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Recently I was speaking with a young woman who was a mentor to my daughter in high school.  In watching Makala lead on the lacrosse field for years I had no doubt she would go on to be successful in life. We had a conversation recently about her experience as a volunteer for Dance Marathon […]

The post Wisdom from A Rising Leader appeared first on Random Acts Of Leadership™.

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Have you ever changed your mind about a situation or about a person?  What about changing your mind about a belief – something you believed to not only be a truth, but THE truth? It is no small thing for anyone to change what you believe to be true. It can happen when you have […]

The post The Power of Leading with an Open Mind appeared first on Random Acts Of Leadership™.

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The following is a guest post by author and Root, Inc. co-founder, Jim Haudan. It is sad that with the advent of social media, we still seem more separate and disconnected than ever.  After all, we spend a sizable amount of time each day communicating with others.  Unfortunately more communication hasn’t translated into better communication. Our […]

The post Dialogue at Work is the Oxygen of Engagement and Change appeared first on Random Acts Of Leadership™.

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Innovation is a term you hear a lot in the leadership sphere. But, what does innovation really mean? I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Nilda about making a difference as a leader. Following is a recap of key insights from our conversation.  You can please do also watch the video of our interview below.

Dr. Nilda Perez Interviewed by Susan Mazza's Founder of Random Acts of Leadership - YouTube

What Is Innovation?

Let’s start by describing what we mean when we talk about innovation. Innovation is looking at your job or your industry, and taking a different perspective. Ask yourself, “What’s not working? What hasn’t changed in my industry in xxx years? What can I do to solve this problem or make things better for my employees, my industry, my clients?” When you’re looking for improvement and make things better, now that’s innovation.

Why Leaders Should Care About Being Innovative

In today’s world, we are constantly taking in information at a rapid pace. Customers and employees want their problems solved immediately. Talking openly about the problems that your employees or customers are facing provides an opportunity for innovation. Problem-solving allows everyone to brainstorm, turning the “me vs. you” mentality into a “we” mentality.

If you want to change your leadership and really spark innovation in your organization, listen to the people around you. Ask yourself, “What do they need to be able to do their best work every day?” At the end of the day, there are a group of people you serve – the people you lead.  Getting into their world and understanding their frustrations will help you understand where you should be innovating in the first place. Only by realizing where you are stuck, can you look at the problem with a different perspective.

How Leaders Can Leverage Innovation in Their Everyday Work
  1. Know the trends in your industry. Get connected with things in your industry. Go to an industry level conference or, if you have a creative enough idea, try presenting at a conference.
  2. Always ask that “why” question. Why are we doing things this way? How can we improve it? Asking these questions gets us to realize where we are stuck and puts us in a creative state of mind.
  3. Look for problems to solve. Your customers and staff are always telling you where the problems are, but leaders often don’t pay attention. Instead of looking at problems as negatives, look at them as opportunities to try something new or improve the lives of others. Problems are great opportunities to bring people together and brainstorm ways in which to make it better.

To truly be an effective and successful leader, you need to be open, creative, and innovative. Looking at things with foresight will put you ahead and give you the opportunity to change your leadership and your organization for the better.

In what ways have you engaged your employees to come up with an innovative solution to a problem? Answer in the comments.

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Why waste your time with small talk when there are genuine human connections to be made with people who may have fascinating lives? Opening with generative questions can pave the way for further conversation and meaningful engagement instead of just idle chit-chat.

To set the stage for success, prepare yourself. Create an open mindset. Be curious about who is in the room. What if someone in the room has the information, influence, or connections you need right now to make something happen? What if you’re in a position to support a project that can really make a difference in the community or in someone’s life? There is always something of value: go on a treasure hunt in your conversations to find it!

Here are some small talk starters that promise the opportunity to build connection or broaden and deepen into a meaningful conversation.

  • What brings you to this gathering?

-Imagine you’re on your way home after this event and you are really glad you came. What could happen that would leave you with that experience?

  • What makes you come alive?
  • I have this hypothesis that any encounter has potential—I might have just the connection or piece of information you need, or vice versa. Are you game to explore with me where our potential synergy lies? If you get an affirmative response, here are some lines to explore:

-What’s the biggest obstacle in your way of achieving success right now? What do you need to overcome it?

-If you had three wishes to support your work, what would they be?

-Who do you most want to meet or talk with? (look for 3 degrees of separation)

-I’m working on ___________. What are your thoughts? What ideas do you have? Who should I talk with? Follow up by asking them to introduce you. Then reciprocate.

  • How do you know the hosts, or what is your connection to them? Tell me a story about a best experience you’ve had with them.

