Before you even take the first bold step, a vivid picture of the worst possible outcome can stop you in your tracks. It is a problem when your imagination hijacks your success. Research tells us that 85% of what you worry about never actually happens.

Taking that first step requires courage. What is bold to you may be a piece of cake to someone else. I am reminded of a member of my Toastmasters Club. He moved the meeting date forward on his calendar for a year and a half before he had the courage to attend his first meeting. Now he is comfortable speaking in front of a group and has been invited to emcee an annual business meeting.

What is the cost of playing it safe all the time? You miss opportunities. Shrinking from bold action limits what you can learn by taking a risk. Inertia becomes more and more difficult to overcome. Your horizons shrink as you strive to stay secure.

Reflect on any courageous action you have taken. What happened? That you are here and reading this missive confirms you are all right. Some things turned out much better than you even imagined or planned. Others not so much. However, regardless of the results, there are lessons to learn. These lessons are priceless.

Follow these steps to take BOLD action:

You are not doing the world any favors by shrinking. When you step up, you give other people permission to act courageously, too. You may be the example someone needs to take a bold step. “If she can do it, that means it is possible. If it is possible, I can do it.”

Have you considered these as courageous acts?

               Get on the scales to determine your COVID weight

               Embrace the natural color of your hair

               Wear comfortable shoes

               Speak up even if your voice shakes (thanks RBG)

               Give away stuff you do not love no matter how you acquired it

               Include people who do not look like you in the conversation

               Change your mind when something debunks an old opinion

               Admit a mistake(s)

               Know your limitations as well as your strengths

Fear is an important emotion that protects us. It informs about the next action to take. When you view everything through the lens of fear, you have a distorted view of what is possible. Bold action requires belief in yourself to take the first step confident that you can do what is required. Having a bit of curiosity helps, too. Bold action is not for the faint of heart, but it is easier than you think.

What would you do today if you were brave?

© 2021 Ann Elliott

When you were planning for 2020, did you factor in a pandemic that put the world on its heels? How much did you realize resilience would be key this year?

This COVID-19 experience has so many unintended consequences it has been hard to anticipate them and prepare for the impact. It caught us flat footed. The businesses who survive (and sadly, all of them will not survive) are the ones who are sure they will make it through. They do not know how it will look on the other side. It will not be a return to “normal.” The people and the companies that are nimble and creative have the best outlook for the future.

How do you come to grips with the current situation? Take a lesson from Admiral Stockdale who endured torture in his 7 ½ years imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton. He understood that this experience would be a defining point in his life. He committed to using it to improve his life.

The Stockdale paradox: a sure and certain faith you will prevail in the end, no matter how difficult the circumstances. And at the same time, face the most brutal facts about your current reality, whatever they may be.

How can you use the experience of COVID-19 to be nimble and creative?

Some examples from my experience:

Invest in self-care because it is the most essential. If I am not healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally, I am not able to be resilient to deal with these uncertainties.

Give time and attention to relationships, professional and personal. I hosted a ZOOM gathering with family members. Even though only 50% accepted the invitation, it was a worthwhile investment and worth repeating.

Spend time with positive people, not naysayers.

Learn new skills such as technology and etiquette for ZOOM.

Invest in up to date technology such as 5G fiber optic internet connection, quality laptop, and reliable backup.

Reach out to colleagues, clients, and friends to find out how they are doing in these challenging times.

Renew memberships or join organizations that support you and put wind beneath your wings.

Align yourself with others who have experience that relates to your situation. Consider a peer learning group such as the Women Presidents’ Organization. http://www.womenpresidentsorg.com or The Woman's Advantage https://www.womanasdvantage.com

When the world is calling us to be resilient, what have you done to be resilient in these uncertain times?

Be sure to give yourself credit for making it this far. Congratulations on what you have accomplished. How can you use your COVID-19 experience to be nimble and creative to prosper in the future?

© 2020 Ann Elliott All rights reserved.

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The prevailing male leadership style of take charge, be decisive and save the day presents a problem for the workplace today. This masculine way of leading represents black or white thinking that leaves a lot of options on the sidelines. Thankfully, this authoritarian leadership style is not as valued as it was at one time.

