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?
I wasn’t born a hugger and did not grow up in a huggy-kissy culture. Dominated by Norwegian immigrants and their families, our town and state are famous for a lack of demonstrative affection (and sense of humor). When it came to hugging in business, I learned as a grown up when it was and when it wasn’t appropriate.
I am happy to say I learned hugging has its time and place. Over the years, I also learned it takes emotional intelligence to know which time and what place.
When it comes to hugging in business, I have three rules:
- Know the culture.
- Pay attention to the other person’s vibes.
- Above all, avoid violating the other’s personal space.
Know the Culture
While mothers hugged children when I was growing up, I remember only one kiss on the cheek between my parents. It wasn’t until I moved to Virginia I learned I lacked a natural tendency to hug. Almost everybody hugged me–including total strangers! It didn’t matter if it was in a social situation or even at the office.
At first, my response was to back up. Eventually, I figured out hugging was the culture and began to hug back (a little). By the time I left Virginia, however, I was a certified hugger. Not deep hugs, you understand and never to total strangers, but a brief, warm show of affection turned out to be fairly painless.
Pay Attention to the Other People’s Vibes
I left Virginia to attend law school in Kansas. By now, I was the one initiating the hugs, and it took me awhile to figure out these folks were backing up! Then, it dawned on me; I was back to more distance and less demonstrative affection. I was in law school in No Hugging, Kansas, three years, and the truth is there wasn’t time or energy leftover for hugging.
Then I moved to Southern California. Here was a culture where many people came from somewhere else, so anything goes. In many situations, it was hugging expected–and lots and lots of air kisses (Defined as lips puckered, leaning towards the other and saying, “mwaaaa!”; also known as the “Hollywood Hello”).
Oh yes, there was plenty of overkill. Too many “mwaaas!” when the air kisser’s roving eyes betrayed that they would have preferred to be with someone more important. In other situations, I could tell right away that hugs were not the order of the day. Instead, a handshake worked just fine. This situation notwithstanding, I was glad to land in a world where demonstrating affection could be okay in some cases. It is a kind of lovely reassurance of our humanness.
Avoid Violating People’s Personal Space
How one touches another in business is, of course, critical. Since individuals and cultures have different unspoken rules about personal space—especially how much comfort there is with physical closeness– caution is always a wise decision.
One of the standard protocols when caring for people in institutions is called the residential hug—off to the side, so there is no torso contact. I employed this hug-type many times in business.
However, not everyone knows the residential hug or even good sense about what is appropriate in business. A guy who hugs too long pulls me too close or lets his hand slip one inch below my waist doesn’t get hugged back. One highly annoying woman that I saw once a week always insisted on hugging me, and then holding me in place while she adjusted something with my collar or my hair or my jewelry. After the fourth or fifth time, I gently took her hands and put them back at her side. “You know,” I said, “I think it’s better if I dress myself, but thanks for your offer to help.” I was a bit concerned I’d offended her, but she took it in her stride, and never adjusted anything on me again.
There you have it, my quick guide on hugging that took me decades to figure out. If you know the culture and read the situation, you are likely to be fine–especially if you employ the workplace friendly residential hug that has little chance of invading personal space.
What are your guidelines for when to hug or not to hug in business?
The magnificent “Tribute to Vienna” concert at the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles is an unlikely place for a leadership lesson. However, within the spectacular venue, a wonder to behold with the acoustics better than I can appreciate, an Intentional Leadership Lesson is what I had.
The orchestra was exquisite, as were the graceful dancers, and singers with voices that filled the massive hall. However, it was the conductor that fascinated and held me mesmerized thro
This conductor’s conduct was music to my ears.
ughout the performance. He is the Maestro of the Vienna Philharmonic, Neils Muus, an Intentional conductor.
