In leadership, the age-old debate goes something like this: Should you dedicate time to developing your best or your worst skills? Should you focus or broaden your repertoire of tools and assets?
I explore this conundrum in considerable detail in my book Intentional Leadership, but the short answer is to specialize, specialize, specialize.
As a younger woman, I spent long days at my job then returned home to (attempt to) prepare dinner. I was never a good cook, and to this day I can barely boil an egg. I never developed the skills essential to cook well and any phase of cooking is antithetical to my natural inclinations and comfort zones . I find the tiny details and mundanities of cooking bore me, both of which are necessary to successful meal preparation. However, I am comfortable with both my strength and limitation here; I was a successful c-suite executive and a terrible cook.
When it came time to decide on my “encore career,” the whole world lay before me. Some careers require long spans of attention to minute details. However, tasks that need those skills drain my energy rather than fuel me. I wanted to feel energized by my encore career, not enervated. So, I chose a career in executive coaching, a job with constant stimulation, new challenges, and big-picture goals. Distinguishing what invigorates you versus what exhausts you—as well as deciding what to do once you realize you cannot do every job well—distinguishes Intentional from Unintentional leaders.
Intentional Leaders welcome feedback and act on it in some capacity. Unintentional leaders react poorly to hearing feedback, either becoming defensive or ignoring the issues at hand. In my book, I share the four keys to Intentional leadership. The first key is “know thyself.” The process of achieving this level of self-awareness often includes a personality assessment. I use the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0™ to highlight what’s important to you as a person, your stress tolerance, your amiability, your creativity, and the sources of your energy. Getting to know yourself also requires some introspection and analysis of past events, both great ones and not-so-great ones. Revisiting prominent life events allows leaders to analyze what worked, what was important to them, and how the events could have gone differently.
Self-awareness will enhance your natural leadership skills. Once you increase your level of self awareness, you can allocate your energy appropriately. Discover your strengths and make them stronger. Determine what drains your energy and find ways to work around them, so they don’t drag you down. Or if you can’t avoid them, use them as an opportunity to stretch, grow and learn something. By choosing to maximize your strengths and deal with your limitations, you will find your natural leadership will attract the followers you need to achieve your highest potential for success.
Why You Get Irritated Easily was an article I published last March that hit a collective nerve. It has 37,158 views; 2,205 likes; 537 shares and 148 comments—only 10,000 less than Richard Branson’s post that day! As the author, the experience was thrilling, shocking, and a little nerve-wracking.
Moreover, I was tempted never to post again.
Why? Most of my previous posts had fewer than 100 views, and a few likes or shares. I did not want to come down from the mountaintop of recognition back to the valley of obscurity. However, eventually, my editor convinced me after a few months to publish again. I am glad she did because it led to some great things for my business.
My first LinkedIn post was on October 30, 2014.
It received 70 views, six likes, four comments.
With that first post, I held my breath as I clicked “publish.” Then, I waited and watched. Well, to be totally honest, I checked on the post about every 15 minutes for two days! I was not exactly thrilled at the response, but my faithful editor kept encouraging me and helping me edit (my least favorite thing). I worked up to two to three posts a week and worked down to only checking the number of views every other day.
This post was my 100th post on LinkedIn. That does not make me an expert on anything but prolificacy, but I am having great fun and learning a lot. I have some thoughts to share with you about it:
Lesson #1: Write something and post it!
Thinking about writing is not enough and that took me awhile. The more LinkedIn posts I published, the more, I realized what incredible freedom this forum provides. The publishing I have done before was mostly professional articles that required extensive research and accurate, detailed references. With LinkedIn, I could pick any topic that came to my head and share my thoughts and opinions without substantial research or even footnotes. In my case, the more I wrote, the more ideas I had for future posts. Why wait like I did? Decide what you want to say, and say it.
Lesson #2: Learn from other LinkedIn writers.
Read posts of influencers and other LinkedIn bloggers. Study their titles and graphics. They give you a splendid idea of how to communicate on the site.
Thinking about writing is not enough…
Lesson #3: Find an editor.
The key to good writing? A good editor. That may be you if you have the skills. If not, the editor might be your spouse (although caution advised here), colleague or savvy neighbor. Whomever you choose to be your editor, decide on your focus, your style, and your strategy. Draft your ideas and then let your editor do their job. However, be sure you pick someone who has the courage to tell you when your idea is good and when it is best to let that idea develop more—or scrap it.
