Category Archives: Personal Values

Inspiring or Inspired?

This week I spoke about leading change in challenging times to a group of child welfare professionals. At the end of the session I touched base with a leader who had been focused on a difficult challenge. Before she said goodbye, she stated confidently that she was going to refocus her energy and push local government and law enforcement officials to address the growing problem of heroin abuse in her Southeast Indiana community. Wow. Her passion, and the potential impact of it impressed and humbled me.

I thanked her for working to make her community better. She said, “You inspired me.”

Again, wow! This may sound funny coming from someone who facilitates leadership workshops for a living, but it’s not a natural state for me to want to be inspiring. I want people to see their own potential, and I want others to be inspired. Frankly, a huge part of the time that I spend facilitating is talking about leaders who inspire others and sharing ways that they do that. But, I – as a person who tends toward introversion – don’t feel that I have to be in front and center, a star or an inspiration to others. I don’t aspire to give rousing performances for an audience. I’d prefer that people “get it” without me putting myself out there.

That said, one of my core beliefs is that people want to contribute to something greater than themselves. I do want to help leaders help others to get there – to feel that they are a part of something bigger. To be inspired by that bigger picture. So…

…that means that I do indeed have to work at inspiring others.

What I’ve learned from @Jim_Kouzes and Barry Posner (@bzposner), of The Leadership Challenge fame, is that we inspire others when we’re inspired. While the stereotypical “charismatic leader” may be what we have in our minds as the only one who is capable of inspiring people, we each have a passion that we can tap into in order to enlist people in what we believe can make a difference in the world.

Charisma isn’t limited to the great leaders like Martin Luther King. You show charisma when you talk about something that you truly care about – be it something at work that you care about, a political issue, your children, or even a favorite vacation. It’s about speaking – with conviction – about the meaning of your work, your world. 

What are you passionate about…today?

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.

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?