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    Bouncing Back: Lessons for Women Business Leaders from Bikram Yoga

    September 12th, 2012

    photo credit: DennisSylvesterHurd via photo pin cc

    I recently celebrated my 10th month as a breast cancer survivor – and I have learned many lessons — but none so poignant as the lessons I learned when I took a Bikram Yoga class. I had taken many yoga classes prior to my diagnosis but thought that Bikram Yoga, with its rigorous postures combined with heat, was not an activity that I could easily participate in.

    Well, being an adventuresome woman with an openness to possibilities, I was drawn back to try a class. As I timidly entered the Bikram room I was overcome with heat and fear – what if my life had changed so dramatically that I could not do this? That was all I needed – an opportunity to overcome fear. As I struggled though adapting to the reality of not being able to do some of the exercises because I cannot lie on my chest, I started thinking of how I could extract lessons from this experience. I completed the class, have continued going back and want to share some of my observations with other women business leaders about how one “bounces back.”

    It’s not what you do but who you are, doing it
    As I accepted my limitations and did not measure myself against any one else – I was impressed with what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.

    Use fear as a motivator
    Feeling fearful for me is a signal that I am putting boundaries on myself. It is a good barometer for action – a signal to figure out barriers.

    Adopt a problem-solving mindset
    I had some issues to overcome – rather than use these limitations as excuses – I approached them as solvable problems. This allowed me to gain control of the situation rather than sink into the victim mode.

    Energy from the participants
    Drawing energy from the other students was extremely helpful. Pay attention to resources surrounding you.

    Stay open to possibilities
    If I would have approached the class expecting to perform as I did prior to surgery, I would have faced defeat without even trying.

    Embrace yourself with a smile
    This needs no explanation.

    I hope you are invigorated by challenges – I think they break the monotony!

    Women Business Leaders Can Achieve Social Good through Social

    July 5th, 2012

    Photo by IvanWalsh.com

    I just returned from the inaugural Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR) Communities Network Conference where my firm was a presenter. As a woman business leader and owner of a strategic communications consultancy, this was not only a great opportunity to discuss the importance of social media for advancing a purpose … but also for something more purposeful … the greater good.

    We also attended the conference to learn and share, and I think all of us attending were moved by a staggering statistic that surprised me: 74 percent of students who fail to read proficiently at third grade falter at later grades and often drop out. This was something that stood out to me not only as a speaker, but also as a mom.

    My fellow attendees set out to learn about this campaign, which was conceived by Ralph Smith, senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With compelling data to back it up, the campaign focuses on closing the gap in third-grade literacy to improve education outcomes and social consequences. Data also shows minorities and low-income children are at the highest risk.

    This seems logical, but how does this impact us? How do we change these statistics?

    We presented a session on “Social Media: Fueling Modern Movements in the Digital Age.” As I sat listening to my colleagues Melissa and Sam educate a room full of conference attendees about movements, explaining the theory and methodology behind creating a groundswell, citing that passion is the primary ingredient to fuel a movement, I was struck with the passion and philanthropic mindset around this campaign.

    I heard the most inspirational speeches given by several mayors, including those leading the charge in Denver, Sacramento and Providence, who had made a leadership commitment to this campaign. I heard from cities, counties and districts committed to improving third-grade literacy rates in their areas. I heard a commitment to ALL children – a promise that the passion goes beyond caring for “my” child but to all children who are powerless and depend on the powerful to make the right decisions. I was nodding in agreement when most leaders put forth the need to collaborate, to bring the entire community together for the children.

    I was proud to attend the conference – heartened by the fact that 600 people got together to advocate for the greater good .

    I admit it. I am caught in the movement.

    What are your thoughts and what movements have you or your organization been involved in?

    Tips for Women Business Leaders to Disagree in a Positive Way

    June 29th, 2012

    Photo by takomabibelot

    For women business leaders, understanding yourself is the key to evaluating how you will react in group situations where you may not agree with what you are hearing. I was recently challenged by someone who was not happy with an action that I had taken. My immediate reaction was to get into a defensive position by defending my actions. I came away from the encounter feeling insecure and angry. When I actually stopped to analyze what had taken place I realized that, firstly, I had not been approached with diplomacy and secondly, my reaction was emotional.

