3 Things Great Leaders Do

Listen, there are LOTS of things that great leaders do. But lately, I’m reminded of just 3 that can make a HUGE difference and have a POSITIVE impact on the people around you, and therefore the results of your team:

1.      LISTEN – A LOT. If you’re not listening, you’re not learning. You learn things from the people around you. You can’t understand if you’re not listening. And ultimately, you can’t ask good questions if you’re not listening and learning. You need to ask questions that add value, not just ask “figure-head questions”. Nobody appreciates that and you can’t possibly get real satisfaction out of asking non-value add questions. It’s fake and everybody knows it.

2.      GIVE OTHER PEOPLE THE STAGE.  Sure, you’re the senior leader and there are many times you need to be front and center – communicating the strategy, taking accountability and/or recognizing the good work of others. Also, as a leader, one of your top jobs is preparing the next generation of leaders to take your place. Beyond passing along subject matter expertise, you need to find opportunities to put your successor candidates in front of others, and therefore, in front of you. It could be a presentation that you would typically deliver, bringing them along to a senior leadership meeting that normally only you would attend, or having them give your boss an update personally, rather than passing the information through you. Developing leaders need the opportunities to practice being in the front row, and at the table, BEFORE they are actually placed there permanently.

3.      FIND OPPORTUNITIES TO ADMIT MISTAKES. I know, this one is tough. As successful leaders, we’re not actually supposed to make mistakes, right? WRONG. We talk all the time about the importance of risk-taking. But in reality, many of us don’t practice it, because of the fear of making a mistake. I’m sorry folks, but it is simple math. The more times you take a risk, the more times you will make a mistake. If you are a successful leader, you have already made a number of mistakes – and LEARNED from them. And of course, you did something different the next time. And that’s exactly the point! We need to teach the people we’re leading that it’s going to happen and that it’s ok, as long as we learn something from it. Making mistakes is part of the learning process. If you’re not messing up once in a while, you’re not getting better!

If you would like to learn more about what great leaders do, please see Chapter 5 in my new book, Money On The Table, available here.

Listen To Oprah: Change The Ways Of The Past!

Okay folks. I know you don’t usually hear from me more than once a month via blog, but I just can’t stay quiet any longer. Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech continues to be applauded and discussed, and has fueled a number of other conversations related to the #Me Too movement. Oprah almost immediately turned the spotlight from herself, as the first black woman to win the Golden Globe Cecil D. DeMille Award, to the conversation challenging leaders to change the ways of the past, and “take us to the time when nobody has to say #Me Too again”.

You know, I wrote this book about the value of having gender balance in leadership. The book clearly defines the reasons why companies and organizations will be more successful, financially, if they have a balance of women and men in leadership. However, now that ALL of our eyes are opened to the damage done by a culture that harbors sexual harassment, let me connect the dots for you.


Especially when women leaders make up 30 percent of the room – because 30 percent is critical mass, and critical mass always results in change.

The lack of women in leadership will ALWAYS create a more masculine, competitive culture; perhaps one that is unintentionally overly aggressive, overly challenging and anti-listening. Those behaviors can be perceived as disrespectful and even exclusionary, and quite frankly drive out others who don’t behave in the same way. Female leaders more frequently bring the listening and probing skills necessary for balanced discussion and decision-making, so that EVERYONE is included in the conversation.

Women and men think differently, communicate differently and solve problems differently. A balance of men and women will ALWAYS develop a better product, service or solution for your customers; and importantly, will create an environment that fosters respect and inclusion, and won’t tolerate anything less. 

If you would like to learn more about the leadership behaviors your organization should have, please see Chapter 5 in my new book, Money On The Table, available here.

Need A New Year's Resolution? Learn How To Be A Better Leader

Ah, it’s that time of year – again. The New Year is looming and we’re all thinking about what we will start doing, stop doing, do more of, or do less of next year. For many of us, those resolutions are about living a more healthy lifestyle; eating better, exercising, exercising more, drinking less and getting more sleep. Others think about learning something new. Perhaps it’s learning to play a musical instrument, or taking that photography course we’ve talked about for years.  All worthy endeavors.

Here’s a resolution you may not have thought of: learning how to be a better leader. I know that sounds like a really big, broad goal. Leadership is a broad topic. It can be complex. What aspect of your leadership do you need to work on? Do you know what it is? Communicating? Creating vision and strategy? Motivating others? Fostering collaboration? Holding others accountable? Holding yourself accountable? How do you find out? I know, I know….now you feel like your head is about to explode and you’re only on paragraph two of a 300-word blog!