-Seek common connections.

-Share your own connection.

  • Be observant. Notice something about the person that is intriguing, curious, or likely to have a story behind it. Here are a couple of examples:

-What an unusual necklace. Is there a story behind it?

-What’s the symbol on your t-shirt about?

-You seem to connect very easily with children. What’s your secret?

-What your secret to being so at ease in settings like this?

  • You can open with, “What’s your favorite topic of conversation and why?” Then encourage that conversation.

Gatherings where small talk occurs are often great places for discovering interesting stories about people, as well as connecting with others in meaningful and important ways. Use your innate curiosity to develop powerful questions that turn small talk into conversations worth having!

About Cheri Torres:

Cheri Torres, Ph.D. brings the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, design thinking, and an ecological worldview to communities and organizations striving for sustainable growth. She has trained thousands of trainers and teachers in the use and practice of Appreciative Inquiry and Experiential Learning, with a particular focus on leadership development, teamwork, creativity, and sustainable collaboration. She has authored or co-authored numerous books and articles, the newest of which is Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement co-authored with Jackie Stavros.

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Of course, many of these decisions, like what color socks to wear or which route to take to the office, aren’t likely to make or break your day or your future.  You make them quickly without much thought.  Yet there are those big decisions that carry great importance because they quite literally affect your future and/or the future of others.

In working with professionals, business owners, and executives for over 25 years I’ve witnessed first-hand the stress experienced when leaders are faced with those big decisions. And once they have made a big decision it is challenging for a leader to explain their decision especially when short-term pain or dissatisfaction is bound to be involved.

How can you ensure that you make consistently great decisions?

By a “great decision” I mean a decision that you make with confidence and certainty.  Of course, you never really know if a decision is the “right” decision or not until after the fact. But a great decision is one that you can stand behind no matter how things turn out, even after the fact.  You can communicate your reasoning behind your decisions exceedingly well.  And you can look back with no regrets because you sincerely believe that it was a sound decision given the information you had at the time.

I will, however, suggest that the key to making consistently great decisions requires more than good information and great instincts.  Great decisions require that you clearly and simply define the basis upon which your decisions will be made.

So what is the basis for making great decisions?

The basis upon which great decisions are consistently and reliably made is a clear definition of what success looks like.

In order to make a great decision now, you must be crystal clear about the ultimate end game of how you want things to turn out in the future.  This is true for both the big, longer term decisions, as well as the everyday decisions. You must be able to make decisions both about what you will do and what you will not do, as well as set priorities if you are to reliably produce exceptional results.

“Your job as a leader is to establish your organization’s core focus and not let anything distract you from that.”  Traction by Gino Wickman 

I teach people how to create a one-page Strategy in Action™ Plan that they can use as the basis for making great decisions with confidence.  A client recently shared that after completing a plan with her team, they together evaluated every project on their list and asked: how well does this project serve the future as we have designed it?

In the process, they identified 2 projects that were clearly outside of the scope of how they defined success. They were popular projects – ones that a few individuals on her team were heavily invested in which made it tough to say we are going to stop doing these things.  Yet because they could all clearly see that these projects no longer made sense the decision was obvious to all.

Clarity is power.  If you want to make great decisions invest the time to get clear about the future as you want it to be.  Define success simply and clearly and you will be able to confidently make great decisions and to help those you lead to do the same.

If you are in Florida and are interested in learning how to create your Strategy in Action Plan join me on 5/8/18 for the Strategy Power Day at FIT in Melbourne, FL. 

 Click Here for more information.

 For more information about additional Strategy in Action™ programs available please e-mail susan@randomactsofleadership.com.

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The subject of collusion has been a hot topic in US politics these days. So I want to start by making it clear that this post is NOT about politics, but rather about the kinds of human behaviors on teams, in organizations and in life that keep us stuck vs. move us forward.

Take a moment and think about something you want to achieve that really matters to you right now that requires you work well with others.

For a work team, it could be something like implementing a new technology, launch a new product, or make a big positive change in your work environment. If you run a small business you might want to massively grow your clients and revenues.  For a sports team, it could be the pursuit of a championship.

Now look at the group of people you are depending on to achieve that goal and ask yourself this question: Can we count on each other when it really counts?

A group of talented individuals does not necessarily translate into a high performing team.  That’s why sometimes the underdog seemingly comes out of nowhere to win.  In fact, high performing teams know that to succeed they must depend on each other as much, if not more, than their individual talents.

Perhaps even more importantly, they act as if their success is dependent on the success of others.  They also believe that they can truly count on each other to do what is best for their team, to be treated with respect and fully supported no matter what.

