Category Archives: Leadership Stories

Leadership stories demonstrate the power of imagery in how we lead.

Your Are Not Alone: Lean on Colleagues with Your Next Leadership Challenge

Participants in the 2014 TLCW for Non-Profits. Learning from each other!
Participants in the 2014 TLCW for Non-Profits. Learning from each other!

“I’m not creative.” It’s one of the most often refrains that I hear from leaders when discussing methods to help engage people. In the last week, and in this coming week, I’ll have had great experiences that tell me that, “YES, you are creative!”

Last week I spoke to a group of child welfare professionals on how to creatively reward and engage their teams. At first, folks were stumped when it came to coming up with a creative way to encourage their team for their contribution to their organization. But the minute two or three people get together to talk about ideas, prompted to “help each other”, the energy changed in a big way and creativity ran rampant.

And this coming week, I look forward to my favorite week of the year when I’m able to join colleagues from around the world at The Leadership Challenge Forum. It’s a great time of learning from each other, catching up and building our community. It’s amazing how much we talk about what we can do that’s new, next or better with each other – capturing some great ideas in the moment and then bringing those creative inspirations home to our teams.

So when you are thinking you are in it alone, or not feeling creative, take a cue from my friends:

  • Lean on your colleagues with your next leadership challenge. Stop by their space, call them, or buy them a coffee.
  • Take just 15 minutes to brainstorm with a friend. Solving problems is sometimes just slow on your own. Check in quickly to get a different perspective and you’ll see the problem with renewed vigor! (Really)
  • Take 5 minutes to reflect. What will help your next interaction, solution or leadership move be a success? What metaphors might help you describe that?
  • Oh, and share a laugh while you’re at it! Let’s have some fun while we do the work of the world.

And speaking of fun, I’m off to talk about the LPI and a Coaching for Culture change:

2015 Leadership Challenge Forum Presentation with Amy Dunn @integrisPA
2015 Leadership Challenge Forum Presentation with Amy Dunn @integrisPA

Check out more about Harness Leadership at ReneeHarness.branded.me.

 

I Want to Be Bradley Cooper: 3 Lessons from an Actor

I want to be an actor - specifically, Bradley Cooper.
I want to be an actor – specifically, Bradley Cooper.

Last week I decided on a career change. I want to be an actor. More specifically, I want to be Bradley Cooper. Okay, so I have absolutely no experience in acting (though Dr. Reece McGee suggests that teaching is acting.) A February  Fresh Air interview of Bradley Cooper won me over and I’d love to have an actor’s life.

In listening to dozens of podcasts over the last three months while driving between Indianapolis and St. Louis – many of them about Hollywood and Entertainers – I’ve not found many in this short survey of actors in interviews that I find likable. Obviously, I am not familiar with the process of acting, or the Hollywood scene. But it has rang rather hollow to listen actors in the build-up and let-down of the Academy Awards talking about what they do. “I just wanted to play this role as honestly as I could.” I’m not sure what that means. And when repeated over and over, “honesty” becomes jargon. It’s likely that they mean that they want to play the role as authentically as they can, given that they are not the person they are portraying.

So why do I want to be Bradley Cooper? In two words: Empathy and Passion. Of all of the interviews I’ve heard, Mr. Cooper seemed to me to be so in-tune with the roles that he played. From Chris Kyle, a modern American Hero (a few argue anti-hero) to John Merrick, the elephant man, on the Broadway stage, Cooper embodies the role, and we see it on the screen. The Hangover? Silver Linings Playbook? American Hustle. All such different roles, and in each, Cooper manifests the perfect mix required for the character. How can he “become” his character without a keen sense of empathy? His transformation before and after a role are in a small way similar to what his American Sniper character went through when returning home.

In the Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Cooper showed not only his passion in the process, but his passion for the US Military. While never enlisting in the military, he started doing USO entertainment stops when no one knew him, or even the show he made guest appearances on (Alias.) It’s as if he was preparing for the role of Chris Kyle all along.

So, okay. Now that I’ve had some time to seriously contemplate the career change, I’ll stick with working with leaders. So I will ask: What can leaders learn from Cooper?

1. Know Your Role: Cooper has been intrigued by John Merrick since he was 12 years old. He did the research to learn as much about Merrick, his life, his mannerisms as he could. Research your role, learn about leadership and keep learning.

2. Follow Your Passion: Cooper was so passionate about playing John Merrick, that he’s worked since he was 12 to “become” the role, and to produce the play on Broadway. What is it that you are passionate about? What makes you talk fast and loud, and waive your arms? That’s a passion, my friend.

3. Empathize Deeply with Others: Leadership is not about the self. Just as Bradley Cooper became others in his acting, leaders are only successful if they can empathize with those they lead, building relationships with others.

As we walk the path of our own leadership, I can only hope that my path crosses those of you who bring the empathy for others and the passion for your role that Bradley Cooper does. Lead on!

Surprise Yourself: Leverage the Uncomfortable

We learn the most when we are engaged in the status quo, the mundane of everyday life. Said no one ever!

I traveled to Shinjuku, Tokyo - what I learned.
I traveled to Shinjuku, Tokyo – what I learned.