Let me share a really simple way to find out what YOU need to focus on to become a better leader. ASK SOMEONE.  Yep, I know it sounds scary, but it’s really not and is very simple. When you ask the people around you to give you suggestions and ideas for how you can be better at something (anything really), they will almost always tell you. It takes the guesswork out for you, and gives you credibility with who you’re asking because you were vulnerable and courageous enough to ask. You get instant, laser-focused information you can act on immediately, and you earned additional respect in the process. No super-sleuth work required.

If you would like to learn more about critical leadership traits of top leaders, see Chapter 5 in my new book, Money On The Table, available here

Happy New Year everyone!

Sexual Harassment In The News: This Crisis = Opportunity

Several weeks ago, people in my network began asking me if I was going to write a blog about the Harvey Weinstein scandal. As a female leader who has a voice and a following, I think some expected it. Fair enough. But I decided to wait, to see how things unfolded. And oh have they. Since then allegations have come out against many other male public figures, including Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and actor Kevin Spacey. Then Charlie Rose, co-anchor of CBS This Morning was fired. And two days ago, long-time co-anchor of NBC’s Today Show, Matt Laurer was also fired for breaking the company’s policy against sexual misconduct. (Incidentally, I switched from watching the Today Show to CBS This Morning several years ago because in part, I began to dislike Laurer’s overly dramatic style of reporting. I can watch Entertainment Tonight for that. But I digress… )

So what do I have to say about all of this? “It ain’t over yet folks.”  This snowball is rolling down the hill at top speed and is quickly becoming a boulder.

I’m not going to spend time writing about how wrong these behaviors (or alleged behaviors) are. That point is clear. They have hurt women, damaged careers and ruined their own careers in the process. Undoubtedly they have hurt many people around them. We all know the behaviors are wrong, period. It is also wrong that many people around them looked the other way while it was happening. They also should be held accountable.

But out of crisis comes opportunity. We are seeing more examples of women supporting other women, something we have all been talking about the need for more of. There is courage and power in numbers. I often talk about the power of critical mass. Once you have enough people talking about an issue and pushing for change, change happens. Women are going to continue to leverage this moment to come forward and support one another.

This is also an opportunity to again, discuss the impact of changing the balance of power in senior roles.  It is my opinion and the opinion of other executive women and men, that if more women are present on boards and in senior leadership, it is less likely that the bad behaviors will persist. The culture and environments will be different; more respectful and less “red” energy.  Female executives are also much less likely to condone, excuse, or brush off behaviors that create an environment that is not safe and productive for other women.

I do want to address the opportunity to not only eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, but to create a workplace that is more respectful, collaborative and productive. When men exclude women (think about work lunches or dinners for example), or constantly engage in competitive banter, they are perhaps unknowingly and unintentionally creating the impression that women are not welcome into their conversations. At times, women feel invisible when so much time is spent on unproductive jeering or one-upping between male colleagues. While this may not strictly fall under the definition of harassment, it does not create an inclusive environment, which pushes women out of their workplace because they do not feel respected or valued.  I think we need to start talking not only about how we prevent harassment, but how we also create a more respectful work environment and one in which both men and women feel welcomed and valued.

If you would like to learn more about how to create a more gender-balanced organization, please see my new book, Money On The Table, available here.  

Parenting And Careers: One Or The Other?

I frequently answer audience questions after keynotes. Often they are questions I’ve heard before. Recently, I got a new one. And that was, “What can companies do to help women get back into the workforce after they have taken time off to raise families?”

My answer didn’t focus on what companies can do to help women who have taken a lengthy hiatus from their careers and want to return. Instead, I focused on what parents can do to stay in the workforce so that there is not a challenge in returning to it. Sure, there is value in companies helping parents get back to work after extended leaves. Some companies are actively working on this by implementing “internship” opportunities for people reentering the workforce.  However, I don’t believe this will be a broadly adopted approach anytime soon.

To avoid the potential pain from re-engaging your career later, my best advice is to never completely leave your career in the first place. If you do, chances are high there will be a big penalty in the level of position and pay you can attain. Even with talent shortages in certain industries and professions, there is still great competition for jobs. When employers are screening resumes, they almost always pass on those with extensive gaps in their work history. Unfortunately, it’s just a fact. Are there exceptions? Sure. But they are exceptions, not the norm.

