Category Archives: Leadership

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.

6 Lean Lessons in Leadership: Learnings from Washington State Lean Transformation

Integris Performance Advisors Team Meeting aboard My Girl in Tacoma, WA.
Integris Performance Advisors Team Meeting aboard My Girl in Tacoma, WA. (I’m back row, 3rd from left.)

Last week I attended the Washington State Lean Transformation Conference with Integris Performance Advisors. As a leadership consultant I often work with Integris in a corporate setting, and it’s intriguing to learn about the company’s roots in Lean/Six Sigma and leadership in a government context where @ResultsWA goal is to improve the lives of Washingtonians.

What is Lean? According to goleansixsigma.com, Lean is simply a method of streamlining a process, resulting in increased revenue, reduced costs and improved customer satisfaction. I’m interested in the interplay between innovation and leadership and in my second visit to the conference in two years, was impressed that so many of the presenters stressed the critical importance that leadership and coaching play in creating Lean government.

So here is my take on what I heard from the folks and partners @resultsWA and leadership.

  1. Start with Respect. I love that to improve our work we first need to start with respecting others and building a culture of respect. Of course, it makes sense. No one wants to share their ideas or suggest solutions to problems if there is a lack of respect. The message was clear: if you don’t have an organization where people feel respected, start there – not on process improvement.
  2. Build a language of leadership to build culture. The language we use creates our environment and our culture. If your organization doesn’t talk about and reinforce dignity and respect, you likely will have a hard time engaging others to innovate. See lesson #1.
  3. Break it down. We can’t innovate until we are very familiar with what exists. Each of us might have our own personal understanding of “what is,” however, until you shine a light on the process, it exists in our minds only. That light is shown in many ways, but we have to break down the process before we can determine what needs to go and what needs to stay.
  4. Use humble coaching. This is a nuance that I had not heard articulated until now. It’s in line with my idea that our “belief in people” can help increase their engagement and development. It goes one step further, however, and reminds you to take your self-interest out of the equation. Leave your “great advice” at the door – in most cases – and truly coach by asking opinions and helping people grow their problem-solving capabilities.
  5. Reflection is key for improving your work and your world. This is a theme that I return to frequently. If you don’t take time to reflect, you may be implementing ideas that are “half-baked.” In her sessions entitled “Burn the Popcorn,” Carol Knight -Wallace shared a brainstorming technique called the 7 Ways. To use this technique, think of 7 ways to solve the problem at hand. This is a great technique to help you reflect on your challenge and prevent the mistakes that come with rushed decisions.
  6. It’s about relationships. If you don’t have the relationship, it’s very hard to inspire people to want to work WITH you to improve what you do and how you do it. To create and implement “what’s next and new” you need to have the attention of others. That comes from building a strong relationship, including getting to know those around you. Good at your work relationships? Work to make them deeper and you will reap the rewards as people deepen their trust in you.

And speaking of relationships, thanks to the Managing Partners of @IntegrisPA: Tracy O’Rourke, Evans Kerrigan and Brett Cooper for inviting me along. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this fabulous team of consultants (pictured above in our team meeting on the Puget Sound), helping create healthy workplaces…and just having fun!

 

 

5 Creativity Questions: Boost Your Leadership with Creativity

Raise your hand if you are a creative genius. No? Well you are not alone if you feel that creativity is not your strong point. Many of us feel we left our creativity back in grade school with the finger-paints and Row Your Boat rounds.

Artist Rae Witvoet - A Creative Mind
Artist Rae Witvoet – A Creative Mind

Creativity is one of my personal values. For me, creativity is more about what I take in than my “output.” Sure, I’d love to say that I come up with cool graphics and unique ways to position things. And sometimes I do. But really, creativity is about what I have around me. A big part of that, for me, is art and music. I’m amazed at the talent, creativity and ingenuity I see in art, artist, music and musicians.

Creativity is a huge part of what we do as leaders, but I hear so many leaders say “Oh, I’m not creative.” What I find is that taking just 5 to 10 minutes exploring what that means and asking a few questions helps people see that they can be creative. I think most often, people feel like they aren’t artistic or don’t “think outside the box,” and stop expecting this of themselves.

Musicians and artists, on the other hand hone their creative skills by using simple things that we can all use. A simple prompting question can take them in another direction, ideas building on ideas. I’m a huge fan of reflection questions – they give folks time to ruminate on what’s important. So let’s try some creativity questions.

