enlisting help or support to tackle this challenge?

If you are curious what it could look like to come together to do this deep work within your own executive leadership or co-founder team, I invite you to reach out so that we can talk more. While too often the phrase “it’s lonely at the top” can feel true, it doesn’t have to.

3 Questions to Ask When You Feel Frustrated at Work

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Since starting my company, I've had the opportunity to spend time with hundreds of teams in various locations throughout the US, through our work together related to leadership, people development, and culture.

In this time, I've observed that there are a few key questions we can ask ourself when we feel frustrated with someone at work to increase our own happiness, while in turn creating ripples of positive impact that improve the overall culture of the organization.

1. Have you shared your feedback directly?

"Whispers" have the power to slowly and painfully poison an organization. Talking about each other, rather than to each other, is quite simply, one of the key differences I've observed between thriving and struggling teams.

When I sit down with a leader from an organization who shares feedback with me about someone on his or her team, I often ask, "have you shared this feedback directly?"

In a thriving organization, the answer is, "oh yes - he's well aware of it, we talk about it often, and he would tell you the same thing."

In a struggling organization, the answer is typically "no," "kind of," or "not really."

If you have an opportunity to give someone constructive feedback, I recommend using my mini-formula of Truth + Heart. This means: telling the truth as you have experienced it, from a place of compassion and kindness. This means being honest and straightforward, with the person's growth and learning in mind.

Helpful phrases to use include, "I've observed," "I've noticed," and "I've experienced."

2. Have you asked for clarity?

Frustration often stems from a lack of clarity, or from making assumptions that simply aren't true. This can be heightened when working with people in different roles, in different offices, or with different styles.

I find that this often stems from something seemingly insignificant, that then snowballs over time. Some examples of ways that we can create more clarity in order to reduce frustrations and create a happier, more productive working environment include asking the following types of questions:

  • What is our "in office" policy? Are we expected to be in the office during working hours? What does this look like/what does this mean? What do we consider working hours? If we have options for flexible work hours or remote work, what does this look like and what can we expect from each other?
  • How do we agree to communicate with each other? What are our preferences for communication? What are our expectations for responsiveness? If some members of the team travel heavily, how can we reach them in a pinch, while acknowledging that they might be on a plane or in client meetings?
  • What are the norms of our office? Do we have a stated open door policy where we expect people to work with their doors open, or do we encourage people to shut their doors to create heads-down focused working time? Do we take phone calls from our cube, or encourage team members to take phone calls in a conference room so that the shared area can remain quiet? Do we welcome pets in the office?
  • What are our roles? How can we create clarity in order to fosters ownership and accountability, while also building a culture that encourages an "all hands on deck" mindset?
  • If we have a flat structure or practice a version of holacracy, at the end of the day, who is responsible for making a decision when we are at a standstill? How do we deal with an underperforming team member when our self-managing team is stuck? And how can we balance self-empowerment with a desire for clarity and leadership?

Creating clarity up front is a way to create more easeful, joyful, and productive interactions down the line.

3. Are you assuming positive intent?

It can be easy to interpret a short email as rude, or a direct comment as offensive. However, what if we assumed positive intent - that perhaps the email was written quickly, or that the direct comment was a way of getting to the point more quickly, and therefore saving everyone on the team some time?

When we experience a negative reaction to someone else's behavior (or perceived behavior), it can be helpful to pause, breathe, and remind ourselves to assume positive intent.

Practicing the above strategies will not only help us to feel happier and more productive at work, but they also have the power to create positive ripples of impact within our organizations, which over time, creates the type of culture that we all want to be part of.

With Love, You are Not a Corporate Hostage

"Hi, I'm Ron. Ah, you know how it is, I'm a corporate hostage, doing the corporate thing... I hope to get out someday...."

"Hi, I'm Rich. I'm a recovering project manager......now I'm a consultant." 

"Hi, I'm Heidi. I'm a corporate refugee......I escaped though, I found myself, and now I'm a coach." 

"Hi, I'm Erin. I'm a recovering corporate executive and now I travel the world delivering keynotes about all that I endured in the corporate world." 

I hear these intro lines all of the time.

And each time I do, I cringe. 

Beyond the plain absurdity of these statements (is your employer really holding you hostage?! Did you really have to escape, as a refugee, from your previous place of employment?) and beyond the fact that they flippantly diminish the act of actually being in recovery from addiction, the refugee crisis happening in this very moment, and real hostage situations happening around the world, these statements perpetuate the type of thinking that keeps us stuck and divided:

Corporate America as the perpetrator, and the corporate escapees, as the victims. 

Corporate America as "other."

"Us" versus "Them."

This "us" versus "them" thinking is the same thinking that has created the current political division of our country. It's the same thinking that has our nation sliding backwards as we face riots and murders related to race. It's the same thinking that overlooks the fact that "Corporate America" is actually made up of 127.34 million human beings, many (I would argue most) of whom are incredibly talented individuals who are creating positive change, committed to doing the right thing, and making the world a better place. It's the type of thinking that prevents us from solving the actual problems that need to be solved.

Using this language also diminishes parts of ourselves. Our corporate experience is part of who we are and is part of our human experience. Shutting down this experience is shutting down a part of who we are. 

I believe that all of these things can exist together. We have an opportunity to shift from either/or, to both/and. We can be both an independent, free-thinking consultant and a former timeline-driven project manager. We can be both a conscious, heart-centered coach and a former corporate executive. We can be both a savvy, creative, and innovative entrepreneur and a former analyst in the corporate world. And we can embrace all of these parts of ourselves and our experiences to return "over there," to Corporate America, to partner with the many organizations that are doing business in a thoughtful, innovative, socially conscious and mission-driven way to create massive positive impact in the world. Perhaps we can also even bring these parts of ourselves to partner with organizations that aren't quite there yet, but that want to be better. 

It can all exist together. And when we start to recognize this, through our perspectives and our language, we start the healing that needs to happen - within ourselves, within Corporate America, and within our world. Healing begins when we can embrace the both/and. Let's start within ourselves.

Leaders: If You're Focusing Only on Loyalty, You Might Be Focusing on the Wrong Thing

 

I was recently at a conference, sharing “session nuggets” with the women at my lunch table. One of the women was telling me about the session she attended - which was about focusing on loyalty versus strictly on metrics.

Not focusing only on metrics - of course. No matter which leadership philosophies we follow, focusing only on numbers without any focus on people is a thing of the (almost distant) past.

But replacing it with a strict focus on loyalty? This also misses the mark.

The definition of loyalty is “faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.”

The problem with this as a leadership philosophy is that it’s about you - the leader. It’s not about your team or your vision or the people you’re trying to serve. It’s not about making sure that your ship is pointed in the right direction. It’s about making sure people like the captain...regardless of where he or she is headed.

For these reasons, if your leadership philosophy is strictly about creating loyalty to you, the leader, it’s short sighted.

And eventually it will fail.

Looking back throughout history, some of of our most devastating moments have been the result of loyalty: loyalty to leaders with wildly misaligned visions. In our current political environment, we see plenty of candidates gaining loyalty. But we must ask, “are they truly demonstrating leadership?”

In the workplace, people want to feel connected to the mission and purpose behind what they’re doing. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to grow and develop and feel as though they are using their strengths each day in their jobs.

By creating companies and cultures that focus on these things, we create loyalty.

Tweet: Loyalty might be the outcome, but it should not be the primary focus.

Loyalty might be the outcome, but it should not be the primary focus.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not about us, the leaders - it’s about the work we do, it’s about why we do it, and it’s about the people we serve.