Being a parent is one of the most important and most difficult jobs in the world. If someone wants to dedicate themselves to being a full-time parent, then by all means they do so. But if you think you will want, or need to get back to work at some point in the future, and you want to stay in your current industry or field, I encourage you to stay engaged in some manner. Even it if is carving out a few hours per week to do freelance work, you will stay current and avoid a big history gap on your resume. Resumes are never penalized for part-time work history. In most cases, it’s not even detectable. Once you have the interview, you may disclose that if you wish. And even so, I’ve never known someone’s skills to be unfairly scrutinized just because they didn’t work full time. In fact, the talent acquisition professionals I’ve talked to hold part-timers in high regard because they are viewed as dedicated to not only their families, but their careers. They are also perceived as people who can manage competing priorities, which is a valued skill.

If you would like to learn more about how to be successful in your career, please see Chapter 11 in my new book, Money On The Table, available here.

Women In Leadership: Why Are Some Industries Not Female-Friendly?

Have you given any thought as to why certain industries have fewer women in leadership than others? For example, in healthcare, women make up 80% of the workforce, but only 40% of leadership.[1] In finance, fewer than 10% of fund managers are women,[2] and in technology, less than 10% of executive positions are held by women. [3]

From these facts, are there some conclusions we can draw as to why there are so few women in leadership in these industries? I’ve heard some speculate that it’s the hours these industries require. In healthcare for example, many administrators come up through the ranks of practicing physicians. It has been a long-known fact that the rite of passage to become a hospital doc has included extended hours for days at a time. Many of the physicians I’ve talked to have shared stories of caring for patients on few hours of sleep and lots of caffeine. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is someone performing surgery or administering powerful drugs when they’ve only slept for a handful of hours in the last several days. Environments like this are doing nothing to attract more candidates to healthcare, let alone women.  

Technology may not be as life dependent as healthcare, but it is also a very time-intensive industry. Creature comforts aside, technology supports everything from energy sources to our financial systems. If a system goes down, results can be devastating.

When it comes to finance however, I’m a bit perplexed. Sure it’s an intense industry, but there are currently limits on the times of day that financial transactions can occur. Banks and markets close. And listening to pitches for funds is also not a 24-hour per day activity.

The truth is, we could make cultural changes in all of these industries that would help keep female talent from leaving and elevate women to leadership. Do medical interns really need to work around the clock? Can science and technology companies leverage automation and artificial intelligence to create better testing and information management processes that can be managed remotely? More job-sharing perhaps? Can financial services focus a little more on diversity and elevating women? Maybe reach outside comfortable networks to find female talent? The answer is “Yes” to all of these questions. It simply requires changing our perspectives about what is possible and start taking the steps to drive change.

If you would like to learn more about the actions you can take to promote better gender balance in leadership,  please see Chapter 10 in my new book, Money On The Table, available here.  

[1] Advisory Board https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/blog/2014/08/women-in-leadership

[2] Fortune.com http://fortune.com/2016/11/28/female-fund-managers-morningstar

[3] Business Insider: Tech Insiderhttp://www.businessinsider.com/women-hold-just-11-of-executive-positions-at-silicon-valley-tech-companies-2015-1


Leaders: Always On Stage

I’ve been a leader in corporate America for a long time, decades at this point. Even so, I still realize that I can always be better and that I need to get better. Many of you have heard me tout one of my favorite leadership books, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, world-renowned business educator and coach. It’s true. Marshall helps us understand that what we did yesterday that enabled us to succeed isn’t necessarily what it’s going to take to be successful in the future. We may need to do less of, more of, or something different to achieve continued success.

I work with a coach. His name is Bill. Bill and I download on recent business challenges and prepare for what’s in front of me. Approach is a huge part of the conversation. The words I’m going to use are reviewed and tweaked. Recently, Bill also reminded me of something I tend to forget as a senior leader; that I am on stage every minute of the day I’m in front of people.

Yes, whether I like it or not, people are watching and listening. They are looking for cues so they can decide how they are going to behave. Is she engaged? Is she energized by this conversation and participating? Or is she quiet because she is bored? Is she sitting up and leaning forward or is she slumped in her seat? Is she taking notes? Is she making eye contact? Is she asking questions? Is she making statements to indicate she has an opinion? These are all of the thoughts subconsciously running through their brains.

Let me boil this down for you. Participating = Engaged = You Care. Not participating = Unengaged = You Don’t Care. When you are a leader, you should not give yourself the option of being unengaged. When you are unengaged, you are not doing your job. If you are an executive leader you are on stage all of the time, whether you want to be or not. This means you need to be “on” any time you are in front of others.

Now let’s take a step back to see how this same idea applies to people who are in an earlier stage of their career.

