Bye Bye Barbie: My Leadership Pledge for 2012

Last weekend I took my two sons to see Disney on Ice: Toy Story 3. We don’t let our kids watch too much TV, but they still love Buzz Lightyear and Woody.  And who wouldn’t – spacemen and talking cowboys? Awesome! But my leadership hat came on right after intermission when the heroines of the show, Barbie and the cowgirl started talking about love and wanting to be wanted by someone else. Here was Buzz flying through the air saving the universe and Woody taking a stand to stay by the child that loved him for 18 years, and the girl toys were only wanting to be held and loved. Barbie did save the day in the end, when she sexually allured Ken in her Barbie workout gear. What is this teaching our young children?

I am not a feminist, but what message did this tell all the young girls and boys in the audience? I was sad to see that these children were learning a harsh lesson: the media sees a woman’s value and power in her sexuality and beauty – not in how wonderfully smart she is or what her capacity of leadership may be.  I could not help but think which little girl out there will remember Disney on Ice for years to come as she tries to look just like Barbie, focusing more on her make-up and every calorie than one day being president or a CEO? And what about all the black children out there that saw all the cute blonde girls in sexy clothes? Not one Barbie skater had dark skin. How sad.

As a woman leader, even with a successful business and wonderful family, every morning I look in the mirror and scrutinize a wrinkle or dimple, so I am just as guilty. I once calculated that the amount of time I spent from 13 to 23 worrying about my weight and looks was about 2 hours a day, or 7,300 hours. Over 300 days of my life, nearly an entire year, which could have been studying science or learning a foreign language, were spent in front of the mirror or on a scale.

For 2012, my leadership pledge is to help 12 young women lead with their hearts and minds and feel empowered to take on a leadership position in the community. If you have not seen Miss Representation yet, it is well worth the 2 hours. While women have made great strides, we can’t let up. Join me in making a pledge to help our future women leaders. Sign the Miss Representation pledge at http://missrepresentation.org/.  Stay tuned for more, as She Leads is signing up to take the corporate pledge in 2012.

Is Fear Stopping You?

What is fear stopping you from doing? The is a Japanese Proverb that says, fear is only as deep as the mind allows.  While it may seem trivial, this past weekend I conquered a fear that my mind was allowing for almost 5 years: camping with my family.  Growing up I loved going camping with my parents for two weeks every summer (or at least I love the memory of them now). There is nothing quite like the smell of campfires at night and the crisp breeze of a fresh morning.  But since our first son was born, I have been making up excuses as to why we were not camping: he would not sleep through the night, we would end up driving home at 3am because we were all miserable, I would not sleep well and then I would have a bad workout the next day and then I would be in a bad mood…. and so on and so on.

 

Finally, when someone canceled their reservation in Estes Park earlier this week just as I was looking at the campsite reservation site, I figured it was the universe telling me to let go of this fear and see what happens. Yes, it rained when we were eating and since we forgot to bring rain gear (who checks the weather forecast?) we ended up running to the car and eating inside of our trusty Subaru Outback. At night I put on two fleece jackets, and if I stood any closer to the campfire I think my fleece would have combusted. And the first round of hamburgers burned since my focus was on the black storm cloud rushing towards us, rather than cooking. But you know what – the kids all slept through the night and woke up as happy as could be. They loved watching the elk roaming the fields, and spotting fish in the lake. We had a really great time.

 

What does this teach me about fear and leadership? Sometime our fears are rationale (did I mention it down poured rain?), but even reasonable fears should not stop me from doing something I love or really want to do. Yes, maybe a client will say no, or the second book will still not make it to the New York Times best seller list, but these fears still do not make it ok to not try. It makes me wonder what other fears I need to push through to open new doors and new experiences in life. Perhaps fear is just a politically correct way of saying “excuses”.  For me, it is time to stop making excuses and start opening doors, not standing there fearing what might be behind them.

What fear will you conquer this week?

Confessions of a recovering planner.