How much does it cost to ignore half your resources?

Valuable contributions from diverse perspectives are not heard. It places all the responsibility on one or a very few to make pivotal decisions. This masculine style of leadership is judgmental and authoritarian. When the decision-making rests on the top layer, leaders at other levels of the organization are not developed. When people do not feel heard and appreciated, they become disengaged. Instead of motivated to contribute, they mark time and do the bare minimum to get a paycheck.

It did not happen overnight.

The working world was created to serve men. Because this was the norm for a long time, not many people questioned it. It looked neutral and normal. However, it has a differential impact on men and women.  When a man got a promotion and it required the family to move to a new city, the woman was expected to pullup stakes and move. She was the “trailing spouse.” As women launched their own professional careers and held responsible positions, following the man was not such a viable option.

By limiting women and their contribution through overt and covert ways, future generations accept this as normal and the patterns of holding back women continues. This not only limits women, it limits men as well. Everyone pays the price.

I recall a wedding not long ago. In the minister’s charge to the young couple, he took a page right out of Ladies Home Journal from the 1950s. He advised the groom not to bother explaining his work to his bride because “She wouldn’t understand it anyway.” To the bride he said she must be dressed and looking pretty to welcome him home to his castle after a long day. The women sitting in the pews around me looked at each other in stunned amazement. One woman turned to me and said,” Let’s go to the reception and get a drink. We need to explain a few things to him.” And off we went.

What is a better way of doing business?

Embrace feminine values in leading but only if you want a strategic advantage. This is not a zero-sum game of men against women. According to Jon Gerzema, author of The Athena Doctrine—Why Women (and Men who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, it is about using feminine traits to solve the world’s biggest challenges. And we have plenty of them now!

View Jon Gerzema’s TED Talk about his research https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxgTsyL4y0E

You can start today to run your business with these insights for better results.

"Leading like a girl" is good for business (and countries). The following are eight key insights from Gerzema’s two-year project around the world (the editorial comments are mine).

The good news! Everyone has both feminine and masculine traits. As we begin to recognize why embracing traditionally feminine ways of thinking bodes well for the future, it makes sense to pay attention and engage them. Research shows having women in leadership positions of companies helps these companies prosper. “Leading like a girl” is the best strategy today for business results.

© Ann Elliott 2020

To some, boundaries can sound like a cold harsh word or method to keep people out. Well, they do set limits to protect you. Having healthy boundaries is a not only a good thing to do for yourself but also for others. Many people, especially women feel they must say “yes” to everything or they will be perceived as a “you know what.” There is a difference in thoughtful boundaries and impenetrable walls that keep others out to isolate you.

It is a widespread issue that frequently is unrecognized. When a bully cannot verbally or emotionally put you into compliance, it means a bad day for him/her. His needs are not being met when you set limits and enforce them.

How Expensive Are Weak Boundaries?

It is costly to have weak boundaries. People learn they can push you around and do so at your peril. First, your limits are unclear. Your word is not reliable. One minute you say “yes” and the next minute “no” to the same situation. This confuses people and puts you in a weak situation. By saying “yes” to EVERYTHING you create unrealistic expectations for yourself. This leads to burnout and exhaustion. Trying to meet the needs of everyone else while neglecting your own needs is fraught with danger. How can you do your best when your tank is on empty? Hint: You cannot.

Team Players Have Boundaries

We hear how important it is to be a team player. Job descriptions often tout this as a requirement to be hired. We lose sight of what it means to be a good team player. Saying “yes” to every request for the sake of the team is not what it means. When you play on a team, everyone contributes, not just a few. To be a good team player is to accept responsibility for your part of the project, contribute your best work, deliver on time, and support others to do the same. Have you ever been on a team when one or two do extraordinarily little and are completely happy to let the high performers do 99% of the work? Yet, at the end, everyone wants to claim credit for the success of the project. A good team player does not forsake healthy boundaries. In contrast, she can make her best contribution to the team because of clear limits.