    This is what I should have done; listen, process and buy time by saying, “I hear you but I may not actually agree with you.” This would have taken me beyond emotion into a logical place where the issue may have been efficiently solved.

    Here are some positive ways to intentionally disagree, condensed from a Forbes blog:

    Share your knowledge so others benefit
    Speak up to share your knowledge and expertise, and don’t let the fears of disagreement stop you. Make yourself a part of the conversation. People want to hear what you have to say.

    Mirror the person who is disagreeing
    When the person who disagrees with you speaks, make sure to respond by repeating what he or she has said word for word. For example, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you are saying is…” Once they’re under the impression that others are listening to and understanding them, they are then able to listen more carefully to what you have to say.

    Validate the person who is disagreeing
    As you respond with a conflicting opinion; first explain to the person that you understand what he or she is saying with a phrase such as “It makes sense to me that.” It helps you understand more fully the point of view that is different from your own. And it lowers people’s defenses so that they are open to what you have to say.

    Be prepared for contrary viewpoints
    Before attending a meeting in which disagreement might occur, imagine some potential reasons why others might question your point of view. Then come up with sound and logical arguments to counter these viewpoints.

    I know that I have to intentionally disconnect my feelings in tense situations, but it is not always that easy. The ideas here can be used as your own personal exercise prior to meetings to help prepare for potential disagreements. What techniques do you use to diffuse disagreements?


    13 Small Things Women Business Leaders Can Do to Simplify Their Day

    May 18th, 2012

    photo by Jyri

    As I recover from the horror of being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, I find myself slipping back into the frenzy of overly-busy work days. How did this happen? As I reflect on the early days of settling into and treating my disease, I see a calmer and more serene person. It has been a life-changing journey with some very pleasant, unexpected outcomes. Now, I always look for the positive in bad situations. Another upside of this personal crisis was the ability to enjoy a simple day with the gift of time.

    As a woman business leader, I don’t often get the opportunity to create, write and just “be.”  So, when I came across this advice on how to simplify your life from Leo Babauta, I wanted to share it with you.

    Start early
    Going into work early was one of my favorite tricks — it was quiet, before the phones and chatter and meetings started, and I could get a lot of work done in peace. By the time everyone else was getting started, I’d gotten two or three big tasks checked off.

    Limit your hours
    Cut back on your hours and set a limit — say 6 or 7 hours a day — and get your most essential work done within that limit. Limits force you to be effective.

    Make a short list
    Make a long list of all the tasks you need to do … then make a short list of 1-3 things you really want to get done. Choose so that, if you got only these tasks done, you’d be proud of what you did today.

    Batch distractions
    Things like email, reading blogs, Twitter or another social networks. Set a time for these, preferably later in the day: say, from 3-4 p.m. Another approach might be to do them for 10 minutes at the end of each hour — but stick to that 10-minute limit!

    Write shorter emails
    If email takes up a lot of your day, the simple change of limiting yourself to 3-4 sentences per email will make a big difference.

    Limit meetings
    Some top Google executives just do 5-minute meetings — anyone who attends these meetings had better be prepared, and concise. If you can get out of meetings and just get the notes, it could save you hours per week.

    The fewer repetitive and routine tasks you have to do, the more time you’ll free up for creating and important work. So automate wherever possible.

    Eliminate paperwork
    I used to deal with a lot of paperwork, and even then I knew it was a waste of my time. Whenever possible, eliminate paperwork in favor of digital.

    Clear your desk
    Clear everything off the top of your desk. Everything should be: filed, given to the appropriate person, given a permanent spot in a drawer, or trashed/recycled.

    Get away
    If you can get out of your office, and find a peaceful spot where you can focus on important work. Working from home is a good option here. The more you can do this (it might be once a week, or an hour a day, or half of every workday), the better.