Here are a few examples I’ve seen of the challenges that leaders have and how Creativity Questions can help:

  1. Change your perceived environment to show vulnerability (read more about vulnerability at Bestbehaviors.com): Imagine you’ve never met your team before. What would you tell them about yourself as a leader?
  2. Use lists and images to encourage others: Who needs your encouragement today? List 10 things they are doing well. For each item on the list, think of a visual image or metaphor that would help them understand the impact they are making.
  3. Use humor to show that you are listening: What are some funny ways that you can share that you sometimes aren’t the best listener? (tip: this is another way to build trust through showing vulnerability)
  4. Compare your team to another kind of organization to find unique solutions: What would we do if we were a non-profit organization? Or what would we do if we were a start-up?
  5. Reflect on your own creativity to examine what’s holding you back: What’s the most creative thing I’ve done in the last month? Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem very creative. Take that example and list how you could have made that even more creative.

Most of the time we sell ourselves short when it comes to our creativity. Take one of these questions, or a question that you’ve been wrangling with recently. Write it down right now. Take just 10 minutes to come up with ideas, and I’m sure that you will surprise yourself with the ideas that start flowing.

I’d like to thank Mr. Jeremy Hatch, the Artful Fundraiser, for his prompting question to me this week that inspired me to continue to make a contribution – to leadership.

Training Innovation Out of People: Or, Go Get that Halloween Costume

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I was talking with a friend this week about the good old days at their company. You know the days: the ones with rosy-goldy edges about the memories. Where everyone is smiling, laughing, and rushing from meeting, to project, to customer with energy aplomb. The days when you loved your team, you loved the company and what it stood for, and you loved the work. LOVED the creativity and innovation that you could bring to the work! The stories you could tell about the fun you had, the crazy Halloween you dressed up as bikers (complete with mushroom tattoo), the friends that you made – for life.

Yes, you had stress. Yes, there were a few people you wanted to avoid in the halls because they “didn’t get it.” But overall, these were the golden years. Looking back on these years, if  lucky enough to experience them, one might feel a bit deflated about the here and now.

Today, it seems that many companies are trying to train the innovation right out of people. Adding more workload without the efficiencies needed to make it happen. Wanting more of our time (our life) and giving us less to care about in our work. Pushing the newest corporate initiative with a “don’t-ask-questions-just-do-it” mentality (questions are only for negative people).  How does this relate to our mission, our vision, our values? “It just does” is an answer one might expect to hear from some leaders who, themselves, are being pushed to their limits.

I hear a lot of stories from people who are looking to contribute, but are a part of a company that has lost it’s shimmer. It could make you feel deflated, but I prefer to think about the possibilities.

It’s energizing to meet with like-minded, engaging people. Last week, that was at Centric: Indy’s Innovation Network, where people talk about innovation and hear from some of Indianapolis’ most innovative leaders. They hosted The Supremacy of Mission: An Elephant in the Room. Indianapolis Zoological Society president and CEO, Michael Crowther, shared how to avoid business as usual by genuinely focusing on the mission of the organization. By seeking ways to advance the Zoo’s mission, Michael and his team constantly develop new and innovative ways of contributing.

The Indianapolis Zoo has a mission that stands out from the rest. It’s not simply a place for recreation, an addition to a downtown scene, or for people who “love animals.” The Indianapolis Zoo empowers people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation. Michael repeatedly spoke about how the Zoo “engages, enlightens, and empowers” individuals to make their mission a reality.

Hearing my friend talk about the golden years, and then hearing Mr. Crowther talking about the elephant (and “orangutan“)  in the room inspired me to reflect on the dichotomies we see in our organizations. That once purpose driven organizations can falter, but also that there are institutions that have been around a while, who can still reach deep and find a way to energize and engage those around them to try innovative ideas. Organizations whose mission is at the forefront of their work.

Jeb Banner (@jebbanner), CEO of SmallBox marketing also spoke last week about mission. In his TEDx Indianapolis talk, Jeb proposed that organizations might be more successful if they worked more like bands. Jeb is the founder of Musical Family Tree, a website dedicated to keeping Indiana music thriving. He reflected on how companies often put profits above purpose, while in a band, purpose is always first – it’s always about the music!

As Jeb and Mr. Crowther shared, purpose, mission and the sense that your work has meaning – beyond the dollars – are essential to individuals wanting to contribute to an organization.

So, how are you leading innovation?

Are you asking people to “just do it” without tying your work to purpose. While few of us would take this “just get it done!” approach, we may still be training the innovation right out of our people – and organizations

It starts with each individual leader. Maybe your organization isn’t perfect, but you can strive to engage and innovate with the folks closest to you.

Think about it. Reflection is a part of every great leader’s practice. Reflect on who you are being as a leader with regard to inspiring innovation:

1. How is the work of my team tied to the mission of the organization (including budget, day-to-day work, and strategy)?

2. How am I (or can I begin) creating a energized work environment, with time to enjoy the work, have fun and innovate?

And, if you want to start with the “fun” part, go talk with folks about the team Halloween costume for a start. Enjoy and engage!

Leadership Story and Philosophy: Making a Contribution

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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?