Steps to Set Limits and Make Your Best Contribution:

Here’s What I have Learned

After some hard-won experience, I know what works best for me. I make it a practice to have everything ready a week in advance of an event. For a two-day corporate retreat or an all-day workshop, the preparation is more involved than for an hour meeting, for example. With a week’s lead time, there’s time to correct a mistake or to overcome an obstacle. For instance, I took my information to the print shop to prepare the poster sized worksheets for a retreat. I learned their equipment was out of service for maintenance for 48 hours. Had I waited until the day before the event, it would have been catastrophic. With my “week in advance” discipline, I am confident and organized to deliver a great experience the day of the event for my client. Even if something unexpected happens on site and it often does, I can deal with it a lot more easily.

In the Final Analysis

Having healthy boundaries requires clarity about your values, identifying your top priorities, and discipline to honor your limits.

To make your biggest contribution, it is important to stay focused on what matters most. To keep your eye on the prize, you must minimize distractions that pull you off the mark. With thoughtful, healthy boundaries, you create the space to do your best work. Not only do you do your best work, you create space for others to do the same. The more you use the muscle to claim your boundaries, the stronger it becomes and the easier for you.

When shift happens and the world is rearranged, how do you emerge from a place of surviving to thriving? The coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession have been felt around the world. If your business has not been affected directly, someone connected to your business or to you have been dealt quite a blow. In some cases, a death blow. We are all connected, and the current situation proves this.

The enormous cost is unimaginable:

Businesses have closed and some will never reopen

Revenue streams have dried up

People are laid off and have no income

Decisions about the future are clouded with uncertainty

People are sick and dying

Strategic plans are of little use

Experience does not connect to the unknown future

What is the root of the problem?

At the core is an unprecedented jolt to the way we do business and conduct our lives. To stay safe, we have quarantined, shut down businesses, suspended schools, and cancelled events. The flow of commerce has come to a screeching halt. There is so much uncertainty, it is impossible to predict or plan. Experience does not give any clues about the future because there is no connection. The future looks nothing like the past so experience is of little use to us.

How to pivot to thrive when shift happens

Accept the current reality with brutal honesty

Imagine the worst case to best case scenario for your business, your customer, and your suppliers

Identify your customer needs

Identify your capabilities relationships and assets

Identify places in your business that you can leverage, develop, or acquire to pivot to meet the needs of your customers

Find opportunities to lend support with no expectation of anything in return

Know with certainty there is no going back to “normal”

An example of reimagining the future

Consider the architectural firm specializing in healthcare, hospitality, and retail. Design work in retail and restaurants has diminished significantly. However, the firm has become an expert in designing space to meet health standards for COVID-19. With a pivot, they have a new specialty that sets them apart from their competitors and meets the needs of customers. They are positioned to thrive.

Conclusion

When shift happens, it creates new opportunities as well as closing others. You are in the best position to thrive when your team and you have built a culture of trust and resilience. Keep in mind that you are also able to help others who are struggling. Help where you can with no expectation of anything in return. Now’s not the time to be keeping score.

It pays to be “ambidextrous.” Organizations must take care of business today with capabilities while exploring new ones for the future. What new strategy can you adopt today that will serve you well regardless of the future?

© 2020 Ann Elliott

Leadership is at a premium in scary times. Worldwide events in early 2020 demonstrate the importance of strong leadership from the local level to the international stage. For example, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has led her country of five million through the coronavirus pandemic with empathy and strength.  

With so much at stake in a crisis, it is crucial for the people to trust their leader. The way ahead is uncertain and difficult. For people to be willing to do the hard things, they must be confident in the integrity of their leader. To garner trust, it must be earned. People can handle the truth. Facts matter.

An important element is that the leader cares about the travails of the ones she is leading. Having a heart is not a weakness. It is a strength. Empathy profoundly conveys the message, “I understand, and I am standing with you shoulder to shoulder.”

Where to start in leading in scary times? The following strategies can support your planning, innovation, communication, and action as your team, and you traverse the unchartered territory ahead.

These uncertain, frightening times are forever etched in our memories. We are irrevocably changed because of it. We have an opportunity to chart a new path. Leadership in scary times makes for people who are stronger, wiser, and kinder. I am sure of it.

© 2020 Ann Elliott

 

Communication is the lifeblood of relationships, personal and business. The health of an organization can be measured in how it communicates not only internally but externally.