Lesson 4: Try new things and learn new skills.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Every post taught me something different about writing for LinkedIn. I found out about all the resources to find the right graphic to draw the reader’s attention. When I used one of my cartoons, the views, comments, likes and shares went up. From choosing graphics to writing titles, to using new tools, I found that by learning something new I opened new areas of creativity.
Lesson 5: Respond to every comment.
An unexpected bonus was the fun of receiving and responding to comments. I loved engaging with total strangers around the world, and many of the conversations led to inquiries about my coaching and workplace assessment services. Respond to every comment. Connecting on the site is an important way to engage with your readers. Many times, I use comments as ideas for future posts.
There was another unexpected bonus. I also reviewed all the leadership-related writing I have done over the years for ideas (well over 100,000 words) and decided that there might be a book in there somewhere. The outcome? My new book, Intentional Leadership, published by Motivational Press.
Let me be clear: Posting takes effort and time. Pieces of it were even a chore. Moreover, I learned that regular posting was a must, so missing a week because I did not have any new ideas made me feel a little guilty.
Posting takes effort and time. Pieces of it were even a chore.
I work at home, have a thriving international coaching and assessment practice and a new book. Also, I just became a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, an invitation-only, national group of about 400 coaches. Why was I invited? My 30 years’ experience as a CEO and my ten years as a professional coach did not hurt, but the clincher was “My exceptional LinkedIn profile”!
After almost two and a half years posting on LinkedIn and thousands of words later, was it worth all the effort? No question.
What can blogging on LinkedIn do for you?
Like many people, I was surprised in the early hours of November 9th following the election. It was a good lesson about a lot of things, not the least of which was that surprises happen all the time. The important thing is to be prepared.
Have you considered your plan B when the unexpected happens?
My clients were surprised on election day, too. Here are just two of the emails I received the next day from my executive coaching clients in the U.S.:
“Sorry. I have to attend an emergency meeting regarding election results at our regular time. Can we reschedule?”
“I’ll only be able to talk for half an hour on our call today because there’s an emergency meeting about the possible consequences of the election.”
Those clients who made their appointments could talk about nothing else except their fear of what might happen as a result of the election. It was apparent we were not prepared for this outcome.
My question to my clients all day was, “What else might happen that you haven’t considered possible?” I followed up with “Would you be prepared for it if it did?
For organizations whose mission involves human services, the answer to the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” is always about the safety of the clients served. It could also be about the health and security of the employees. Then the conversation can shift to issues related to budget, lawsuits or even bad press.
I asked one new CEO of a smaller agency that cares for children about what she thought would be the worst that could happen in her organization. Predictably, she said that a child in their care could suffer a serious injury or die. Then I asked her what she would do if she received a 2 a.m. call that the worst had happened. She related a series of mandatory calls she would make, critical questions she would ask, and appropriate actions she would take.
“Are those written down anywhere?” I asked. There was a pause.
“What if you were away,” I said, “how would your staff know what to do?” She didn’t answer.
I continued. “What if your senior manager were hospitalized tomorrow? What would you do?” There was another long pause.
“Well, that’s highly unlikely, but I guess I’d give the necessary jobs to another manager.”
“Had you ever considered this before?” I asked. She hadn’t, but she was now. And writing it down.
While leaders can’t spend all of their time worrying about what could happen, some attention must be paid to what to do if they do—and especially to those things that seem unlikely or impossible. Not only is it good to have a plan, but also the exciting spillover from having that mental conversation is that an astute leader will also look at ways to make impossible things that are desirable happen, too.
Unlikely and even impossible things happen all the time. It’s not if but when. And when it comes to being prepared, you either will be or you won’t.
The question is if it happened at your organization, would you be prepared?
Have you ever noticed all those articles, books, and courses about how to focus are written by people who are born focused? These are the left-brained, analytical types for whom organizing, planning, and strong focus are as second nature as breathing.
Well, here’s a switch! This article is about how to focus but is written by the unfocused for the unfocused.
We—the naturally disorganized, unfocused, planning-skill slackers, and nonperfectionists—march to a different drummer. I’ve walked in your moccasins, assuming you wear moccasins and could
find two that matched this morning.