    Take breathing breaks
    Every 15-20 minutes, get up from your desk, and take a breathing break. When you get back to work, remind yourself what you want to be working on, and clear away all distractions.

    Practice a focus ritual
    Every hour or two, do a refocus ritual. You might start it taking a walk for a couple of minutes to clear your head and get your blood circulating. Then return to your list of Most Important Tasks and figure out what you need to accomplish next.

    Schedule big blocks of creative time
    Not everyone can do this, but when possible, put a big block of 3-4 hours in your schedule for creating or doing other important work. Be ruthless about clearing distractions and doing the work you love during these blocks.

    I can see that there are areas I need to work on, and I am going to heed Leo’s advice! Oh the joy of a simple day! Please let me know what methods you use to simplify your day.

    How Women Business Leaders Can Recover from a Business Crisis

    May 16th, 2012

    by filipe.garcia

    I recently reconnected with several of my high school classmates. This may not seem unusual except for one detail – we attended school in Johannesburg, South Africa and have now spread to locations throughout the world. This was undoubtedly one of the positives that occurred after my diagnosis with breast cancer – the fact that my high school friends reached out to me with sincere compassion and caring. Another plus was that there is a virtual group where many of our classmates stay connected and share life’s ups and downs.

    One of the women in the group reached out to the rest of us as she was maneuvering through some tough business issues. I am going to share a wise response that came from a former classmate and renowned doctor who now practices in Orlando, Fla:

    • When your life is overwhelming and you feel that you are losing control –focus on the issues that you can manage.
    • Identify the things in your personal and financial life that you can manage, pay very strict attention to them and ignore the rest.  You will find that you can begin picking up the pieces as you recover from your crisis.
    • Pay attention to yourself, your health and mental health. It is more important than ever that you eat right and exercise and try to relax – these are things you can control.
    • Pay attention to your family and friends. Do not lose sight of them, do not let them fall apart with everything else.
    • Identify the one or two or three things of your finances that you can possibly control, no matter how insignificant, and focus intently on them.
    • As you recover from the crisis, you will start again picking up the pieces, in a controlled, gradient fashion. As you begin getting things under control, even after possibly losing much, you can start rebuilding in a much more deliberate fashion with a more solid foundation.

    Finally, remember there are things you CAN do. Here is an “exercise” that you can use to make sure you are taking care of the important things. Follow the sequence and you’ll find that there are three dynamics at play here:

    • Self (Dynamic 1),
    • Social, family and friends (Dynamic 2)
    • Financial, the outside people, partners, creditors, etc. (Dynamic 3)

    You MUST start with Dynamic 1, you cannot succeed in 2 without success in 1, and you cannot succeed in 3 without 1 and 2 in control. I hope I have offered some useful take-ways for those of you undergoing a difficult challenge.

    Itzhak Perlman Inspires Pointers on Perfection for Women Business Leaders

    January 17th, 2011

    Women business leaders can employ these pointers gained from watching a maestro take an orchestra to perfection.

    I had the privilege of attending a rehearsal concert where Itzhak Perlman was mentoring aspiring musicians from around the world. As I nestled into the music, I could not help but note his leadership style that resulted in the magical sounds. It was the gentle coaxing and a quest for excellence that most impressed me. What I observed was how he led the orchestra to excellence.

    Here are a few nuggets that women business leaders can take into account when leading your team to excellence:

    • Humor – there was a great deal of smiling and levity amid the seriousness of the instruction. Itzhak was enjoying what he was doing and this translated to the entire orchestra.
    • Kind and gentle – but firm – rather than criticize mistakes, be constructive and collaborative. Compliment your team but keep at it until you get it right.
    • Quest for perfection – phrases such as “It’s good, but it can be better” and “Almost Entirely, Perfect” describe the constant push for perfection. The piece was done over and over until it was perfect.
    • Harmony – there was not only harmony in the music but also harmony among the orchestra. They worked together effortlessly.
    • Respect for individual expression – the young musicians were encouraged to: “Add your spirit to the music” –  the art is in taking the team in the same direction without stifling the individual talent.
    • Tap into the passion -  “Don’t try too hard. It should come easy.”  As the musicians were intimate with their musical instruments so should you ensure that your team is intimate with its skill set. Each person brings their own set of talents and it is up to the leader to harness and leverage these talents.
    • Empowerment and trust – trust that each person will do their part.
    • Clear sense of the end game – Itzhak knows how the music should sound. He has the tune in his head just as a leader has her vision. It is up to her to motivate  the team/company to make the vision a reality.

