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    Women Business Leaders: Look at the Big Picture and the Little Picture, Too

    June 1st, 2012

    photo by: krossbow

    I have been struggling with my to do lists lately. I have one for groceries, birthdays etc. And another one for work  must-dos, phone calls, writing proposals, letters, preparing for meetings and more. But the most important one–and one that I never seem to get to–is preparing strategies and big picture plans. Whether these tasks are coded by quadrants, colored pens or any other organizational tools, the bottom line is that I never seem to get to the bottom of the list.

    Here are some ways to ensure that you are staying on track to accomplish both your big picture and little picture goals, condensed from a great article by Vic Lawrence.

    Big Picture Productivity
    The following are four dimensions of big-picture productivity that fit firmly into the realm of personal development. Keeping an eye on how you’re doing with these will keep you heading in a solid, forward-moving and very productive direction:
    1-Taking initiative
    If you have developed a pattern of merely reacting to situations, circumstances and other people, you need to start looking for opportunities to take initiative. You can’t just wait for things to get better, you need to actively start making it happen.
    2-Envisioning your future
    What kind of person do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish in your life? When you answer those questions, then you can map out goals and objectives and an action plan for getting there.
    3-Saying no
    Another critical thing to develop is the power to say no to those things that aren’t helping you move forward.  When you say no to the things that hold you down, you’re automatically saying yes to a whole new world of possibilities.
    4-Seeking common ground
    To keep yourself moving in a positive and productive forward direction, you need to cooperate with others in the areas upon which you can agree. By emphasizing what you have in common with others, the differences and disagreements that remain won’t hold both parties hostage.

    Little-Picture Productivity
    Now that you know what to pay attention to in the big picture, there are also all kinds of things you can do to be more productive when you actually start working on any given task or project. Things to try at this level include the following:
    1-Work on the tough stuff first
    It can really help to start tackling the thorniest problems when you’re at your freshest. Once your energy starts to drain, take a break or switch to another task that’s less difficult. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean first thing in the morning, it means figuring out your most productive times of day.
    2-Eliminate distractions
    This can be tough in the digital age when various social media, websites and email keep demanding your attention. This also means making sure you’re working in a physical environment that helps you be productive. A change of location once in a while may need to be explored if you get stuck.
    3-Get the tools you need
    A cook that doesn’t have any pots, pans, utensils or raw ingredients is going to have a tough time preparing a meal. If you don’t have what you need for a task or project, re-schedule it until you do, otherwise you’re wasting valuable time.

    I admit that although I have the best of intentions, I don’t follow all of the suggestions all the time.  I think I need to buckle down with pen and paper and follow these tips. I know that once I get it done, I’ll be better prepared to follow through on my intentions.

    What I Believe: A Woman Business Leader’s Philosophy

    May 11th, 2012

    by Skyandsea876

    I was recently interviewed for an article on women business leaders in my region. It turned out that the journalist’s probing questions made me think about some big-picture philosophies, and I really had to dig down and find the core of my beliefs.

    As the interview progressed, I found myself prefacing my replies with, “I am in the process of recovering from breast cancer, so my answers may be tempered by my current state of mind.” She continued on regardless, and her questions prompted me to think about my true feelings. What emerged is advice that I would like to share with you.

    Trust your intuition
    I always have strong gut feelings that are often tempered by weighing the options and mitigating regret. I know that if I really clear my mind and reach for my immediate reaction I am usually right. This becomes a matter of trusting yourself with a willingness to make mistakes. A great way to learn.

    Push through your fear
    There is no better way to get ahead than to face something that you know you want to do–yet the  fear of doing it may be paralyzing. When you recognize the source of the fear, whether it’s fear of failure, of getting hurt or of making a fool of yourself, it will be so much easier to forge ahead with a strategy in place. “What ifs” should not be part of the conversation!

    Focus in your strengths
    We are all born with gifts and talents. If you work on developing your innate strengths, you will not be encumbered by your weaknesses but rather will have the time to polish and master the areas in your life where you excel. Your weaknesses can be supplemented with a well-chosen team.

    Remain authentic and true to yourself
    When combining the above three doctrines – you cannot achieve success without really knowing who you are. Stay true and be honest with yourself. I always tell people to have a relationship with yourself, be your best friend and hang out “together.”