I like to plan. Make that: I love to plan. I plan vacations. I plan workouts. I plan career paths. The funny thing is, as much as I have some grand plan on how things are supposed to go in my life, so often my backup plan turns out to be much better than what I spent months designing, organizing, and outlining.  In life and business, I have come to realize having a clear vision of the future (something as my guiding North Star) is vital, but planning every step along the way will probably not get me there.

As most of my brilliant clients and co-workers know (and my blog readers), so many lessons in leadership come from my sweat and tears on my amateur triathlon courses. This summer I had planned on having an amazing triathlon season – that was my North Star guiding my 5:30am swim workouts throughout the winter! My husband and I signed up for Ironman Canada to celebrate our 10th anniversary of meeting at Ironman Lake Placid, but unfortunately injuries kept us from ramping up the training and I had to withdraw a month before the race. Because of this change of course, I signed up for a few races to keep my spirits high in bike/triathlon crazed Boulder for the rest of the summer. My pulled-out-of-nowhere racing season resulted in a 2nd finish in the Outdoor Divas Triathlon, and wins at the Steamboat Olympic Triathlon and the Oktoberfest Sprint Triathlon this past weekend. Not bad for a big vision with a big change of plans!

I realize that my plans do work in the end, but not because I stay the course no matter what is thrown my way, but because I change my plans and my goals often, if not continuously. The one constant is that they are always aligned to my guiding North Star, my vision of my life. This is true in leadership, life, and business. Staying the course is admirable, but so is changing it when it makes sense. So many people tell me they cannot plan their career three years out because so much is going to change. Yes, it will, but the vision for the future – your future – should not be changing if it comes right from the heart. Your perfect plan may mean setting a crazy-wonderful vision of the future and going after it, but then changing course as needed to get there.

Mixing Friendships and Work

Shasta Nelson is the most amazing women-start-up business owner – and I am honored to be her guest blogger this week…. Read more: http://www.girlfriendcircles.com/blog/index.php/2011/09/mixing-friendships-and-work/

Originally posted on September 15, 2011 by ShastaGFC

Note from Shasta: For Friendship Month this September I’ve invited some women to guest blog for me, adding their voices and experiences to our journey.  I’m honored to host this posting by Dr. Christina Schlachter (bio at the end).  I met her at a conference last February and while we don’t live near each other, we’ve become “business friends.” I hardly ever write on friendships at work so I’m glad she took that angle! And I hope you’ll all comment with things you’ve learned about work relationships!

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When we were little girls, we would make friends with the girls in our homeroom class, play hopscotch together during recess, and pass notes during science class when we thought the teacher was not looking.

As grown women, homerooms have been traded for conference rooms, playgrounds for a morning latte at the corner coffee shop, and we text friends the latest gossip from our computers as we sit in our cubicles at work. It is amazing how things have changed, yet really stayed the same.

For those who work in offices, we spend over 8 hours a day with our “colleague” friends, so it makes complete sense that we would want to get to know and perhaps become close friends with those around us at the water cooler. But what do you do when your friend (or you) becomes the boss?

Or even for those of who work from home or run our own companies, we still create a business network that can become friends, or need our friends to help us with our businesses.  When I started my own coaching and training firm four years ago, I was thrilled to share my excitement and good fortune with friends by using them as vendors, partners, and eventually as clients. The last thing I needed to do was to partner with someone I knew nothing about – I had too much on my plate already! I trusted my friends’ opinions when it came to any problem I was having in my personal life (men, kids, diet, and everything else!), so I assumed I could work with them just as easily.

I happily report that most of my “business friends” have remained intact and many of my clients are also good acquaintances. But I also am sad to say that some of my long time friendships have soured because our “friendship” was used as “wiggle room” when it came to paying bills, providing a quality service, or getting things done on time.

Here’s What I Have Learned About Friendship and Work

Alfred A. Montapert, author of The Supreme Philosophy of Man: The Laws of Life, is quoted as saying All lasting business is built on friendship, and while these may not be supreme philosophies, here are three lessons I have learned when I want to make my friendships and business grow together.