It is when we are knee-deep in challenge, controversy, or adversity that we learn the most. As Kouzes and Posner say, “Challenge is the crucible for greatness.” In my work, I continuously hear examples of when people are at their best. Without fail, it’s when they have waded through the muck of a challenge. Here are some ideas on how to surprise yourself and leverage the uncomfortable situations you experience.

1. Put yourself in tough situations. If someone volunteers you for something you don’t think you can do, it’s highly likely that they have the confidence in you. Go ahead and do it! If there is a daunting challenge you think you want to engage in, but are afraid, do it. If you end up hating it, at least you can use it as a learning experience (see #5 below). But, without a doubt, you will grow in the process.

2. Get to know someone you butt heads with. I often hear people say something like this : “I didn’t really ‘get’ what Karen was all about, but spending the day together has really helped me understand her world better.” (Hugs all around.) Figure out a way to be in a situation where you can get to know this person – ask about their family, what they value, what they enjoy. If successful, you will have a much better experience in this part of your life. If not, see #5.

3. Go to that training session or professional meeting even though you are swamped. When you are referred to a great training session or association meeting, go to it! When you get outside of your normal environs, you can bring so much more energy and insight to your team. This is the time and space where you have more than 15 minutes to reflect and contemplate – use it to push yourself and have the courage to implement it.

4. Attempt something you truly believe you can’t. One thing that we know leaders are bad at is inspiring a shared vision of the future. It’s a critical to inspire hope by providing a vision, but we just don’t practice this skill. I’ve seen hundreds say they just cannot (or won’t) do this. And hundreds have succeeded at it when given a few simple tools. (Try this: describe the sights, sounds and tastes of your favorite vacation spot to someone. Now, you’ve used the skills needed to inspire!)  Try and fail at something? That’s still a builder of experience, so go for it.

5. Ask yourself what you can learn from the failures and successes in your life. When I was barely 30, I was asked to go to Tokyo to a new acquisition in my company to help assess their leadership training needs. I was terrified about the solo travel and the assignment. When I got there, the leader asked “What the (insert expletive) are you doing here?” They really weren’t ready for the project, so I went home. So, what did I learn: when challenged with something you think you can’t do, take a deep breath and go forth (see #1 above). It’ll all be okay in the end. (And if you can access a Japanese bathtub, it will calm you from all the stresses 1-5 above create.)

You never know what you can learn when you challenge yourself. New year, new challenges. Take them on and learn.

Leadership Story and Philosophy: Making a Contribution

2013-08-21 16.56.15

I facilitate a lot of leadership workshops and experiences. At some point in most workshops, I tell my leadership story. It’s about credibility (“hey, I’ve struggled too, am imperfect, and I choose to lead”), but it’s also about vulnerability. Even if you tell an incredible story, when it’s about yourself, there is almost always a “gulp” moment.

Because “values” have been so important to me in my career, the story I tell is about values. It’s about how a Midwestern girl who could barely speak in class in high school or college speech class, transforms into someone who is willing to lose the job of her life in order to speak up to a boss who bullies others.

It’s about a candidate (yes, me), who interviewed the interviewers about the “Values of the Company” and learned a valuable lesson in listening to intuition.

It’s about all of the people I’ve worked with in the mail room, the customer service line, the supervisors and even senior leaders who felt they did not have a voice.

It is about values for me. Because one of my values is “freedom,” I often contemplate “what I want to do when I grow up.” I love what I do, but I’m one of those people who wants ever-more freedom in something more, different, better, more fun.

So, I think:

Maybe I could be a Gallery Owner! I LOVE art, talking with artists, art openings and being around creativity. But then, do I want to have to explain why a brilliant piece of art is priced at $2,500 to someone who thinks $40 is expensive for a print from Target?

Maybe I could teach fitness classes! I would get fit myself. I would show folks that you don’t have to have a BMI of 20 to be a success. But then, do I really want to be sweaty that much and take all of those showers?

Maybe I could become a real estate agent! I LOVE real-estate, and at any given time, can likely quote the price of cool houses for sale in a 5 mile radius of my house. But then, do I really want to compete for buyers, do all of that icky closing stuff, and work on weekends or any time someone calls to see a house?

(With a friend) Maybe we could open a restaurant/bar/food truck! We have a ton of ideas about good food. But then, do we want to work nights, weekends, on our feet, managing a business that is going to barely break even?

The truth is that I don’t want to sell to people who have to be “convinced,” to be sweaty all the time, or to work nights and weekends on frequent basis even if I get to be in cool houses or a cool restaurant. I want to make a difference in corporate America. Or should I say, CORPORATE America.

My leadership philosophy may explain it all:

I believe that every individual, no matter how young or old, how engaged or jaded, or how high up (or low down) in the hierarchy, want to make a contribution to their work or to their world. They may not know it. They may not show it.

But EVERYONE has a contribution to make and it’s a leader’s role – and responsibility even – to help individuals make that contribution a reality.

I work with all levels of leadership, but most often find myself working with the senior leaders of an organization. I don’t do leadership work with senior leaders because I want to deal with the powerful movers and shakers of the world. I do that work in the hope that if I can help one senior leader be a leader that inspires hope in those hundreds or thousands who work “for them” I can make a difference in Corporate America.

How do you make a difference and what values are driving you?