    I hope my story offers encouragement and strength to those of you who are dealing with difficulties. Please read the other blogs about my breast cancer journey.

    10 Communications Secrets for Women Business Leaders

    May 6th, 2012

    I spend most of my professional life figuring out how to most effectively communicate. Yet, my most valuable tool is having the ability to listen rather than talk.  I know that you have often found yourself in a situation where you wish you had an on/off button –  working at being a good listener is just as important as talking.  Great communicators are great listeners, and develop keen observational powers that enable them to sense the moods, attitudes and concerns of those they hope to connect with.

    Here is a list of 10 communications secrets created by Mike Myatt. While you may not wish to adopt every suggestion, I think you will come away with some very good ideas.

    1. Speak not with a forked tongue
      In most cases, people just won’t open up to those they don’t trust. While you can attempt to demand trust, it rarely works. Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decision-making.
    2. Get personal
      Classic business theory tells leaders to stay at arms length. I say stay at arms length if you want to remain in the dark, receiving only highly sanitized versions of the truth.
    3. Get specific
      Learn to communicate with clarity. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing. Your goal is to weed out the superfluous and to make your words count.
    4. Focus on the leave-behinds not the take-aways
      The key is to approach each interaction with a servant’s heart. When you truly focus on contributing more than receiving you will have accomplished the goal.
    5. Have an open mind
      A leader takes her game to a whole new level the minute she willingly seeks out those who hold dissenting opinions and opposing positions with the goal not of convincing them to change their minds, but with the goal of understanding what’s on their minds.
    6. Shut-up and listen
      Great leaders know when to dial it up, dial it down, and dial it off (mostly down and off).
    7. Replace ego with empathy
      Empathetic communicators display a level of authenticity and transparency that is not present with those who choose to communicate behind the carefully crafted facade, propped-up by a very fragile ego.
    8. Read between the lines
      In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their minds that they fail to realize everything to be gained from the minds of others. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut and you’ll be amazed at how your level of organizational awareness is raised.
    9. When you speak, know what you’re talking about
      Develop a technical command over your subject matter. If you don’t possess subject matter expertise, few people will give you the time of day. Good communicators address both the “what” and “how” aspects of messaging so they don’t fall prey to becoming the smooth talker who leaves people with the impression of form over substance.
    10. Speak to groups as individuals
      Great communicators can tailor a message such that they can speak to 10 people in a conference room or 10,000 people in an auditorium and have them feel as if they were speaking directly to each one of them as an individual.

    Social media has changed the landscape of the “old way” businesses communicate not only with their customers, but also with their employees. How has your business adapted to new forms of communicating?

    How Women Business Leaders Can Nurture a Creative Culture

    May 4th, 2012

    As a woman business leader and owner of a strategic communications firm, creativity is at the very core of my business. Without it, what would differentiate my firm from others?  In fact, I think that the very reason many businesses choose to work with a specific marketing and communications firm is precisely because of the creativity that firm possesses and from the work it has produced. Because creativity is the foundation of my business, I want to do everything I can to encourage and nurture it in my firm’s culture. One of the best things you can do is to stay out of your staff’s way!

    I liked the ideas Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer published recently, and I’ve condensed their list for you here:

    Savvy managers know how to balance four factors to properly motivate creativity and, ultimately, innovation:

    Creativity suffers when strategic goals are too loose, and when creators are too tightly constrained in how they accomplish those goals. People need to know what problem they’re trying to solve, and why it matters; they can’t be intrinsically motivated unless their work has meaning. So: clear direction on the strategic goal, but lots of leeway in how to achieve it.

    In our research inside organizations, we have often observed reduced creativity under conditions of strong evaluation pressure. In such situations, people are reluctant to contribute their ideas because they fear overly critical reactions. Curiously, we have also found reduced creativity in situations where evaluation and feedback are notably absent. The crucial balance involves a great deal of frequent, work-focused evaluation and feedback that is truly informative and constructive. To perform at their creative peak, people need to know that every idea will be respected (if not accepted) — respected enough to merit thoughtful consideration.

    We all need equitable, sufficiently generous compensation for our work, to avoid the distraction of financial worries, and to feel that we (and our work) are valued by our organizations. Recognition is another essential form of reward; it, too, signals that the person and the work are valued. Some of the most positive rewards are not monetary. As one interviewee said in a study we conducted several years ago, “Part of the reward is having your managers listen to what you have done. Having access to your supervisors increases internal motivation, so managers should be available on an informal basis.”

