Effective mentors make great leaders

January 19, 2014

Q My goal for 2014 is to be promoted to director level. Other than the specifics my boss has told me, what else should I ensure I do?

A: Performing every aspect of your job in a professional and exemplary manner is a must. Going above and beyond expectations, operating as if you are already at the director level will help decision makers envision you in the new role. Focus on tasks that are appropriate for your level. Delegate the others.

When handing work off, enrol individuals so they feel inspired and empowered – not resentful – to help you. People want to grow and learn. Show them how these are opportunities to support and develop them. Coach or mentor them along the way. Step up for high-visibility projects that showcase your strengths and versatility. Increasing your areas of expertise raises your value to the organization. Share your accomplishments where appropriate in ways that are humble and matter-of-fact, not self promotional or aggressive.

Broaden your network to align with the right people outside of your department or functional area. Cultivate strong relationships with peers, your manager and others in positions of power. Collaborating with others to help them succeed shows you are confident, trustworthy and respectful. Communicate clearly, conveying the appropriate amount of information for a director.

Too often, leaders give too little context – confusing the listener – and too much detail, which undermines their message. Find the right balance of both for every audience.

Above all, be yourself. When what you do is a right fit, work is easier and more fun.  Passionate committed leaders are infectious.

Dealing with clashing values

August 21, 2011

Q: Two of my employees clash over their competing values, creating tension in the department. I appreciate both of their viewpoints. How do I get them to do the same so they will work together productively?

A: Values conflicts can be more challenging to work through since they are emotionally charged. People tend to feel judged, threatened or personally attacked because their values reflect deeply held beliefs. This takes a more delicate mediation.

Start by facilitating an honest dialogue where both parties can explain their value freely and fully without being interrogated or criticized. The first step is to break through possible misconceptions or stereotyping by ensuring both parties feel heard.

Build trust and safety by keeping the conversational tone neutral. Ask each party: What does this value mean to you? What’s important to you about this value? Have the other party repeat what they heard and articulate how this complementary viewpoint strengthens the department.

The outcome of this meeting is to open up understanding and mutual respect for each other’s viewpoint. The intention is not for both parties to come to an agreement or to change either party’s values. You will need to remind them of this often throughout the process.

Establish common ground by finding a larger universal value that they can both support. For example: the company’s mission. If the conversation circles back to their differences in belief, keep reinforcing their commitment to the larger shared value.

Operationalize the new mutually held belief by formalizing an agreement on how they will work toward it in their own way. Include concrete action steps that they will be held accountable to attain. Finally, affirm their commitment and mutual respect.

 Originally published in The Province, August 21, 2011.

It pays to hire female execs

October 25, 2010

Q: None of my top women managers are applying for executive positions. How can I change that?

A: Good idea, since studies reveal companies with more women in the C Suite and on the board financially outperform others by 35 to 65 per cent.

Results are best generated with an initiative actively championed by the CEO that implements a structured hiring policy, targeted development and a workplace that recognizes women’s need to balance work and life.

The easiest way for managers to fill roles is through their networks. Research shows 70 per cent of executives favour promoting men. Make gender parity a top management goal by rewarding it. By identifying particular capabilities to be promoted, current leaders will not merely replicate themselves. Require two qualified women be shortlisted for all leadership roles.

Fill the pipeline with eligible candidates, grooming high-potential women for promotion. Most women downplay their strengths and need to be persuaded to apply. A Hewlett Packard study found women apply for promotions only when they fill 100 per cent of the requirements. Men apply if they possess 60 per cent.

Offer women technical and leadership training. Give them high-profile assignments that partner them with a mentor. Appoint an internal champion to put capable women’s names forward. Coach women on navigating the organization, executive presence and negotiations.

A culture that supports women’s advancement rewards collaboration, promotes work-life balance, less travel, flexible work options and job sharing. It sponsors events during business hours so working mothers can attend.

Finally, measure your success. Track women’s progress, survey them to find out what best supported them and adjust the initiative accordingly.

Originally published in The Province, October 24, 2010.

How do I keep staff?

September 19, 2010

Q: I’m having nightmares about coming to work only to find I have no staff left. My company laid off 1/3 of our workforce, and has a wage and hiring freeze so everyone is doing double duty. My staff is overworked, overwhelmed and threatening to leave. How can I hang onto them?

A: A Right Management survey found 54 per cent of U.S. organizations lost key leaders in the first half of 2010. Replacing these people is more costly than investing in them.

Keep your brightest in house by valuing them. Give them complete credit for their ideas, solutions and results. If there are no bonuses or raises, find other creative ways to recognize them. They need to believe their work makes an important contribution to the company. Prove it does and celebrate their efforts.