    Women Business Leaders – Rise to the Challenge of Staying on Top

    January 7th, 2011

    Why we have too few women leaders :: Sheryly Sandberg

    Sheryl is one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world today … but surprisingly (or not) she has few female competitors for that title. Her message is a challenge – keep women in the workforce, expect your partner to partner and be prepared to stay involved.

    Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and one of the few upper-level female executives in a Fortune 500 company, recently gave a sober but inspired TED Talk called, “Why we have too few women leaders.” The video (see above) of that talk quickly became viral.

    Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders | Video on TED.com.

    Personally, as a woman and a woman business leader, I find the video compelling on many levels. But the salient point is this: women today have unlimited opportunities to excel in business … the hurdle, however, is steeped in outdated gender expectations.

    Arguably, Sheryl is one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world today … but surprisingly (or not) she has few female competitors for that title. Her message is a challenge – keep women in the workforce, expect your partner to partner and be prepared to stay involved.

    Here are 3 points Sheryl suggests women business leaders can do as individuals to effect change:

    1-Sit at the table

    The idea is to take your place at the head of the table and stop sitting on the sidelines. Sheryl notes that while men attribute their business or personal success to themselves … women attribute any success they have on outside factors and not on their own abilities. Take credit for your own success and abilities.

    2-Make your partner a real partner

    In study after study, women with full-time careers still do the majority of the household chores. Rather than wait for your partner to “help” with household duties, expect it.

    3-Don’t leave before you leave

    If you think you’ll want to take some time off to raise children (or something else), do it, if that’s what you want to do. But, until that moment comes … stay focused and never let up … be present and give your all 100 percent of the time.

    The message I’d like to send to other women business leaders is this – we need more women at the highest levels in business and government to move beyond the stereotypes, so it’s up to us to rise to the challenge.

    7 Strategies for Women Business Leaders to Achieve their Business Goals

    January 4th, 2011

    You can create a successful business strategy – and reach your goals – by collecting the right information and asking the right questions.

    In his new book, Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution, Harvard Business School professor Robert Simons explains how women business executives can identify holes in their planning processes and make smart choices. I’ve found that throughout my life as an entrepreneur and woman business leader, setting goals and questioning my approach regularly helps keep me on track. Here are the questions Robert recommends every business leader should ask themselves:

    1. Who are my customers?

    Clearly identifying your primary customer will allow you to devote all possible resources to meeting their needs and minimize the resources you devote to everything else. This is the path to competitive success.

    2. How does my company value shareholders, employees and customers?

    You’ll need to define your company’s core values, and how it will respond when faced with difficult choices. In other words, if your company’s priority is its shareholders, is everyone on the same page?

    3. What performance indicators am I tracking?

    Performance tracking means that you must set the right goals, assign accountability and monitor performance. Find out what’s important to you and your company’s bottom line and make sure it’s covered in your performance-monitoring plan

    4. What risk boundaries have I put in place?

    Make sure your company sets specific boundaries for employees … for example, codes of conduct or ethics statements to limit potential risk for your business.

    5. How am I mentoring innovation?

    We all know that companies that fail to innovate will eventually die. You must push people out of their comfort zones and spur them to innovate.

    6. How committed are my employees to helping one another?

    What is the company culture your business promotes? For most companies, it’s critically important to create standards so that people will help each other succeed — especially when you’re asking them to innovate.

    7. What strategic uncertainties keep me awake at night?

    No matter how good your current strategy, the only certainty is that things will change. And, adapting to change is critical to survival.

    Excerpts from Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Execution. Copyright 2010 Robert Simons. All rights reserved.