Here are six strategies that have worked for me (mostly) for how the unfocused can focus:
- Clear the decks. Which decks? First, your actual deck, in this case, a desk. Make a spot that is totally free from any DISTRACTIONS, our Enemy Numero Uno.
- Put it away. Remove anything that will catch your eye, trigger an impulse to move away from your project, stimulate guilt, or issue an invitation to play. This strategy includes the home distractions that surround the “work-at-home” types. Sure, it’s nice to have the laundry going but turn the buzzer off. It can wait.
- Turn ‘em off. Along the lines of clearing distractions, you need to eliminate anything that has an alert. iPhones, iPods, iPads, iMacs, or anything that has an alarm, flashes or vibrates.
- Go offline. Your addictions to checking email, social media, and the web are a given. If you leave any of them on, YOU CAN’T FOCUS. Close down your Internet, social media, and email applications when you need to focus.
- Set a time limit for “focusing.” The maximum any brain can be productive in a burst? 90 minutes, according to science. Frankly, I don’t have much of that time left, so let’s wrap this up, shall we?
- Take breaks. I know. You are probably saying, “If I’m supposed to be focusing, why should I stop?” Again, it’s science and vital for your productivity. When you incorporate short break, you will suffer fewer impulses to find something else to do.
We all know the names “they” (a.k.a. those super-focused types) use for us: flighty, head-in-the-clouds, frivolous, empty-headed, bird-brained, scattered, feather-brained, careless, disorganized, and yes, blonde. We have names for them too, like obsessive-compulsive, rigid, inflexible, stubborn, unbending, set-in-their-ways, obstinate and yes, even tight-_____.
The names we unfocused-types have for ourselves paint a much more accurate picture, of course. We’re “resilient,” “flexible,” “spontaneous,” and “reasonable,” for example. We are also keenly aware of the truth: that impaired focus causes us lots of frustrations, futile efforts, time wasted and goals not met. Good thing we are resilient, huh?
What to do? Please don’t anyone tell me the answer is to focus.
But…what if that is the answer? What if we need to focus on what we are all communicating with each other, what is driving our changing behaviors, and what we can do to enhance performance and relationships in spite of or even in light of our differences?
Hey! Would you look at that? The neighbors have a new bird feeder, and there’s a bird there I’ve never seen before! Now where is that bird book? Oh, yes, over here by the plant…you know, I should water that plant…
How do you focus?
@CoachJudyNelson was a CEO for 30 years and has golfed with presidents, been heckled by famous comedians, and researched insurance policies for riding elephants on behalf of Zsa Zsa Gábor. And those were the ordinary days. A Certified Professional Coach since 2006, she uses the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0 to assist leaders and career seekers to develop and reach stretch goals. She is an avid traveler, a wannabe artist, a sort of cartoonist, and a lover of absurdity and new ideas. Her new book, Intentional Leadership (Motivational Press, 2017) debuts in January. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.
Dear Fellow Executive Coaches,
Today, I would like to discuss what should one do when a coach refers a client to you.
Before we dive into that, however, let me give you my backstory. I spent over three decades as a CEO for nonprofit organizations. Because of my extensive experience as a CEO, I often function as a “coaching consultant,” primarily coaching for professional development. However, when specific issues come up where my client asks for advice, I switch hats and offer the benefit of my training, knowledge, and experience. I serve in a variety of roles including thought partner, sounding board, feedback provider, supporter, and (most of all) a listener.While my approach is unusual
, it provides a compelling opportunity for clients to improve as a leader.
It’s crucial to evaluate progress in the coaching process, to adjust when you need to, and to determine whether coaching is still needed. Sometimes the client (or the coach) needs a change. When it is time, I look to a small list of fellow coaches that I know and trust.
There are some duties involved when taking on a new client. You need to follow ICF best practices, e.g., advising the individual about the ethics in coaching; the role of the coach as different from a mentor, counselor or therapist; clarifying goals, etc. I have several additional requirements for this short list of fellow coaches:
- They must be trained and certified by accredited institutions approved by the ICF (International Coach Federation.)
- If they have strong religious beliefs, they never inject them into the coaching sessions unless they identify themselves as religion-based coaches.