Bad communication habits can be sneaky and costly. It is easy to fall into bad habits without realizing how detrimental they can be. For example, my client told me the social media expert hired to manage the online presence for the firm quit. She refused to do any more work because of the way a member of the firm treated her. Snarky, disrespectful, curt communication did not sit well with this valuable resource.

Do these five bad habits sabotage your organization?

1)      Respond with “Yes, but….” This is a reactive reply that implies the listener already has the best solution to the issue. It’s an argumentative stance which does not respect the point of view of the other. This is a good way to shut down any constructive dialogue.

 

2)      “You Talk Too Much” by Joe Jones, a popular 1960 song describes it best.  How can you get another perspective when you are doing all the talking all the time? Not possible. Besides that, for introverts on your team it’s exhausting to be bombarded by a steady stream of chatter.

Joe Jones You talk too much - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GOYYbiEul0

3)      Allow distractions, electronic and otherwise. In meetings, when people are distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages, it says “What you are saying is not important to me.” No one likes to be disrespected.

 

4)      Hide behind technology. Cryptic text messages, for example, can be easily misinterpreted. An important element of communication is body language and tone. Technology cannot take place of a phone call or face to face meeting.

 

5)      Keep crucial information out of reach. Relevant metrics informs employees how the organization is performing and the part they play in its success. How do they know if they don’t have access to it?

 

Which of these bad habits is the biggest issue for you? To get started select the one that has the biggest impact on your company. If you are not sure, ask your team to give their perspective.

Here’s how to get started to turn these bad habits into productive ones:

1)      Listen carefully to what someone is saying. Ask open ended questions to understand more deeply the situation. Find out what the other person thinks is a good approach, “What do you think is a good first step?”

 

2)      Talk less to listen more. It may surprise you what others know and think.

 

3)      Silence, cut off and put out of sight all electronic devices in meetings. Use this in 1-on-1 as well as team meetings. Go dark at least for one 24 hour period each week. You will survive.

 

4)      Use the telephone and meet face to face as appropriate. I know it’s a quaint idea in the gilded age of technology.

 

5)      Share the up to date metrics of your organization. People who are engaged make better, happier employees. Tell them what they are doing makes a difference.

 

These five communication habits can have a significant impact on not only the morale but the bottom line in your company. Why not trade the five worst habits for the five best habits to improve the health of your organization?

 

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

 

Computer technology is pervasive, a blessing and a curse. With the touch of a button you have access to an up to date picture of inventory, sales, and cash on hand. Assuming, of course, you have been disciplined about keeping this information current.  

Technology is great when it works. Most importantly, it doesn’t always work. With a population of approximately 490,000 people, the city of Atlanta discovered what happens to technology when it is attacked by cyber ware. Five of thirteen departments were hit. Services were disrupted. Some departments resorted to paper records. When technology failed, old school methods rose to the occasion.

We rely on technology. Maybe too much. Do you remember the last time you had to recall someone’s telephone number? Consult a paper map for directions is unheard of today. Just ask for directions from your phone or the navigation system in your car.

How do you make good use of technology without turning in your common sense? There are still some quaint, old school methods that are important to learn and to use.

Old School Methods for Today

  1. Know the cardinal directions of North, South, East and West. Since 2015 the US Naval Academy has required its seamen to learn how to use a sextant for celestial navigation.
  1. Take notes with a pencil and paper. Only do this is you want better retention of what you are learning.
  1. Write thank you notes by hand and mail them using a stamp. I prefer a colorful, interesting stamp. Email and texting may be faster. Nothing is as thrilling as receiving a thoughtful handwritten note by mail.
  1. Use electronic communication wisely. I wouldn’t want to be without it. A face to face conversation or meeting is an opportunity to read body language and facial expressions.  Spies prefer face to face because it's the most secure form of communication.
  1. Be comfortable doing basic multiplication and division long hand. You know like 3 x 5 = 15 or 1200 ÷ 150 = ___________.
  1. Drive without texting. Period.

Some ways to use old school methods to keep them in good working order: When the navigation system in your car says “Turn west on Sharon Road,” check the position of the sun to decide which way to turn. Or, at your next conference use pen and paper to make notes.