Reinforce job security and foster loyalty by creating a growth plan that can lead to future promotions. Give staff the tools they need to succeed by investing in their professional development.

Enhance their performance with leadership coaching or training. You may not be able alleviate their stress, but you can reduce it by creating a positive environment.

Be their advocate. Remove unnecessary obstacles and streamline tasks so they can more easily achieve their targets. Acknowledge personal sacrifices.

Give them more control. Autonomy to get their jobs done their way will empower, motivate and satisfy them. Focus on their outcomes not on how they accomplish them. Intuit’s founder Scott Cook discovered “people will work nights — weekends — because it’s their idea.”

Share decision making with your employees. When people are consulted about things that affect them they are more apt to stay.

Originally printed in The Province, September 19, 2010.

Happy 100th Birthday Granny!

July 4, 2010

We just celebrated Canada Day on July 1st.  But July 4th is cause for an even greater celebration for our family.  I’m so excited that my incredible grandmother will be 100 years old.  Did you know that the US has the greatest number of Centenarians in the world- 1 per 3300 persons?  So how fitting that Granny will become one of these rare and special citizens on American Independence Day.

My cousin Todd who tracks our family’s history, shared her remarkable journey in a recent blog:

“My grandmother was born July 4, 1910, in Victoria BC.  She has lived through two world wars, and seen China change from an imperial dynasty, to a republic, to a communist state.

 She witnessed the Chinese Head Tax era, and the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. She welcomed 3 brothers home who served in WW2, after they were first denied the chance to fight for the country they were born in because they were Chinese.

She was granted the right to vote when she was 37 years old, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally appealed in 1947 and franchise was granted to Canadians of Chinese ancestry – because up until then, she was considered a resident alien. 

She has watched her grand-children become a Miss Canada 2nd runner-up, a TV news reporter, a Calgary city councilor, and a recipient of the BC Community Achievement Award.

She has appeared in an National Film Board documentary, a CBC television performance special, and CBC TV documentary about her grandfather and family descendant history.

In 2007, she received an ex-gratia payment for Chinese Head Tax settlement, because her deceased husband had paid the head tax, prior to 1923.”

What an amazing century to have experienced first hand.  Her great grandfather came to Canada in 1896 as a Minister for the men building the railway.  He was responsible for her absolute love of a good strong cup of English breakfast tea.  At 10 years old she was charged with looking after many of her 13 brothers and sisters.  She raised 6 children of her own, then 2 of her 17 grand children.  She has 22 great grand children and 4 great-great grand children.

As a young girl she was always invited to play baseball with the boys because she was the best batter and could knock 3 people off the bases with one smack.  She was also an amazing sprinter.  Granny can still remember 1924 when a quart of jersey milk was 17 cents, bread 7 cents and butter 40 cents.

Remarkably well preserved for her age, she is also as a sharp as a tack and doesn’t miss a thing.  She has an uncanny 6th sense – knows when she needs to call me or protect me with white light.  She recently reminded me to always trust and rely on my intuition which she says I inherited from her.  Granny was widowed at 42, put down her glasses at 60 and hasn’t needed them since.  She still lives in the same downtown apartment on her own as she has for over 30 years.  She walks elegantly upright and unaided, cooks, shops, and socializes each day with by passers in the neighbourhood.

She’s vibrant, independent, spirited, and forthright. A charming matriarch with sparkling eyes, she makes fast friends and a lasting impression where ever she goes.  Certainly it’s because she is naturally co-active.  Though she has the wisdom of age and experience she much more coach-like than a sage.  She is far more interested in hearing what you think than telling you what she thinks.  However, she will be sure to let you know if you step out of line.  No matter who you are.

Granny enjoying High Tea

Granny enjoying High Tea

As a youngster when I stayed at Granny’s downtown apartment I felt so independent and grown up taking the city bus everywhere with her.  I couldn’t sit still as a kid and we were two very headstrong women on a mission.  We’d go for tea, shopping at the big downtown department stores (where I apparently danced to the elevator music like a prima ballerina.  I drew quite a crowd and she taught me how to politely curtsy afterwards).  My grandmother said it was like watching herself as a young girl.   She was a strong resourceful woman who was also maternal and truly a lady.  I learned how to state my mind by how she courageously stood her ground for what she believed in.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Granny be afraid of anything.

Today Granny is still quite a character.  A few years ago she won a provincial award for a remarkable large complex Chinese knotting project she made.  Two weeks ago she returned from a trip to Toronto for an early birthday celebration with her younger siblings who are too delicate to come out for the party.  Now she has her sights on going to London England.