Colluding for Mediocrity vs Collaborating for Greatness

The answer to this one question – can we count on each other when it really counts – can reveal whether your team is colluding for mediocrity or collaborating for greatness.

When a team is collaborating for greatness…

…Individuals judge their success based on their team’s success.

…Feedback offered may be tough, but it is always delivered in the spirit of calling for someone to be and do their best.

…Team members challenge each other to be great.  

…Communication comes from a context of “I know you are great and I am going to push you to be the best you can be, even if you aren’t going to like what I have to say sometimes”.

…Teammates celebrate success together and take personal responsibility for their contribution to failure so they can together turn things around.  There’s an attitude of “what can I do differently going forward to do my part to turn things around”.

…Individuals focus on what matters to the team and give the best of themselves even when they don’t feel like it.

When a team is colluding for mediocrity…

…Individuals judge success based on their own performance rather than the team’s performance.

…Feedback is designed to put people in their place or make them feel inferior.

…Team members avoid challenging each other to avoid being uncomfortable.  

…Communication comes from a context of “I won’t call you on your bad attitude, behavior, etc., so you won’t call me on mine”.

…Teammates celebrate success together but look outside of themselves for the reasons why they failed.  There’s an attitude of “I did my part but they didn’t do theirs”.

…Individual actions are based on what the individuals want rather than what is best for their team.

CAUTION:  Before you begin to make assessments regarding whether your team is collaborating for greatness or colluding for mediocrity, beware of getting stuck in the paradigm of “collaboration means my team members are good and collusion means they are bad”.  If you are human chances are you have engaged in every one of these behaviors.

The point of considering your teams behavior is to assess the gap between where you want to be and where you are now so you can find a way together to close the gap to performing at your best as a team.

Making the Shift from Collusion to Collaboration

There are a lot of reason why a team may fall into the behaviors of colluding for mediocrity.  In fact, recognizing and getting honest about these behaviors can be used as a springboard for transforming collusion into collaboration.

Some of the main reasons why teams collude for mediocrity are fear of failure and a lack of trust in each other.  Both of these things can cause us as individuals to retreat to what we feel we can control – often that means our own performance.

Yet what we all too easily forget is that one of the things we can control is how we relate to one another.

So before you consider what your teammates may or may not be doing or how they are behaving, a place to start is consider your own actions, attitudes and behaviors.

You can start by asking yourself, do my teammates believe they can count on me when it counts?

And then consider these questions…

…are you willing to be held accountable by your teammates for being and doing your best?

…are they willing to be held accountable for being and doing their best by you?

…what would I need to let go of or embrace to ensure my team gets what it needs most from me?

Collaborating for greatness requires that every member of a team makes decisions to do what is best for their team over and over.  High performing team members are courageous enough to ask and allow their teammates to push them and hold them accountable for being and doing their absolute best.

Are you and your team colluding for mediocrity or collaborating for greatness?

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Following is a guest post from a client, Lori Zipes, a Systems Engineer with the US Navy.  She is someone who exemplifies the power of everyday leadership.  I continue to be impressed and inspired by Lori’s courage in opening up challenging conversations in a way that others can hear and engage in authentically to cause positive change in her workplace.  This is just one of the many examples of powerful conversations Lori initiates.

It’s always a nice discussion when female colleagues come to chat and share experiences and counsel. During the course of some recent informal mentoring sessions, two of my colleagues confided in me that they had cried in front of someone in a professional setting. Both showed a sense of regret, or a bit of shame; it’s difficult to articulate, but it was evident that they wished it had not happened. I shared with them both that I had at one point in my career been in an extremely difficult and frustrating position and had cried in front of MY BOSS (worst possible situation) several times. Every single time I was trying with all my might to not let it happen, but it did.

Neither of these women are people I would consider to be “weak” in any way. In fact, both are incredibly competent, dedicated and driven women who are excellent at their jobs. So it has been really bothering me that when tears fall, the perception is that the person can’t handle what is going on, that they are weak, that THEY are the problem. I hate that these women feel badly that they got visibly upset because, frankly, given the situation with which each was dealing, they had every right to be upset. These women care very deeply about what they are trying to accomplish. Their commitment to success runs deep, and they take the responsibility of their position very seriously. When things are very wrong, rather than saying, “Oh well, it’s just work,” they get upset. That strikes me as not anything related to weakness. In fact, it seems to me a sign of strength. A strength of commitment to their organization or our mission that should be appreciated, not seen as a flaw or failure. These are the people who will likely fix what is wrong.

So the next time you see someone getting emotional over work, I ask you to consider this:

Instead of seeing them as weak, consider that they may be one of your most valuable assets.