The energy, acrobatics, enthusiasm and power of Neils Muus’ leadership was as beautiful to me as the performance it inspired. He used every part of his face and body intentionally—including his eyebrows! The impact was full-bodied, rich and unquestionable leadership
Some examples of Intentional Leadership I observed from the Intentional Conductor:
- A small railing was behind him as he faced the orchestra and periodically, he would lean one hand on it while sweeping the other in a full 360-degree arc.
- Other times he would jab his baton almost in the faces of the violin players or dip down to squatting position—and then leap up with both arms cajoling his performers to swell the sound coming out of their instruments.
- When he wanted quiet, the entire concert hall was hushed. We knew by his body language, whether he was facing us or the orchestra, exactly what he wanted—and he got it from us, audience and artists alike!
- At times, he would turn towards the audience and lean on the railing as he gazed admiringly at the beautiful dancers and singers performing at the front of the stage.
- Not infrequently, he burst into a huge grin, his whole face lighting up–and we grinned and lit up with him.
What do you as a leader do with your hands, arms, and eyebrows? If you don’t know, you are missing an incredible opportunity to impact your followers. If you do know but are not intentional in how you manage these vital aspects of how you communicate, you may be missing an opportunity for excellence.
Thank you, Maestro Muus, for a thrilling performance and another reminder of how intentionality is the foundation for exceptional leadership.
I’m not a big fan of teasingor practical jokes anywhere, but I’m especially not a fan of them in the office. However, I realize practical jokes happen. Sometimes they are good; sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are too much. If you are anoffice prankster, you have to ask yourself do you know when enough is enough?
Do you know when enough is enough?
A successful prank involves having fun with good intentions, and that the prankee can take a joke. However, pranks are only funny for so long. If you rely on these shenanigans too often, they wear thin.
Too often in my experience, they are unkindnesses disguised with a smile or a thinly-disguised “gotcha.” The only exception I can think of is Ellen DeGeneres’ penchant for catching folks off guard. However, even with her kind intent, someone always ends up looking or feeling foolish. (See my post: Apology to Ellen DeGeneres)
I learned this lesson in my childhood. Unless you grew up in a dry, cold climate, you might not know one of the silly games most children played to entertain themselves during the long winters: Zapping. It works like this: you store up enough static electricity in your shoes by dragging them across the carpet to zap your buddy before you became the zappee. During winter, the static electricity built up in the thick rugs on our floors made us walking lightning rods. It was great fun to transmit the shock from our finger and “get” the other guy, over and over and over.
Sometimes the whole family got into the game. My mother would grin when she came up behind, pointing her loaded finger to my arm—and laugh out loud when I jumped. Then it was my turn to zap her and zap her, again and again.
When I kept zapping her, she didn’t zap back but started giving me a tired smile. I didn’t get the picture. After successfully shocking her several times, the smile devolved into a grimace, and I would hear a rather stern, “Judy, enough is enough!” Message received.
Too many grown ups have yet to learn this lesson. Constantly saying something to catch another off guard or putting them on the receiving end of pranks and teasing is a game many people play to the point of tedium.
Repetitive “gotchas” no matter how small can be annoying, too. For example, I tend to speak (and type) fast—and not infrequently scramble words or letters, as a result. It’s funny for someone to point out the first or second time, but a little tiresome beyond that. What does the constant pointing out of someone else’s errors do to enhance the relationship?
Over-repetition isn’t only a problem with jokes or gotchas. Sometimes people don’t know when to stop arguing their case. In more times than I can count, a member of my team aroused my ire by pushing for a point already decided the other way. I welcome and plead for candid input and feedback before we launch, but not after the ship has sailed (unless there’s an iceberg I didn’t notice!). If you fought the good fight and lost the war, it’s time to get over it, on with it, and start making the decision work.
Few people run around dragging their shoes on the carpet to shock someone at work. However, games are played, people are teased, and repetitive arguments are made to the point of becoming tiresome, irritating or even hurtful. The key here, as my mother taught me, is knowing when enough is enough.
Do you know when enough is enough?