    When it comes to creativity, there’s good pressure and there’s bad pressure. Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone’s creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity — and innovation — forward.

    I have written often about how important it is to encourage and motivate creativity to nurture a positive company culture. How does your organization’s management apply these motivational balance factors appropriately?

    How Women Business Leaders Can Inspire Trust by Being Authentic

    April 29th, 2012

    As a woman business leader and entrepreneur, I have always struggled with the balance between remaining private and at the same time being misunderstood because I don’t share my feelings. I was raised in a repressed environment with the adage, “what would the queen do?” guiding my reactions to situations. Now, in some cases, this can be rather charming but honestly, for the most part, this is probably exasperating for the recipient of this stiff-upper-lip attitude. Over the years, as I have explored the desirable characteristics of great leaders, authenticity seems to be the value I most admire and strive for.

    Here are three important tips you can use to reveal your intentions, condensed from a great blog by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback:

    1. First, talk explicitly about your intentions — what’s important to you, the goals you seek, the values and motives that guide your actions and decisions. Talk as well about the sources of your intentions — the experiences that forged them. When you do something or make a choice, explain both the business and personal reasons. Don’t assume people will see them. Say them outright. Invite a discussion about them.

    This sounds easy, but many resist the idea that the boss must stoop to explain himself. Being the boss, they think, means not having to do that. But if they want to generate the kind of trust that gives them real influence and elicits the best from their people, they will talk about their intentions.

    2. The second way to reveal your intentions is through integrity. Walk the talk. Keep your word. Be sure that what you say is consistent with what you do. This will prove your authenticity. If you tell people to be open to new ideas, but you’re not, they will doubt what you say. If they don’t understand or believe your intentions, how can they trust you to do the right thing?

    3. The third way you reveal your intentions is through consistency. The intentions you speak about and practice should be the same from day to day, from person to person, from situation to situation. If they’re not, and there’s no reason for the difference, your lack of consistency will lead people to doubt you as well. If there are differences, be sure to explain them. Be sensitive to how others see and interpret your reasons for what you do.

    Going through my recent battle with breast cancer was further evidence to me, that the more honest and authentic I am about my feelings and intent, the more engaged and effective I am. I would appreciate hearing about your leadership journey, and what led you to become more authentic.

    4 Ways Women Business Leaders can Utilize Visualization to Remain Positive

    April 25th, 2012

    I have just completed seven weeks of radiation where I received space-age-type treatments that invaded my chest wall with the intent of killing any cancer cells that had migrated from my breast. The weekend before I began my treatment I flew to Atlanta to spend time with my family.  As fate would have it, on my way home, I happened to be seated next to a friendly and talkative gentleman who told me to visualize that these rays were on a seek-and-destroy mission with the sole purpose of winning the cancer battle.

    As I lay there getting my first treatment, my body flinched as the long beeps told me of the invasion. Staying positive at this point seemed almost impossible as I contemplated the side effects of radiation; exhaustion, severe burns and a compromised immune system.

    I decided that as a woman business leader and entrepreneur, I had faced many other challenges, although none as daunting as this. But my response has always been to embrace my challenges rather than fear them. Why would this be any different?

    Here are some of the ways that I learned to create a positive experience:

    1.    I listened to music that evoked positive emotions during treatment. This proved to balance my thoughts and alleviate the fear. Once I took out the fear factor, I was able to release the vision.

    2.    I connected with as many people as I could who were receiving the same treatment as I was. Sharing stories and following their progress. I realized how fortunate I was as their stories unfolded.

    3.    I found that by being positive and open I encouraged new relationships. I got to know the therapists, doctors and staff. The care and compassion was definitely a factor in making the process more bearable.

    4.    Overcoming the fear and embracing the experience was definitely the key. I found that by the end of the seven weeks I was actually looking forward to my daily trips.

    There have been studies that describe how an optimistic outlook can literally help people live longer and happier lives than those with a pessimistic view of the world. I would love to share your stories of optimism and how your positive outlook helped you through a difficult time.


    Women Business Leaders: How Do You Encourage Creative Thinking?

