Every day leadership is a balancing act. You are always trying to keep the appropriate tension between building for the future and serving clients today. Focusing on the future while meeting the demands of the day can be challenging. The opportunity lies in knowing what people want, understanding how much they are willing to pay and finding ways to deliver it at less cost but with quality that brings customers back again and again.

Losing site of the need for both, the long term and the short term, puts the organization at risk. Too much emphasis on the future and the important day to day things take a back seat only to come back later as a crisis. Neglecting the future undermines the long-term success and creates missed opportunities, especially in a changing environment.

It takes a team

It is unusual for one person to possess all the skills required to take an organization from inception to long term success. A team of people with diverse skills, innovative ideas, and different talents significantly improve the chance for success for the long term.

For instance, the founder who stays on too long with a need to control every facet of the business hamstrings the business for future, healthy growth. The next leader finds it difficult to steer the organization in a new direction and to implement new procedures. Often the transfer of leadership falters and the organization suffers needlessly.

Completing a cathedral and building a company

In the Middle Ages it took hundreds of years and multi generations of masons, plumbers, carpenters, artists, and others to complete a cathedral. Can we assume they were building a magnificent structure to serve a lofty purpose? Keeping the appropriate tension between building for the future and serving clients and customers in the now is the opportunity for leaders in the 21st century. Great leaders also understand the importance of meeting the needs of employees inside the organization. When employees feel respected and appreciated, they treat customers the same way.

Leadership checks egos at the door. It is about the team, people, and customers first. It is leading to serve others.

Your success depends on these guidelines

~~Craft a clear, compelling vision

~~Enroll people who have a passion for the vision

~~Hire people who have diverse experiences, talents, and skills

~~Provide products and or services to meet the needs of your customers

~~Make is psychologically safe to make a mistake and to be vulnerable

~~Acknowledge the whole person (head and heart) shows up to work

The courage to build for the future and to meet the demands of today is a balanacing act. It takes humility. While it brings out the best in us, it tests our mettle. Not only is it challenging it can be exhilarating.

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Have you ever been disappointed by someone who has broken a promise? Or failed to honor his word? If this happens often enough, he has the reputation of unreliability. This is true in your business, too. If customers discover they cannot rely on your company to deliver on a product or a service, they take their business elsewhere.

You and/or your business can dig a deep hole of mistrust in one fell swoop or with an accumulation of small actions. Regardless of how you get into a hole of mistrust, it takes a LONG time of consistent, trustworthy action to get out of the hole. Sometimes, the damage is irreparable.

I worked on a team with Glenn (not his real name) who was quick to volunteer. His “I got it” could mean a half-done assignment or a complete omission. Either way he could not be trusted. He was likeable. He was not dependable. I found ways to work around him. In client relationships, I learned not to put my credibility at risk. Working around Glenn was inefficient and frustrating not only to me but others on the team.

To accomplish anything, you rely on others. You trust others to fulfill the responsibilities of a particular role in your organization. Others depend on you to hold up your end of the bargain, too.

The more efficient path is to develop trust within your organization and with your customers and maintain it. Sustaining trust is easier than repairing it.

Develop or deepen trust in your organization with these simple concepts:

If you intend to build and work in an organization that has a high level of trust, the action starts with you. Be trustworthy. Create an environment where reliability, trust, and confidence are the norm.

Nine advantages of a trust-based business:

  1. Teams make decisions easily and quickly
  2. An inverse relationship exists between trust and control
  3. Change is easier to implement
  4. People appreciate vulnerability
  5. Creativity is at a high level
  6. Accountability is normal
  7. Misfits leave on their own
  8. Toleration for risks heightens
  9. Transparency replaces secrecy

Trust is a guiding principle of leadership. With a foundation of trust, you make better decisions. You take wiser risks. Trust, like the rudder on a vessel, allows changing the direction while in motion. You and your business confidently serve your customers, your community, and each other. Trust is the secret ingredient.

© 2021 Ann Elliott All Rights Reserved

When we face difficult situations, it’s natural to grumble. Why did this happen? It’s awful! Some folks spend more time complaining than they do in looking for ways to move ahead.

We’re all feeling the impact of a global pandemic. People are sick and dying. Who’s to say this is not a bad situation? You probably know people who have been sick or have died. I know I have.

The response is the same.....

Regardless of the size of the “problem”, the response is the same. You can look at it as an intractable situation with no way out or you can see it as 1) a lesson, 2) an opportunity, 3) a gift.

Just the facts.....

Without judgment, look at the situation with clear eyed discernment. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It is a situation with facts. Do not attach emotion or value to the facts.

These are facts:  The world is experiencing a pandemic where millions of people are affected by a new virus. People are sick and people are dying.

These are facts:  Businesses have openings to hire for work that needs to be done. It is difficult to find people to fill these openings. Where’s the opportunity? What’s the gift in this situation? What’s the lesson?

We’ve been trained to look for the problem and find a solution. It’s a bit short sited and is not a generative conversation. It’s like seeing a problem as a nail and a hammer as the only solution. There are other tools in the toolbox such as a paint brush, a screwdriver, or a carpenter’s level. Painting a picture with a hammer rarely produces extraordinary results.