  1. State the obvious – QUICKLY!  I have never wanted to hurt a friend’s feelings, especially when it came to telling them they just are not doing a good enough job. Most of my soured friendships in business could have been saved if I had spoken up a little earlier, and I shall take that lesson to my grave. When a friendship is stressed I realize now I need to face the new situation head on and fast. First things first: State the obvious and if things are not working out perfectly, I have learned to let my friends know I value their friendship, and while there is work to be done, I know we can work it out together.
  2. Set clear objectives and timelines: Duh. Make that double duh. I would never have started a new relationship with a new contractor or vendor without having clear objectives, and I realized I was assuming my friends would just get the work done without the same courtesy I provided people I did not know. I was just as a guilty of using wiggle room with my friends’ objectives as my friends were on their end of the deal. While I have realized friendships will need a more “friendly” approach, I now kick off my new business relationship with clear objectives, timelines, and measurements. In a time of stress, there is nothing like clear objectives to keep everyone focused at the task at hand.
  3.  Set time a side for friendship. Just friendship. One mistake I made when I enlisted friends to work with me in business was to assume it was perfectly fine to move our gossiping happy hours to power lunches discussing the next greatest service offering or marketing approach. We used to hang around the water cooler, take long lunches, and instant message about the horrible outfits people wear to work, and all those times abruptly ended. I realized that while I was the boss, I still needed to put a little extra effort into scheduling NO-WORK-TALK coffee, after hours drinks, or just down time to keep my friendship going. It does take a little more effort, but I now know my friendships are worth it.

It is true, the top of the corporate ladder can be lonely. But it does not need to be. You need a team of people to help you get to the top of the corporate ladder, and wouldn’t it be nice if your team was full of people who really liked you and called you friend?

Dr. Christina Schlachter (@DrChristinaS) runs She Leads, an American Express M31000 award winning company providing training and coaching that helps teams & leaders communicate better and achieve their goals.  She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two sons.  Her book, The Change Plan: Your Guide to Transforming Your Career and Life in 12 Weeks will hit the shelves later this year.

When Leadership Strengths Become a Weakness

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: In Leadership

When I stepped onto the grounds of the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus the first day of my freshman year back in 1990, I thought I arrived in paradise. 21 years later, I still loyally hang my Hurricane warning flags before football games and have taught my son how to cheer, “C-A-N-E-S, Go Canes!” Last week, the news came out of perhaps the biggest scandal in NCAA football history. Money, alcohol, prostitutes, million dollar yachts, connections between student athletes and pro agents – the list goes on and on. If it was illegal or unethical, 73 of the University of Miami Hurricane athletes were doing it, and at least 7 of the coaches knew about it.

Many would argue that Miami’s confidence, drive, and dare I say “swagger” has been part of what makes the U the “U”. But Miami’s strengths, facilitated by the highly unethical Nevin Shapiro, were the downfall of these 73 players and 7 coaches. Confidence turned to arrogance, drive turned to ambivalence, and the swagger turned to hubris.

Leaders, just like athletes, bring strengths to the table, but strengths can turn into blind spots, and potential undoing if not used correctly. Knowing your blind sports is the first step to becoming a self-aware, highly productive leader, but accepting them and doing something about them is what really counts.

What are your own blind spots? Many leaders I work with joke by saying they are perfectionists, but this “weakness” is a sophomoric analysis.  If you did not want to deliver a perfect product or service, you would probably not have a job. But over confidence is a weakness. A leader’s confidence can sometimes be seen by others as crudeness and may alienate the very people they need on their team. Fast paced leaders may see themselves as “goal oriented” but if they do not slow down and ask “what if” (even if it does not come naturally) they may miss possible negative implications down the road.