    April 22nd, 2012

    My professional life has always been focused on the creative process. Whether at the start of my career as a fashion designer, running radio stations in the Northeast, or for the past 13 years owning an integrated communications firm. For me, and as a woman business leader, creativity involves taking risks, believing in myself and embracing change.

    As I become comfortable with my new identity, a breast cancer survivor, I find that creative thinking has permeated how I have coped. I have moved out of the expected mode of behavior and have experimented with new paths for my future. Creative thinking enhances and adds dimension to every aspect of my life.

    It is also really important to me that my team has a platform for innovative thinking. I find these tips from blogger Michael Hyatt very useful:

    1- Hold my own counsel
    When meeting with the team I lead, it is usually best if I don’t go first. I might see the solution more quickly or be tempted to cut to the chase. The problem is that this inhibits everyone else’s creativity. The discussion then quickly becomes political. People start measuring their words. They are hesitant to disagree with me. As a result, I don’t get the best thinking of the group.

    2- Enlist outside resources
    If you aren’t constantly refilling the creative pool, it will eventually run dry. This is why I routinely buy books and give them to my colleagues to read. I also encourage them to attend conferences. (I try to attend as many as I can myself.) Consultants can also be helpful. They can offer a fresh, outside-in perspective that broadens the creative palette.

    3- Affirm creative thinking
    I believe that you get more when you “notice and affirm.” If I want more innovative thinking, I have to notice it and publicly affirm it. When introducing people, I like to brag on their creativity: “This is Jane Smith. She was the one who first started using social media in our company for customer service.” I also like to send email affirmations and copy the person’s boss. Recognition is a huge motivator for most of us.

    4- Create a safe environment
    By safe, I mean safe for dissent. Make it okay for people to disagree with you. If people don’t feel safe, they will only parrot your ideas. This means you will never be any more creative as a team than you could be on your own. However, I believe that my team can be much more creative than I can be on my own—so long as I give them the freedom to express themselves without fear of me embarrassing them.

    What are some ways you have encouraged creativity within your organization? How do you reward the creative process?

    8 Ways Women Business Leaders Can Find More Time for Themselves

    March 30th, 2012

    Susan, a really good friend of mine who is also the editor of a magazine,  has been reading my blogs. This in itself makes me really nervous as she is a wonderful writer and demands excellence in her publication, but she was most intrigued by my advice on balance.

    We sat on the sidewalk sharing a bottle of Pellegrino to discuss my sage wisdom around this subject – me looking to her for comments on my writing and she looking to me for a panacea for creating balance in her life.  I could talk about balance theoretically, but when she probed, as all good journalists do, I realized that in reality my life is sorely lacking balance. What upset me even more was that as I look at my breast cancer as an opportunity to reset and reevaluate my days – I can see I am back in the women business leaders quagmire!

    Once again, I offer advice from a time-management blog by Justine Grey – hoping that I can share with you that this time it worked – I have balance!

    1. Exercise
      Since joining a gym, I’ve fallen back in love with my business, had more energy for my children, and found myself happier throughout the day. I’m more motivated and focused than ever before.
    2. Television
      A great, lazy way to escape the stress of unfinished to-dos and future plans is to watch TV for a few minutes or an hour.
    3. Reading
      Reading will allow you to venture outside yourself and enjoy the pleasures of someone else’s life for a while. You’ll get much more from reading than just escaping—you’ll become a better thinker, writer, and speaker too.
    4. Pursue a passion
      Make a list of the things you’ve wanted to do in life but have never had the chance to explore. My list contains figure skating, tennis lessons, soap making, and pottery classes. What about you?
    5. Attend a retreat
      The benefits of any retreat, regardless if work is involved, is the chance to get away from all other distractions for a week or a weekend and give complete focus to one thing you’d like to improve.
    6. Make mornings calmer
      I really enjoyed reading Inc’s interview with 37signals founder Jason Fried because it offered a glimpse into his interesting life. Jason said: “I try not to grab my phone and check e-mails first thing. I used to do that, and it’s just not good for you. Instead, I’ll go and brew some tea and try and relax a little bit.”
    7. Coffee dates
      I got a taste of freedom one day when I walked my daughter over to preschool and then decided on a whim to head over to a nearby coffee shop until I had to pick her up. Why not schedule in a fun coffee date for yourself as soon as you finish your most pressing matters for today?
    8. Sing it like you mean it
      My entrepreneurial uncle once told me that every time he had a meeting with a client, he would spend the entire drive over with the car radio blasting, singing along at the top of his lungs. My uncle said singing made him feel happier, more confident, and more energized every single time.