Formula to convert problems into a lesson, an opportunity, or a gift:

  1. State the facts without judgment (“Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”)
  2. Be curious about creative ways to deal with the situation                             
  3. Innovate and do things differently than before—ZOOM or working from home
  4. Invite diverse people to contribute ideas—customers, chairman of the board, CEO, admin assistant, front line worker, vendors who deliver to your company
  5. Explore the lessons from this experience
  6. Remain open to consider weird ideas
  7. Be willing to release “we’ve always done it this way”
  8. Look beneath the surface for the reasons people disagree
  9. Accept there is no going back to “normal”
  10. Act with kindness

Since its founding, the meeting format for monthly meetings of the Women Presidents’ Organization has been in person. To serve our members and to stay healthy, the chapter chairs hosted ZOOM meetings in 2020 and 2021. The opportunity for me as the chair of WPO in Columbia is to learn new technology, engage participants in creative ways such as breakout rooms, create connections and intimacy with technology, provide convenient meeting opportunities for members two hours away, and support each other in heartfelt ways to navigate business challenges. We’re now positioned to skillfully host hybrid meetings, which is a phenomenon here to stay, not only for WPO but businesses around the world.

By strengthening your mental muscles to look for the lesson, the opportunity, or the gift in a challenging situation, you create a more positive environment. This has an impact on three important areas: peak performance as a leader, peace of mind/wellness, and healthy relationships. Converting problems into lessons, opportunities or gifts is an inside job.

© 2021 Ann Elliott

When is it good for a business to be boring? To a visionary and a fast starter, running a business with systems can seem boring because it is too predictable. That is no fun. To the fast-paced entrepreneur who likes making quick decisions as the opportunity emerges, making the effort to put operating systems in writing can be just too tedious. Many self-starters believe checklists waste time. Initially that can work and may be required; it cannot sustain a business.

What price do you pay for darting from one thing to the next? Operating without schedules, checklists and systems sets up disarray. It is an adrenalin rush to be sure. It costs your company its competitive edge. Customers cannot count on reliable, excellent service or products. Owner burnout prevails in this kind of environment.

My neighbor hired a contractor to do routine maintenance such as replace rotten wood, paint, and the usual tasks. Without exaggeration he stayed for brief periods (half an hour or so) before he left to go to another project. It is no wonder it took him forever and a day to complete the work. As the “sidewalk superintendent,” I kept a close eye on his progress or lack thereof.

Everything Looks Just Fine, Doesn't It?

Often an owner gets something started but fails to follow through. It is not her strength or her passion. When there is money coming in the door and the bills are being paid, what is the need for mundane structure? Resistance to release control of the decisions can be part of the problem. The pain that the chaos is causing others including customers is not obvious. She does not recognize that she is leaving money on the table which threatens the long-term success of the business. It is difficult to hire and train someone because everything about the business is in the owner’s head.

Where to Start to Get Organized

Start small. Look at the three major functions of any size business: sales/marketing, operations, finance.

For Example.....

If you facilitate face to face meetings regardless of the size, using a checklist for the materials you need for a successful event is critical. Well in advance of the event, make a list of what and how many things you must have. Phone, laptop, cords, charger, USB with documents and PowerPoint, handouts, pen, and sticky notes are a few items on my checklist. Gather everything you need in one place and put it in the car or in a suitcase. Leave extra time for travel just in case there is an accident or delay. As the Xchange community advocates, “Plan tight and hang loose.” You can show up with confidence to have fun and give your best self to the audience.

Boring Can Be Good for Business

With the structure of systems, clarity follows in a company. With clarity everyone knows where to focus and what to do next. It takes an investment to develop the processes that are standardized to yield consistent results. Most entrepreneurs find it appealing, not boring to have happy customers who gladly pay on time. A little boredom might be a good thing.

© 2021 Ann Elliott

Did you anticipate the massive impact of the corona virus on the world? Suddenly nothing was normal. It has been a stressful time for everyone. Were you thinking “How could this be happening? This was not on my bucket list.”

People who planned their days by commute to an office, lunch breaks, daycare for children, school for children, and errands on the way home now have children at home and a spouse underfoot all day long. Plus, a pet who demands attention and chores needing to be done, pandemic or no pandemic.

It's new territory for everyone.

When the paradigm shifts everyone goes back to zero. It is new territory for everyone. Some lives were minimally impacted, and others do not recognize their former life. This puts the cortisol hormone (stress) level at an all-time high. We are on guard for the next danger, no saber tooth tigers but equally threatening events.

The cost is enormous, not only to businesses but to individuals. Stress eating, binge drinking, no exercise, lack of contact with others, loss of income and the list goes on.

Here are some ways to stay on an even keel, remain productive, and be resilient:

Resilience has no expiration date.

The list of nine things is not in order of importance. While each one is simple it is also powerful. Practiced consistently over time, you will land in a different place and celebrating who you have become under the most trying circumstances. These nine productivity hacks have universal application to take with you into the post pandemic world. Resilience has no expiration date.  Which one resonates with you?

© 2021 Ann Elliott

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

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