So many young professional women I mentor or coach say they have a hard time participating via speaking up. They don’t like to interrupt or fear that what they have to say will not be credible in some way. The shame here is that they really are participating by listening, but no one knows that because they’re not saying anything. Then they wonder why they’re not being promoted. Leaders participate. Leaders care about the direction a conversation is going and the decision being made. You can’t influence either if you’re not speaking up. Yes, if you’re speaking up you are on stage. You have to be. It’s required if you are going to be a leader.

Being either a new leader or a very experienced leader is hard work. No matter how long you’ve been in a leadership role, it will never be easy. You will never be “done” with learning how to be a better leader. You will always be on stage, you will always be watched, and how much you “care” will always be one of the most significant factors in determining whether you will advance.

If you would like to learn more about demonstrating strong leadership skills, see Chapter 11 in my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, available here. Better yet, reach out to me to find out how I can help you became a more successful leader.

The Parallels of Great Wine and Great Leadership

I recently had the great fortune of spending a few days touring the Napa Valley, home to more than 400 wineries in northern California. The wine industry in Napa employs more than 50,000 people. It is an industry that takes care of its clientele, its employees and its communities.

I visited wineries that ranged from very small productions where the tasting room was simply the owner’s small dining room to large growers who hosted private tastings in grandiose, soaring ceilinged tasting centers attached to miles of underground storage caves. In every case, there could not have been more attention to hosting and serving their customers.

I learned a few things about the wine-making process, starting with the agriculture, and it struck me that there are a lot of similarities between wine making and developing leaders:

Have great soil. The soil is the foundation of wine making. Without understanding what kind of soil the wine makers are planting their vines in, there will be no predictability in what the wine will taste like after the fermentation process. In business, you need a great foundation of the right culture and expectations in which to grow and develop leadership. If you don’t create the foundation deliberately, you will not have influence over how leaders work together to solve problems, innovate and develop their own teams.

Leverage good weather.  In wine making, the amount of rain, sun and temperatures have a huge impact on the crop. Too much of any of these components can be devastating. The right amount of all can produce award-winning vintages. Wine makers can’t control the weather, but business leaders can control what kind of leadership they bring into the organization.  You need the right combination of expertise, trust, empowerment, competitiveness, collaboration and drive present in your leadership teams to get successful outcomes.

Take care of the environment.  The wine industry is extremely concerned with preserving the environment. Natural pest control, limited or no chemical use, water recycling, composting and controlled planting are all part of the routine regimented processes that wineries utilize to preserve their land. As leaders of businesses, we should all be taking great care of our companies and communities by implementing strategies to reduce power needs, reduce waste and protect the environment, which will save costs in the long run.

Every great leader needs a winemaker. Every successful winery owner has a winemaker. There is a big difference between the skill that is required to run a winery and the skill that is needed to actually make the wine. It’s part science and part art. Its years of experience and learning through trial and error and relentless record keeping. It’s a math equation that will never end. It is never perfect and it is never finished. There is relentless pursuit of quality and perfection. If you think about your own business that same way, you will understand that you need wine-makers; people who know their craft and are determined to get it right. You have to have talented people in your business and give them space to leverage their expertise. You need to test, learn and repeat.

Have a good Blend. There are many fantastic wines that are blends of grapes, such as Cabernet, Zinfandel and Merlot.  To have the best leadership team, you need the same diversity. You need a blend of people with different backgrounds and experiences to create the best products and solutions for your customers. This includes gender as well as ethnic diversity.

Don’t be a Chardonnay. Chardonnay grapes have thinner peels than Cabernet or other red grapes. That reminded me that it’s probably not good to be a Chardonnay in business. As a leader, being thin-skinned won’t get you far. 

Be sure to have Hawks and Owls. Vineyards have sitting posts and owl boxes perched up high to attract hawks and owls. The hawks and owls keep away the rodents that eat their vines at the roots. We all need hawks and owls in our businesses to spot the trouble that will undermine our success. Leaders who are care takers of end-to-end processes are our hawks and owls.

An exceptional customer experience will sell swill.  That bottle of wine I paid $150 for in the wine tasting room won’t taste near as good when I open it as it did when I tasted it there. That’s because I was being entertained with stories of history and romance about the making of the wine I was drinking and the aroma of the tasting room. In the moment, it tasted amazing. But now, at home, not so much. And I’d buy it again tomorrow if I was back in that tasting room, because of the exceptional customer experience.

