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    How Women Business Leaders can Become Highly Respected Achievers

    June 26th, 2012

    photo by scott*eric

    I recently attended an International Woman’s Forum meeting with a small group of women business leaders. As I looked around the room, I realized that not only was I surrounded by women leaders, but they are all good people. I have never consciously thought of myself as a leader but rather organically moved into this role. Although I am not over burdened with self confidence, I find I do have a strong desire to lead — but with a focus on leading with authenticity.

    This article on becoming a respected leader from Forbes shows how leaders can combine good human characteristics with passion and leadership skills:

    1. Tempered Tenacity
      Respected achievers are incredibly tenacious. To a tenaciously driven person, there is never just one way to get there, and no one will convince them otherwise. However, the sort of achiever we’re talking about also keeps the well-being of others in mind, and if one of those alternate routes will result in unnecessarily harming someone else, then that route isn’t an option, period.
    2. Consistent Commitment
      While nurturing multiple visions is fine (assuming they are manageable), the respected achiever sets a high standard for her/himself that what they commit to do on a project, they fully intend to do and will make every reasonable effort to make it happen. The respected achievers’ standard of following through is consistently maintained whether or not adversity materializes, and others know that when they collaborate with a respected achiever it won’t be a waste of their time.
    3. Soulful Pragmatism
      Respected achievers are typically pragmatists – they focus on what works. But, implementing a pragmatic approach without being mindful of how changes will affect others isn’t commendable, it’s cruel. Respected achievers know this, so they balance an outcome focus with a situational awareness of the adjustments required by others, and they work with them to make those adjustments.
    4. Strategic Resolution
      Just like anyone else, respected achievers can become negative when things aren’t going well, and just like all of us, they may vent now and again about how crappy a situation is.  What they do not do, however, is drop anchor in that negative place and allow their negativity to feed itself and eventually seep into the perspectives of those around them. Instead, they experience the pain, recognize that whatever caused it (business or personal) is now part of their repertoire of experience, and then they resolve to strategically move on.
    5. Responsibility Ownership
      One less-than-admirable trait of many driven people is that they’re good at figuring out how to avoid taking responsibility for what went wrong. If that means throwing someone under the proverbial bus, so be it. Better him than me. But the respected achiever sees things differently in a couple of ways. First, if something went wrong due to a mistake made by the team, the respected achiever owns responsibility whether or not other team members do the same. Second, respected achievers are intuitively reciprocal people – they treat others in the manner they wish to be treated. Their embodiment of the “Golden Rule” is not situational; it’s a consistently applied maxim that guides their behavior.

    Have you worked with someone you feel fit the model above for a highly respected leader? Please share your story with us and tell us how this person influenced you in finding your own leadership style.


    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.

    Automate
    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.


    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:

    Goals
    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.

    Evaluation
    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.

    Reward
    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.”

    Pressure
    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?


    4 Ways Women Business Leaders can Integrate their Social Media Persona with their Brand

    May 1st, 2012

    As the owner of a communications firm, I am often asked to evaluate the social media efforts of my clients’ businesses. I cannot stress strongly enough that social media is merely a vehicle for communicating the brand message and not a solution in itself.  As women business leaders get comfortable with communicating in the “cyber” world, the methodology that we use should sync with our overall communications strategy. The concept here is that the persona we use to engage online should be no different than the personality  we convey off line. In order to effectively and consistently have an integrated social media presence, you’d be well advised to hire a community manager.  But I caution you from experience – make sure that the voice of the company is well understood prior to engaging your customers and clients online.

    Here is a great list  from Pam Drayton to help you create and maintain an effective social media voice:

    Tips for creating your social media voice:

    1. Constantly be aware of your intended market and the Social Media vehicle you are planning to use. If you are selling medical hardware to brain surgeons you will not use the same communication techniques, words and terminology you would use if you are selling gaming systems to teenagers.
    2. Identify your target market before you settle on your voice. What is the age of your preferred market; what is their education background; where do they live, what are their values and beliefs. It is also very important to determine, and always keep in mind, what your target market wants or needs from you.
    3. Have passionate, but do not become overly emotional. There is a huge difference between telling your readers, “This is an exceptional, high-quality product that will perfectly meet your needs,” and “If you don’t buy this product, your business will fail miserably.”
    4. To follow that note, always be honest. And play fair. You may actually believe the product your competition is offering is nothing more than junk; but don’t actually say that. Instead explain how you believe your product is better.