Final Thoughts

Use the power of technology wisely. Remember to give old school methods their due respect. Both have their place in a rapidly changing world.

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

photo credit: Robert Björkén (Hobbyfotograf) Steampunk via photopin (license)

Many companies tolerate poor customer care. Could the damage be $84 billion annually for US companies as some sources claim? 

In a recent trip to an automobile dealer to purchase a car, the sales person stunned me. After a test drive in a pre-owned car with 25,000 miles, I asked for a copy of the CarMax report. He attached his business card to the report and put it on his desk. I explained this was my first stop in shopping for a car. He pushed the report across his desk to me. He said, “I hope I’ll be here to help you when you decide.” He stood up and walked away. That dealership has a slim to none opportunity to do business with me because of this experience.

Poor customer care costs companies of all sizes. CTMA, a research group from New Zealand, calculated an 87 percentage point drop in customer loyalty if a customer was “very dissatisfied.” Not only do customers find another provider, they share their bad experience with others. See previous paragraph.

Understandably business owners want to maximize profits by minimizing costs. Cutting costs in customer care training is false economy. Also, not knowing how your customers experience an interaction with your company, hides areas that could be improved or enhanced.

What can you do to be profitable while providing excellent customer care?

  1. Invest your resources to train employees in all areas to be great representatives of your company. Include marketing, sales, operations, finance, and everywhere else.
  2. Make internal customer care as important as external customer care. Each division serves the other.
  3. Use technology wisely to enhance the customer experience, not merely cut costs. Efficient phone systems may save labor costs but at what expense?
  4. Over deliver and under promise on the commitments you make to customers internally and externally.
  5. Admit mistakes and do what is necessary to make it right (even if it costs you money).
  6. Refer customers to other providers who can fulfill their needs when you cannot.
  7. Ask your customers, “How are we doing?”

The power of great customer care is hard to calculate. But imagine never having to advertise ever again, because every customer was so pleased they told five friends to shop at your store and those five friends all became customers and did the same thing. Cut down on cost and increase profits? It’s easy to say yes to this.

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

One obvious requirement of business leadership involves the universally respected value of trust. This leads us to the topic of authenticity.

Are business leaders today seen as highly rated by their authenticity or are they seen as disingenuous, shallow, self-promoting or even dishonest? Are business leaders trusted?

This is a hard problem to quantify. Entire industries, as we know, are sometimes marred by isolated scandals that lower the public's view of them. When an oil tanker leaks, the reputation of an entire industry sinks. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, bankers were considered the scourge of their times.

When authenticity erodes, profits tumble and the public wants someone punished. In a publicly traded company, this often goes straight to the top office.

Your business is a microcosm of this dynamic. If a business leader is disingenuous or dishonest, middle management becomes restless and employees sense trouble. Discipline breaks down as employees begin to take shortcuts and feel more anxious about their job security. Morale falls and turnover rises. Blaming becomes commonplace.

In the words of Ricky Nelson, “…ya can’t please everyone, so ya got please yourself.” Trying to please everyone is an energy drain. Who respects a leader who tries to make everyone happy all the time at the expense of her values? This is not sustainable. It’s a recipe for burnout.

Authenticity promotes stability, strong company values and teamwork. It also promotes clarity and loyalty, both of which contribute to productivity.

What can you do to establish greater authenticity among a diverse group of managers, division leaders and employees?

Here are what your employees want you to do:

  1. Lead by example. Your behavior speaks volumes.
  2. Treat others with respect at all times, and especially when you have to give constructive feedback.
  3. Establish a company mission statement based on company values. Promote it extensively. Let this guide your decisions; it ensures consistency and provides clarity.
  4. Be the expert in your field to earn respect. Remember, however, you don’t know everything.
  5. Admit mistakes; learn how to apologize clearly, simply, without excuses.
  6. Practice open management. Divulging reasons for a decision helps people understand something they may not like although it is necessary.
  7. Be clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK. People respect boundaries.

It’s worth building your business on a foundation of authenticity. Your employees respect you. It’s easier to follow someone you respect. Aligning your values with your behavior serves not only the business but you. Self-respect is priceless.

© 2018 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

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