- They must have a stellar reputation for confidentiality.
- They must also prove trustworthy and respectful.
Most of us also begin a coaching relationship by explaining the process includes some personality assessment, a priceless tool to aid the coaching process. Which brings me to my point, the core of this letter:
Any coach that I refer one of my clients to must be willing to use the assessments he or she has already participated in without insisting that they start from scratch with a whole new battery.
I use the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0. Out of the assessments that exist, the Big 5 was the only one that “spoke” to me. That is, it made sense; it didn’t use weird terms; it was non-threatening, non-labeling, and highly researched.
My clients experience the Big 5. Their involvement with it has been extensive. The assessment has become a significant tool in their ongoing journey towards better self- awareness and self-management. Many have told me how helpful it has been. They don’t want to start over with a new tool! What they want is help in how to use the information they’ve learned about themselves.
Many of us are on assessment overdose. That includes me. During my exceptional coaching training from the College of Executive Coaching, I took almost every major assessment out there. However, I would rebel at ever taking another assessment! I’ve been assessed to death.
So, fellow coaches, my message is this: Please ask the new client what assessments they’ve taken and whether they want to build on those or take a new battery to learn more.
Thank you for reading this #OpenLetter. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Judy Nelson, JD, MSW
Executive Leadership Coach
“Welcome everyone!” said the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, high-energy, strategic planning consultant. “Today we’re going to do something together that will engage everyone in the room and be ground-breaking for the organization.”
She paused, maximizing the moment. She had everyone’s attention. Just before everyone’s attention waned, she said, “We are going to write a new mission statement!”
Thud! Boom! The energy level in the room plummeted followed by a loud, collective groan.
“Not again,” said one influential Board member in a not-so-quiet stage whisper.
“Kill me now,” said another.
“We just went through this last year—and the year before!” another Board member said.
Some of the other verbal responses were less delicate (read: saltier). One key person even got up and left the room. Forever.
If you’ve never been to a meeting where the mission statement was revisited, reimagined, realigned, re-whatever-ed, then count yourself among the lucky. I once sat in a consultant-facilitated meeting for four hours while the group argued over changing one adjective in the mission statement, and it was still an incoherent mess in the end.
Why is it that consultants like to revisit the mission statement so much? Is it because it’s so critical or because it’s an easy target? Or is it a no-brainer? Does it take little or no preparation?
Yes, yes and yes. And the most likely reason? It takes up the time for which the consultant is getting paid!
Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no such thing in nonprofit organizations as a vision, a mission statement or a strategic plan. Most nonprofits didn’t even have goals, much less measurable ones. Those organizations got a lot done, but targeted efficiency and proven effectiveness were not among them.
Mission statements do have a purpose, of course, and a vital one. The late Steven Covey said:
“A mission statement is not something you write overnight… But fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”
If your mission statement does not do all of those things, then it’s time to revisit it. However, if you are rewriting it every other year, something is amiss.
The mission statement has a purpose (and quite a lot of it according to Covey.) So why do people hate sitting through the creation of one so much? I’ll tell you: too many mission statements are too full of gobbledygook to be useful. Some mission statements sound like they are trying to sound like a mission statement. And let’s face it, when they wrote the darn thing, they probably were.
So how do you make a mission statement that leads to something like what Covey proposes? You have to make it specific, succinct, and straightforward.
Specific: A mission statement needs to communicate what you are trying to do. When a person finishes reading it, they should know why you are in business. I like Google’s mission statement:
“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful.”
Succinct: A mission statement needs to be specific, yes, but it but doesn’t need to be all-inclusive. In other words, tell them what you are going to cook but leave out the ingredient list. Here is a great example from Amazon:
“To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Straightforward: When it comes to mission statements, you should never need to use a dictionary app to figure out what it’s trying to say. The best mission statements use simple language, accessible to anyone that reads. An exceptional example of this isVirgin Atlantic’s Mission Statement:
“To grow a profitable airline, where people love to fly and people love to work.”
If you want more examples of unique mission statements, take a look at this handy article on specimentemplates.org.
Having a strategic, well-thought-out mission is critical. Communicating it with specific, succinct and straightforward language, however, is essential. Otherwise, you might have a statement, but it’s unlikely to get any mission accomplished.