Lori works as an engineer for the US Navy and is a “graduate” of Susan’s Leadership in Action™ program.  She and several of her colleagues have been engaged in proactive efforts to support women, and encourage them to aspire to leadership positions.  Initiating perspective-changing conversations like this one is part of their strategy. 

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The typical way of seeking meaningful work—or vocation— is to figure out how to match your strengths with possible work or professions. Countless books and processes exist for identifying your personality, strengths, and interests to help you discover whether you are aiming for work that will be a good fit. That’s valid and valuable, but it is only part of what is needed.

The word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Finding your vocation, then, first asks that you listen to the voice of your life. This is not the voices telling you what you should do to achieve success, or the ones telling you to follow in somebody’s footsteps or to satisfy harsh inner critics. It is not the voice of your ego demanding with grim determination that you make your life something it’s not.

In Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer writes, “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”

Have you ever noticed how life itself is informing you and inviting you to show up, whether the work is what you had planned or not? Listening to your life speak—all of your life, through heartaches and mistakes, as well as your joys—can help you find the clarity and courage to bring your true self to your life’s work.

It isn’t about showing up as your work self or best self. It’s about showing up as your whole self. Showing up fully as a leader is not limited to bringing the parts you think are expected, demanded, or acceptable.

We invite you to reconnect who you are (your soul) with what you do (your role). Note that we say reconnect, not connect. Our assumption is that deep inside everyone is a true self that knows itself well. Other voices, authority figures, circumstances, and fears can cause you to hide or forget many aspects of your essential core self, but those aspects do not have to remain hidden or lost. Vocation is not a function of external expectations or aptitude or talent. Vocation is an inner sense of what your life is asking you to do, which is to reconnect your soul and role. You might say that a “calling” is your life speaking, and vocation is your response to that call with your choice of work. (Have you ever heard of the call-and-response style of music? Examples include old-time gospels, “My Generation” by The Who, and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers.)

Leaders don’t reconnect soul and role by following a set of instructions. They do so over time as they integrate their sense of self—their whole self—into their work.

Vocation doesn’t have to mean doing one job or type of work for the rest of your life. Some leaders purposely set foot on the path of vocation, predisposed to seek meaningful work; others say they never thought of their work as a calling but more like “a special project for now.”

How do you define the word calling as it relates to your career? Do you approach your career or other areas of your life as a calling? There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

—Nelson Mandela

About Shelly Francis

The common thread throughout the career of Shelly L. Francis has been bringing to light best-kept secrets while bringing people together to facilitate positive impact. She does that in the book, The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity, which she wrote on behalf of the Center for Courage & Renewal. She has worked as the Center’s marketing and communications director since 2012.

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Do you care more about something you are doing or something others are doing? I know the question is a little vague – but go with me here. Let me restate the question: Do you care more about the renovation at your neighbor’s house or the plans to update your own home?

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: People don’t generally get as excited about what other people are doing as they do about something they are doing. If people in our organizations do not feel connected to the vision of our organization, any progress or accomplishments in this arena will create little passion, enthusiasm, energy, or satisfaction.

If your people feel disconnected from the vision this is bad news for the organization and your people – especially for Top Talent. Our research reveals their deeply held desire to make a difference. That’s why a Bigger Vision is one of the critical elements to create a Talent Magnet.

So, if you are trying to create a place that attracts Top Talent, what is the leader’s responsibility? Here’s how we begin to answer this question in the Talent Magnet Field Guide…

A vision is of no value unless people know it. But, let’s face it, there is something more important than knowing. For a vision to move people to action, they must feel personally connected to it. Vision-driven organizations create stakeholders who share the quest. That’s why a leader has the responsibility to Foster Connection.

Research shows that top performers want to make a difference in the world, and therefore, they desire meaningful work that creates impact beyond products and profits. Your job as a leader is to ensure team members know their daily actions matter to the bigger picture and leave no doubt the work they do on a daily basis fuels the accomplishment of the vision. You must help them connect the dots.

As the leader, you cannot delegate the vision. Your responsibility is to continually clarify, protect, and model the way forward. If you are diligent, your best people will become ambassadors of impact and your influence will spread. Additionally, your company will become a place where others want to be a part of the movement.

If you really want to attract great talent, be sure your existing team feels a real and personal connection to the vision.

About Mark Miller

Mark Miller is the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. In addition to his newly released book, Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People, he has also written The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do (2007), Chess Not Checkers (2015), and Leaders Made Here (2017). Today, over 1 million copies of Mark’s books are in print in more than two dozen languages.

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