She received a special birthday card from the Queen of England as well as a letter from her representative in Canada- the Governor General.  Granny was non plussed and said, “So what?   They don’t even know me!”   She’s more keen on receiving a greeting from Toronto Maple Leafs National Hockey League legend Senator Frank Mahovlich because he personally invited her to a game decades ago.  She doesn’t want any fuss for her birthday just a small dinner at her favorite restaurant with her family and closest friends.  Paring down the guest list to 100 was agonizing for her.  She has selected her long time doctor as her guest of honor.

People always curious about the secret to her longevity.  Here’s what she says:

  • Stay up late, take power naps as needed and sleep in as late as you darn well feel like.  You’ve earned it. Don’t call granny before 11 am!
  • All you need is Ponds cold cream every day and night. Been using that for over 80 years. Without a lie her skin still as soft as a baby’s bottom.  She looks more alive than all of her younger siblings.
  • Never skip breakfast.  Eat 3 high quality chocolates a day.  And none of that healthy dark stuff.
  • Help anyone in need as much and often as you are able.
  • Be kind and friendly to everyone.
  • Speak your mind, stand your ground – which she still does even if it’s not popular.
  • Drink boiled water and up to 5 cups of English breakfast tea with whole milk each day.
  • Do daily calisthenics (such an old word I can’t even spell check it) when I asked her what exercises she did she showed me jumping jacks, bicycling on her back, bending to touch her toes and asked in a surprised voice, “doesn’t everyone do this?”  Can’t you just picture it?
  • Ask for what you want, believe you deserve it, then accept and receive it graciously.
  • Dress for success.  Carry yourself with respect and dignity. Don’t leave the house without matching jewelry, hose, hat and gloves.
  • Dress younger than your age and flaunt it if you’ve got it.  Granny is famous for smoothing her dress at her knees to show off her great legs.
  • Get hooked on the Young and the Restless so you can’t wait to see tomorrow’s episode.
  • Be grateful for whatever each day brings, have a chiropractic adjustment every month, and follows Louise Hay’s wisdom.
  • Keep your memory alive by reminiscing often.
  • Go with the flow- her greatest mantra.  She is a model of letting go and being unattached.

She lives by Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer

God, Grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

and Wisdom to know the difference.

This is truly an Independence Day.   Here’s to health, happiness and longevity.

Happy Birthday Granny!

Managers lead by example

June 21, 2010

Q: I’ve just been promoted into my first management position. Without technical to-dos to check off the list each day, I don’t feel I’m accomplishing anything. How do I ensure I am adding value to my company?

A: It’s a common mistake for new managers to gravitate to tasks instead of people. You got the job because you accomplished things in an outstanding way. Now your role is to support others to produce results and reach their potential. Your success depends on your team’s performance.

Great leaders model and mentor others to achieve their goals effectively. Find out what matters to your people then advocate for the resources and tools they need to flourish. This may mean helping them leverage their strengths, reach their career aspirations or work smarter not harder.

While you have the experience, you’re not the expert. Valued managers coach their people to perform at ‘their best’ by listening more, talking less. Set clear expectations, empower them to do their job, then stand back and let them do it as long as their output meets the expectations. Give direct feedback on areas for improvement privately in a way that motivates them to rise to the challenge rather than discourages them.

Your role is to make sound and often tough decisions with which others may not agree. Create an environment of trust and respect, demonstrate desirable behaviours and foster collaboration by being an example.

A leader’s responsibility is to be the keeper of the vision. Hold the big picture and articulate it in a way that inspires the team. You provide individuals a sense of purpose so they are engaged and aligned with the organization. Valuable leaders have the ability to make their people feel valued.

Originally printed in The Province, June 20, 2010.

Desiderata- a tribute to my dad

May 24, 2010

Desiderata is a prose poem written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana.  It has been reported that Desiderata was inspired by an urge that Ehrmann wrote about in his diary:

“I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift — a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.”

Around 1959, the Rev. Frederick Kates, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of devotional materials he compiled for his congregation. (Some years earlier he had come across a copy of Desiderata.)

Desiderata is Latin for “Things to be Desired”

This poem is meaningful to me because when I was about 11 years old my dad gave me a copy of it written in beautiful scrolled old style calligraphy on parchment paper.  He told me of its power and importance for my life. It hung in my room throughout my turbulent teen years.

Dad always impressed upon me that it doesn’t matter what happens to you in life, it’s what you do with it.  This poem speaks to me about his values and desires for his children.  What he taught me is to honor the truth of who I am, to access my resilience, to give my personal best while stretching towards my potential, to acknowledge and value my gifts.  Always reminding me that I am a child of the universe.  He meant I have the right and responsibility here on earth.

Whenever I wrestled with issues, or forgot who I was or what I was up to in life, reading this would  inspire me return to what I knew was true about myself.  To remember my purpose is to strive towards what I am called to do in my lifetime and who I was created to be in the world.