It’s a game of Survival of The Fittest.  In the wine business, the best wines are made with the best grapes. The best grapes must survive their challenging environment in athlete shape to be chosen for the best wines. After surviving critical pruning and harvesting, many of the best wineries use state of the art equipment to sort grapes and choose only the very best ones for their premium vintages.  If the grape is too small, too big, or is split, it’s not going to make it. Even a blemish will send a grape down the reject shoot. As a leader, you must choose and build your teams in the same way. You must strive to get the best talent, develop them and keep them as your best leaders. It’s the only way you will produce a premium product.

You won’t learn anything more about wine from me, but if you would like to learn more about how to choose and develop great leaders, please see Chapter 5 in my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, available here.

Women Of Color: A More Difficult Road To Leadership?

Today we are all beginning a new week after Memorial Day, which for many marks the beginning of summer, but to all marks the day we celebrate all those who have given their lives for our freedom in all wars since 1865. Memorial Day weekend provides a longer weekend for most of us to rest, gather with friends and family, begin summer vacations, or just do some spring maintenance around the house in preparation for the rest of the season.

For me, it provided a little downtime to catch up on a couple of movies. One particularly was quite moving. The movie, Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as NASA supervisor Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as NASA engineer Mary Jackson. Even as these brilliant women were critically relied upon in the mission that enabled the first American astronaut, John Glenn, to orbit the earth three times in 1962, they continued to be subjected to discrimination by their peers and their communities. They persevered against all odds to serve as silent partners in their roles as human computers for some of NASA’s greatest accomplishments. Not only were they women working in a field of technology, they were women of color working in the field of space science!

In my sessions with various organizations, I am frequently asked if I believe it is often more difficult for women of color to be promoted into leadership positions than for Caucasian women? “Yes” is the answer to that question. I do believe it is more difficult, for all of the same reasons more women of any ethnicity are not hired or promoted into senior leadership roles. Leaders simply are not focused on it and we haven’t built the cultural expectations to approach the challenge in an effective way. Current senior leaders tend to hire from the networks they know and do not make the necessary effort to find or identify candidates who come from different backgrounds or social circles from which to build their bench of talent.

The question that follows is always “How do we change that?” The answer is not nearly as complex as the highly formulaic answers to the questions mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson had to answer. But the answer is also not just one step. The first step is that we, as leaders, must stop accepting that we either don’t have or can’t find the candidates. They are out there. We must make the extra effort, and connect with people outside of our typical networks and circles to find them.

In my new book, Money On The Table, How To Increase Profits Through Gender-Balanced Leadership, Chapter 10 provides Ten Steps to get more gender balance in our leadership teams. These same steps apply to getting more gender balance in ethnic diversity as well. By not accepting the status quo and taking these actions, we will all benefit from the enhanced communication, thinking and problem solving that results from having gender-balanced leadership and additionally from female minorities. You can learn more about The Ten Steps as well as the role women play in technology here.  

Successful Leadership: What Does it Take?

Lots of people I’ve mentored have asked me repeatedly how I attained an executive position in leadership. They’ve asked this question as if there must be some secret sauce or silver bullet I possess.  The truth is I don’t have any secrets. There is nothing mystical about the approach I’ve taken to leadership. The leadership principles I’ve chosen to live by are really very simple:

It’s not about youYour job as a leader is to build and develop a great team. You need to be able to identify the kind of talent you need.  It’s not just about getting the technical skills.  You need people who can communicate, who are collaborative and who are motivated to achieve.  You can teach communication, you can teach people how to be collaborative. You can’t teach motivation.

On developing people, it’s your job to develop your replacement. As a leader, you have a responsibility to mentor and provide new learning opportunities for your team. Whether you want the next opportunity or you want to create a legacy, you won’t get either if someone is not ready to take your place.

Share your Vision and then Trust in your team.  Create a vision and share the vision, create stretch goals and then let people execute.  You must be able to have confidence and trust your team.  Give them opportunities to learn new things and to take risks.  It may not always be done exactly the way you would have done it.  Focus and reward people for results.

Communicate constantly.  When you think you’ve communicated enough, communicate some more.  Don’t underestimate the power of communication.  Be clear. Be aware of the words you use.  Be respectful.  Encourage. Motivate.  This of course is easier said than done.

Shut up and listen!  On the other end of outward communication is listening.  This is a critical skill to develop and one that’s easy to lose sight of as you take on leadership positions that require more outbound communication.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are the one who should talk the most. To be a successful leader you must listen!  To your team and to your customers! 

Be a life-long learner.  Always focus on getting better.  When you stop learning, you stop growing, which means you will stop adding value, eventually.

If you’d like to learn more about how to build great leadership teams, see my book, Money On The Table, available here.