The Elephant In the Room

The other day, I asked for feedback from a team I was working with about the program's value. One of the members came up to me afterward and said, "please don't take this personally," and gave me some additional feedback. My response was," the elephant is in the room whether we talk about him or not. For me, I would prefer to know what you are thinking and feeling so that I can modify the program to give you results that meet your needs." Yes, the elephant is in the room whether we talk about him or not. There he is, clomping around, banging into things. And yet, we often refuse to talk about him. Why is that? Here are the reasons I hear: I don't want confrontationI don't want to hurt anyone's feelingsWe can't do anything about it anyway My experience is that our reluctance to confront causes the elephant to cause more damage than if we just talked about him and got...
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Labor Day in a Pandemic – Year 2

When the first nationally recognized Labor Day was celebrated in 1894, the day consisted of a street parade sending up a message of "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" (in the words of the AFL).  We have come a long way since then. Today, especially in this war for talent, most employers focus on offering opportunities and benefits to attract and retain talent. Yet, the disruption from the pandemic continues. Help wanted signs everywhere, a labor shortage stretching from unskilled workers to high-level professionals and executives.  Pundits of all types are offering commentary on this topic. Some say it's a permanent shift only to be resolved by wage and price inflation. Others say we have a move away from work and that automation will resolve the issue.   The Economist recently published a report entitled Will the Rich World's Worker Deficit Last?  The authors estimate the current employment deficit to be 3% below the pre-pandemic level. While acknowledging demand shortages, their research...
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Better, Better, Maybe Not?

The notion that we can constantly make ourselves and our companies better, in theory, is a great idea. But when does it become too much? For me, the best way to answer this question is to notice our strengths and work to enhance them. As an executive life coach, I refer to this as discovering and working in our genius. Sometimes we become so focused on achieving that we cannot appreciate who we are or what we have already accomplished. When we are constantly reaching, it's a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction.  What? Wasn't I just quoting Florence Nightingale a few weeks ago, who said discontent leads to innovation? Yup. It is indeed a delicate balance, isn't it? For me, the subtle difference between striving to make the world a better place and pausing to celebrate accomplishment comes with self-awareness. The stoics said it well. We must be careful not to become reactionary or to accept, without question, the status quo. We must know ourselves, know our geniuses, and...
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What Is Vulnerability?

I find that the topic of vulnerability comes up frequently in discussions amongst leaders with varying descriptions of what it means to "show vulnerability." Here are some questions to expand the dialogue: Does vulnerability have to mean showing emotion? It's OK for a woman to have tears and talk about feelings, but still not OK for men? What's the difference between showing vulnerability and showing weakness? How do we, as leaders, coach the leaders we work with on how to show up both confident and vulnerable? And here are some stories from leaders I've worked with: "I was a relatively new leader of a high growth business. We missed our numbers one year, and up in the front of the room, I teared up when I shared the news with my team. I felt shame that I didn't control my emotions. Yet, the team rallied, each leader coming up to me to commit to what they would do to make sure it didn't...
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The Gift of Feedback

Feedback is a gift. It is an opportunity for personal development and, ultimately, leadership development. And, it is hard; Very hard. I am not sure which is harder, giving feedback or accepting it. Recently I was with a small group of fellow coaches, several of us long-tenured, and we were discussing this very topic. We spent a couple of hours working with each other to improve our skills at both. I mention long-tenured, as a reminder to myself, that no matter how skilled we think we are at this, it is hard, and requires constant practice. Following are the reminders I heard. When giving feedback: Start from a place of care, ask yourself what outcome you want to achieve from the feedback, and get clear that you really believe that outcome is possible, i.e., is the person capable of the behavior change you want to see? You can earn trust with truthful, specific, positive feedback (TSP as speaker, Michael Allosso, calls it). When giving constructive...
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It’s Not About Color, Or Is it?

I've spent a lot of time this past week talking about racism. The conversations began with wondering why, the murder of George Floyd last week sparked protests nationwide when the killing of Eric Garner, in 2014 did not. Then when the looting began, the conversation turned to one about fear. As a teenager in 1968, when protestors were attacked by the police during the democratic convention and later at universities, I felt solidarity. Friends tell me their teenage and young adult children feel similarly now.   For me, today, it is more complicated. It's a conversation about the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. It's a conversation about violence. And, as I have come to realize, most importantly, it is a conversation about racism.  As a country, we are reluctant to talk about race and even more unwilling to talk about racism. And yet we must if we are ever to understand our fellow Americans. When the...
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Introvert or Extrovert: Who Makes the Better Leader?

Extroversion is the dominant style in the United States. As a result, we sometimes confuse leadership with charisma. Yet, research shows that not only are 40%-50% of CEO's introverts, some of the more "famous" CEOs are also introverts, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Charles Schwab and Steve Spielberg.  Amongst entrepreneurs, the numbers are higher. Why? Because entrepreneurs frequently are the expert at their chosen business and experts most often are introverts. So what does this mean? First, recognize that extroversion/introversion isn't binary. Most leaders tend toward one style or the other. Leadership, by its very nature, doesn't attract people who live in extremes. As with all style differences, start by celebrating and leveraging the differences in style. While other factors come into play in style differences, the key difference between introverts and extroverts is where they draw their energy.  Both introverts and extroverts seek input. Introverts tend to ask for feedback and then "go within" to think things over and make a decision. One thing to keep...
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With Diversity, Comes Diversity

What does this statement even mean? Homogeneous groups have similar backgrounds, preferences and personality styles. Often homogeneous groups are homegrown with few additions from "outside."Diverse groups, on the other hand, may differ in traditional ways, i.e., gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual preference. Members may also differ in terms of their personality styles and backgrounds. Finally, a group's diversity may come from changes in membership as outsiders join and integrate into the existing culture. Diverse leadership teams are hard...they are harder to build, unlikely to come to a consensus, and are more likely to have conflict. So, why bother? Because... they are harder to build, are unlikely to come to a consensus and are more likely to have conflict, they make better decisions. Research studies prove this out. And, diverse groups only work when they can come together as an integrated team. The word integration is rarely used today in the context of a diversity conversation. It harkens back to the 1970s...
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Gratitude for Clean Toilets that Flush

I spent most of December in Vietnam and Cambodia, an experience that had a profound impact I am still processing. We were fortunate to find a Hanoi based travel agent who created a truly local experience. While we stayed in fine hotels, most of which had all the features of western hotels, the rest of our experience was local. And local included local “WCs,” as they called them in Vietnam. While I’ve traveled to places before where I had to buy toilet paper on the way in and follow unfamiliar toilet customs, this is the first time these experiences were daily and throughout the day. Except for our hotel and one or two tourist restaurants, our guides took us to local places. We sometimes visited people’s homes and were graciously allowed to use their facilities. We loved Vietnam; it’s a colorful, dynamic, high energy place. The growth is palpable. Hanoi maintains the charm of its history while becoming more modern. It...
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Consensus Gives You Beige

When a leader asks for input and then makes a decision, the result is vivid color, i.e. a better decision. It is a better decision for several reasons. First and foremost, your team feels valued when they are asked to participate in the decision process. Second, there is value in the wisdom of crowds; many times the group will surface ideas that the leader hasn't thought about. As a leadership coach and Vistage Master Chair, I see this happen each month during the executive sessions I lead with CEOs. This, of course, is why 23,000+ people around the world are members - we understand the value of seeking input. Where it all goes awry, is when we seek consensus instead of input. With consensus, all the colors get mixed resulting in a dull beige, i.e. a mediocre, watered-down decision. Sometimes this may be okay when the goal is more about participation that it is about making decisions. The key is being mindful of your...
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