I hadn’t thought about this poem much recently until last week when my dad reminded me of it.   It brought back a flood of memories about how it kept me grounded in myself especially when things swirled around me.

We were sitting side by side on his hospital bed when he said in a very low tone his treatment wasn’t working. I heard resignation in his voice.  It was my turn to remind him of who he is and his responsibility to make conscious choices in the face of circumstances rather than let his long illness determine his fate.

Today is Victoria Day in Canada and his birthday.  In honor of him on his special day I am reprinting Desiderata here for him and for you. Dad sought to inspire, support and encourage others to improve their lot in life by shifting their mindset.  It would thrill him to know that he is still able to made a positive difference by sharing this poem.  So do let me know what you think of this posting so I can share with dad his impact.

I pray that this meaningful prose has the power again to connect him to his deep strength and courage as he seeks renewed meaning, purpose and peace in his own life for the will to recover from a second challenging relapse in a month.

Dad, you have been the philosopher, the rebel trail blazer and thought leader that shaped our family’s outlook and how we serve in the world.  You took a stand that anything is possible for us.  And that the most important determinant for achieving the impossible is to simply believe in its possibility.  Since we didn’t know any different we believed you.  As a result, each of us in the family has manifested what others told us couldn’t be done.  This is your legacy.  Your work is not done.  It’s your turn to model this to us once again. Happy Birthday, we want many more with you.  I love you.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Copyright 1952

Be co-operative on feedback

August 31, 2009

Q: As a new manager, I have to give an employee some feedback on a job she thinks she’s doing well. How can I be direct without getting her back up?

A: Hard feedback is effective when delivered with a soft start-up. First, get a clear picture of how your employee thinks she’s doing and why. Suspend your opinion and explore her perspective with genuine curiosity. While you don’t need to agree, letting her know you understand and accept her will make her more open to your viewpoint later.

Point out qualities you value in her — irrespective of her performance — such as her initiative, determination and reliability. Be direct and specific about what is working and why: “You are diligent and meet your deadlines. You keep projects moving forward and on track.”

Provide clear, concise and matter-of-fact feedback about what’s not working. Point to the tasks — not her personally — avoiding all-or-nothing language.  For example, “your reports lack the necessary details to support your point of view.”

Any hint of impatience or blame will raise defensiveness. Calmly explain the cost to her: “When your reports are superficial, the reader can discount your logic.”  Demonstrate your commitment to her success by pointing to specific changes that would produce successful results: “Including relevant case studies and key metrics would make your argument more compelling.”

Let her know you believe in her ability. “You have a solid grasp of the issues. All you have to do is provide more back-up for the reader.”

Ask her what steps she’s willing to commit to and set a time together to revisit the issue. Limiting the amount of corrective feedback and presenting it as a gift will leave your employee hopeful and motivated rather than daunted and demoralized.

Originally printed in The Province August 30, 2009.

Put the spark back into staff

July 19, 2009

Q: With sagging sales, our company is re-evaluating our five-year plan. My managers are concerned their jobs may be at risk, yet their motivation is waning. How do I reassure and re-engage them?

A: Even with job security down, disengagement is up. People are torn between knowing they must perform to keep their jobs, and the emotional drain of economic uncertainty. It takes fortitude to remain optimistic. You can re-spark your staff with a few simple steps:

1. Reinforce their value and worth. Recognize more than just accomplishments. Make every effort to point out how their actions positively impact the organization. Acknowledge their innate strengths and characteristics liberally.

2. Set up your staff to be successful. Be clear and specific about the expected outcomes, then give latitude and flexibility to complete the job their way. When feeling lack of control in one area, people need to feel in charge elsewhere. The freedom to be innovative and creative will empower and inspire them.

3. Invite input and collaboration. Under pressure it’s easy to revert to a directive style of managing, but it comes at a high cost. Take the time to include staff in decision-making, giving them choices wherever possible. When included, people become invested.

4. Build trust. Open, honest and frank communication is paramount. In uncertainty, silence sends people to imagining the worst. You can avert reactive behaviour with regular updates — and it is just as important to say there’s nothing new.

5. Support their development. Find out where they want to grow and make it happen. Web-based or tele-training, coaching, internal mentoring, mastermind groups or even a new project are cost-effective ways to build new skills.

It’s important in any economy to show your most valuable resources matter as much as the bottom line.

Originally printed in The Province July 19, 2009.

The Mom Song to William Tell Overture

May 10, 2009

In Celebration of one of the most paradoxical roles in the world.  Motherhood-  really parenthood- is the most rewarding yet often unrecognized, tireless and tiring, as profoundly joyful and it is painful, grows you and ages you.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

The 24 hour daily refrain can be condensed to about 3 minutes.   Yay. More time for fun together.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

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