Our perceptions of our own behaviors may be different to the perceptions others have of us. How do you find your own blind spots?  Follow these three steps:

  1. Ask friends or colleagues for feedback.
  2. Listen to them.  Do not dismiss the perceptions you do not share out of hand, otherwise they well may be your own downfall in the future. If one person thinks you can work on something, it may just be an opinion.  If two people think you have the same weakness, you may want to start listening.
  3. Create a support network to develop a list of cues to tune you into when your strengths are becoming weaknesses. Perhaps you may start taking in more audience cues next time you run a team meeting, and if it looks like most people are not ready to move forward with a decision or project, you can remind yourself to slow down, take a breath, and switch your communication approach.

Everyone knows they have strengths and weaknesses, but the real trick is using your strengths to their fullest, but not so much they become a disadvantage.

Great Athletes. Great Leaders.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Linda Lappe, CU’s Women’s Basketball Coach and the youngest woman to coach in the NCAA. While we both are blonde-haired and tall, one may think our similarities stopped there. I was nicknamed Traveling-Tina in school, she, well, she was a basketball superstar. But a comment she made about women in leadership made me realize we have much more in common: over 80% of women executives in America played sports or considered themselves a tomboy. What is it about sports that make a great leader? Here are three traits exceptional leaders and amazing athletes have in common: Having discipline, set clear goals, and encountering a little bit of luck.

Discipline: Vince Lombardi once said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” There are no words to better explain self-discipline.  Winning championships does not just happen to people. Landing clients does not just happen.  You have to get up, work your butt off, and then see the rewards of your labor.

Setting Clear Goals: It amazes me how many leaders still do not get this one simple, yet essential task. If you have no clue where you are going, well, you will never get there and no one is going to be jumping on board to join you in the journey to nowhere. Set clear, specific, passionate, and measurable goals and then find a partner, coach, or manager who will keep you honest in reaching them.

And finally, having a little bit of luck:  Unfortunately, sometimes things do not go your way. But then again, sometimes they do. You have heard it before, and life is not necessarily fair, so what are you going to do about it?  Great leaders, in sport and business, accept it and know that until their luck comes knocking at the door, they keep working to be prepared for it. My life would have been a whole lot different if I did not “luckily” stumble on sidewalk and tear out my ACL (which led to my inspiration for my 1st Ironman and meeting my husband).  My life would have been a whole lot different if I “luckily” was unintentionally stood up by my first interview with GE, and was graciously passed on to the next round (passing 5000 other qualified applicants!).  Luck may not always come with a leprechaun and four leaf clover, but it is out there.  Be ready!

Whether you are on the playing field or boardroom, getting the competitive edge means being ready, working hard, and having a laser like focus on the end goal. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or NCAA coach/player to become an exceptional leader, you just have to start thinking like one.

How to Balance Cooperation and Competition

I was raised in a highly competitive family, make that an über competitive family. We competed on who was in the school play, who was a better athlete, who had more friends, who weighed less, and so on and so on. I always looked at siblings who were also best friends with curiosity and pain. What would it be like to be encouraged to be friends and teammates, rather than constant rivals?

While I know my competitive spirit was a huge factor in my early career success, as I lead more teams and work with leaders around the globe, I have learned (and not always easily) that having someone around to help you out and push you a little harder can actually be a good thing. Being competitive is not mutually exclusive with being cooperative. How do you balance cooperation with competition? I have found three key levers that help balance the fine line of cooperation and competition.

- Listening first to understand. Are you present in the conversation with your teammates and peers or are you typing away on your blackberry or iPhone thinking of how you are going to respond or what you are going to say next? Be present, then respond.

- Building solutions based on a common goal. Have a common goal in mind and tell one another what that goal is! Disagreeing on means to the end is easier if the goals can be mutual and supported by all parties involved.

- The best idea wins the day. The best way to make sure there is an ideal state of competition and cooperation is to put your ego aside and let the best idea win the day, even if it is not your idea. Check your ego at the door unless you want to go it alone.

Balancing competition and cooperation is all about communication. Being able to communicate with people like you, people who do not know you, people who dislike you, and well, just people. You can compete like crazy in life and work, but victory really is sweeter when there is someone there to share it with you.

Do Impossible Things…

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit. – Vince Lombardi.

Never quit trying. Never quit doing. Never, ever, ever quit.