    With written social media communications all you have is words. In order to precisely and authentically relay your message you must choose those words carefully, and use a social media “voice” that not only enhances your communication efforts but is in sync with your overall brand.


    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?


    How Women Business Leaders Can Use Their Life Experiences to Become Better Mentors

    April 19th, 2012

    There is no better way to validate your life’s experience as a woman business leader than to use your accumulated knowledge to give back. When I have the opportunity to really help someone through a mentoring program, I feel that I get as much out of the experience by giving and sharing as the recipient of the mentoring gets from me.

    What I find really exciting is the opportunity to move beyond my past ideas and experiences and watch as they reemerge in new and progressive ways through those that I mentor. And,  I love the idea of having new opinions layered and added to past experiences.

    Above all though, I believe that you cannot mentor successfully without having passion for mentoring and for the opportunities you are providing. To be an effective mentor, Mindtools suggests you need to do the following:

    1-Have the desire to help
    You should be willing to spend time helping someone else, and remain positive throughout.

    2-Be motivated to continue developing and growing
    Your own development never stops. To help others develop, you must value your own growth too. Many mentors say that mentoring helps them with their own personal development.

    3-Have confidence and an assured manner
    We don’t mean overconfidence or a big ego. Rather, you should have the ability to critique and challenge mentees in a way that’s non-threatening, and helps them look at a situation from a new perspective.

    4-Ask the right questions
    The best mentors ask questions that make the mentee do the thinking. To do this, try asking open questions that cannot be answered with just yes or no. Or ask more direct questions that offer several answer options. Then ask the mentee why they chose that particular answer.

    5-Listen actively
    Be careful to process everything the mentee is saying. Watch body language, maintain eye contact, and understand which topics are difficult for the mentee to discuss. Showing someone that you’re listening is a valuable skill in itself. It shows that you value what the person is saying and that you won’t interrupt them.

    6-Provide feedback
    Do this in a way that accurately and objectively summarizes what you’ve heard, but also interprets things in a way that adds value for the mentee. In particular, use feedback to show that you understand what the mentee’s thinking approach has been. This is key to helping the mentee see a situation from another perspective.

    Mentoring truly is one of my great accomplishments, and I’d like to share a few of my favorite blogs on mentoring here: “7 Ways Women Business leaders Can Motivate and Mentor Others,” and “Create a Mentoring Group for Women Business Leaders  in 5 Easy Steps.”


    Women Business Leaders: Does Your Social Media Voice Match Your Brand?

    April 8th, 2012

    As a woman business leader and business owner, I am often asked if I “do social media.” I could liken this question to, “Do you do in-person meetings?” Social media is merely a communications channel that should sync with your overall branding efforts. A company is like a living thing in that it has a “persona” or personality that should be understood by the entire team in order to be effective across all channels. This brand personality should be extended through the voice both on and off line.

    Here are some things to think about when planning your brand’s social media strategy I’ve condensed from an article by public relations professional Mickie Kennedy:

    Whether you realize it or not, your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media profiles all play a key role in your branding efforts. Unfortunately, too many companies have a social media voice that doesn’t fit with their brand.

    Here’s an example. Recently, 7-Eleven posted a Facebook update (they’ve since deleted it) that was seemingly poking fun at mentally ill people. Obviously, the person who made this update on behalf of 7-Eleven didn’t understand that this type of humor didn’t fit with the brand’s voice.  It was a clear example of the company’s social media voice not matching the brand.

    There’s nothing wrong with showing some personality with your social networking. It’s a good thing, but it also has to make sense within the structure of your brand. If you’ve created a brand that’s seen as serious and thoughtful and you have a silly, funny social media voice, it just won’t ring true with your customers. It will confuse them and undermine your branding efforts.

    How can you make sure your social media marketing meshes with the rest of your branding efforts?

    It all comes down to training the person who is managing your social media accounts on the voice of your brand. That person needs to understand what your brand is about, what kind of image you’re trying to create, who your target audience is, and how you want them to interact with and perceive your brand.

    I’m not saying you need to run every Tweet and status update through a committee for approval, but you do need to remember that everything you post influences how others see your brand. Consistency is the key to building brands customers trust and connect with. Maintain that consistency in everything you do.

    I agree with Mickie’s thoughts on maintaining a cohesive “brand” throughout your marketing and social efforts. Does it make you wonder about a brand when its social voice is disconnected  from its overall brand voice?