    When is the last time you evaluated your life with the intention of finding a way to achieve balance? Have you found it yet? Share your story with us here.

    4 Strategies for Women Business Leaders to Become More Innovative

    March 23rd, 2012

    As a life-long entrepreneur, I have followed a variety of career paths. While I may not have considered myself a woman business leader at the time, as I look back at my choices I can see that I made some pretty progressive decisions early on in my career. At the time, I knew I was discarding the status quo but I would not have actually qualified my decisions as  ”innovative.” I can see now that my penchant for taking calculated risks could be interpreted that way!

    I thought a recent article by Thomas D. Kuczmarski on businesses that are innovative offered some great pointers for business owners and entrepreneurs. Here are some results of his survey of 87 U.S. product and service companies:

    1. An innovation strategy counts
      Sixty-six percent of the successful companies have an explicit innovation strategy that is aligned with the overall corporate strategy. Only 22 percent of the unsuccessful firms have such a strategy.
    2. Focusing on high-risk—but higher-return—innovation matters
      In successful firms, 26 percent of new product and service revenues come from new-to-the-world innovations. Among the unsuccessful, the figure is just 7 percent.
    3. Innovation leadership is central to success
      There is a clearly defined innovation leader in 64 percent of the successful companies; 50 percent of unsuccessful firms have such a leader. The two numbers seem oddly close until you understand that in the successful firms, the innovation leader reports to the CEO in 47 percent of the cases—compared to 15 percent among unsuccessful firms.
    4. The CEO must be the innovation leader
      In 62 percent of the successful firms, the CEO is active in the process of planning new products and services, compared with 30 percent of the unsuccessful firms. The reasons we heard for the failure of new products or services include poor planning and execution, lack of understanding of market needs, and lack of internal support. Overall, fully 68 percent of the reasons given for innovation failure were things that can be controlled by an organization.

    Innovation is a word that is easy and convenient to say. Making it happen is an important leadership role!

    5 Ways Women Business Leaders Can Supercharge Their Businesses

    March 20th, 2012

    I have often blogged about feminism versus femininity – underscoring the need for women to embrace their femininity and all the characteristics that are inherent in our gender. I would like to think that we are operating on level playing field where respect, humility and human kindness transcends the gender gap. Am I dreaming?

    While I feel women have equal opportunities in business, I do think there is always room for improvement. Here are some ways women can ramp up their business acumen from another female entrepreneur, Geri Stengel:

    1. Women need to take more risks
      When women start businesses, they opt for career paths that seem safer and more flexible than running a major corporation. Liz Elting, CEO and founder of global language service provider TransPerfect, advocates another tack: Go for broke when you are young and have nothing to lose. Don’t worry about what your life will be like in 10 years. Dream big and follow your dreams. When your business grows, so do your options for work/life balance.
    2. Women need to get tougher
      Nice girls please people. CEOs have to make tough decisions, from firing people to cutting services. In a man, that’s being strong; in a woman it is seen as being bitchy. “If you want everyone to like you, you will have a hard time doing what is necessary,” Elting says.
    3. Men need to get over themselves
      At home, men must share in household responsibilities, recognizing that their partner’s career is as valuable as their own. At work, men need to be more inclusive. Networking events shouldn’t be just guy things. Deals are done in informal settings after the conference or out of the office — on golf courses and in the corporate box at the ball game. Yes, some women like sports, but a lot are left out of that schmoozing and dealing.
    4. Women need to get over themselves, too
      Whether in peer groups, such as the Women Presidents’ Organization or through mentoring women starting out, women need to support and mentor each other. As Sheila Lirio Marcel, CEO of Care.com says, “We must lift as we climb, bring others along with us and collect talented people as we rise.”
    5. Everyone needs to build more flexible businesses
      Let’s start firms that don’t follow the same old business model; let’s build a model that can accommodate the differing needs of GenY, parents, Type A workers, and those who want to work reduced hours. You can retain and grow talent by being flexible — flexible about taking a year off for family without losing a rung on the career ladder; flexible in working hours; flexible about telecommuting.

    Changes now, in attitudes, awareness, and culture could end the stagnation of small women-led businesses and make them into the economic drivers we need.