Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights

by Angie Morgan

Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

Take a five-minute break and ask yourself: “How am I doing?  Am I happy?  Am I satisfied with my career?  Am I getting what I want out of life?”

As you consider answers to these questions, I encourage you to write down your responses and spend time fleshing out the details.  Through your words, you might uncover ideas that give you insight into what you need to do to lead your life better than you are doing right now.

While there is so much we cannot control in our life, we can control the following:

  • What we believe about our abilities (and capabilities)
  • The words we choose (that either inspire or alienate others)
  • Our actions and our priorities
  • Our values and how we demonstrate them
  • How we spend our time
  • Whether or not we achieve our goals

To be an impactful leader, do your homework on you.  Get to know yourself better and work to develop harmony and consistency between what you believe and who you are.

by Courtney Lynch

There’s a rising tide of renewed interest in workplace civility.  A popular topic in the 1950’s, the idea of kindness and etiquette is now back at the forefront of workplace culture discussions.  Some might say it’s a trend.  Yet, here at Lead Star, we connect civility with leadership.  If you are acting in ways that are consistent with influencing outcomes and inspiring others (our definition of what a leader does) you are likely exceeding the bar of civility.

The recent focus on civility in the workplace has a lot to do with how a lack of it impacts productivity.  According to business professors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, authors of The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, the American workplace loses an estimated $300 billion annually in productivity because of incivility and resulting employee stress.  Fortune 1000 executives spend roughly seven weeks per year resolving employee conflicts, and 95 percent of Americans say they’ve experienced rudeness at work.

Timeless solutions to modern challenges are often the most effective.  I recently gave a keynote address at a large government agency.  Before my presentation, the host of the event mentioned that the agency is starting a Civility and Business Etiquette Employee Resource Group.  She then shared ten practices from an historical employee newsletter that offered guidance on how to be civil.  The newsletter was dated September 15, 1951.  Here are the practices:

  • Speak to people.  There is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.
  • Smile at people.  It takes 72 muscles to frown, only 14 to smile.
  • Call people by name.  The sweetest music to anyone’s ears is the sound of their own name.
  • Be friendly.  If you would have a friend—be one.
  • Be cordial.  Speak and act as if everything you do is a genuine pleasure.
  • Be sincerely interested in others.  You can like almost everybody if you try.
  • Be generous with praise—cautious with criticism.
  • Be considerate with the feelings of others—it will be appreciated.
  • Be thoughtful of the opinions of others.  There are usually three sides to a controversy—yours, the other person’s, and the right one.
  • Be alert to give service.  What counts most in life is what we do for others.

Clearly, the values of etiquette and civility never go out of style!  Both are as timeless as leadership.

by Sean Lynch

A lot of attention and effort has been directed at teaching supervisors how to deliver effective feedback.  Yet, very little attention is paid to the person receiving the feedback.  After all, the receiver lets the feedback in and decides whether or not to act on it.  Being able to deliver feedback well doesn’t guarantee knowing how to be receptive to it, or find the useful feedback in poorly delivered criticism.

We have all been receiving feedback for our entire lives and have probably developed some patterns in the way we react to it.  Many times our reactions are emotional, and the key to finding value is to carefully analyze the feedback outside of that emotional reaction.

The easiest way to bypass our emotional reaction is to ask for feedback ourselves.  But, ask in small bites.  “What is one thing that I do well, or one thing that I could improve?”

When receiving feedback, always say, “Thank you,” and let your emotional reaction subside before you decide whether it is valid and what to do with it.  Then, separate the person from the feedback they gave you.  Assume that they intended to give you information to benefit you even if it was not delivered in the most ideal manner.  After thinking about it, you might need clarification.  If you still disagree or are unsure, you can always try it out in low risk settings.

Taking criticism may not get any easier, but you need feedback to grow, improve and learn to play at the next level.  Take charge of the process by asking for feedback yourself.  And, when you get feedback, let your emotional reaction subside before you search for the diamond in the rough.

by Angie Morgan

“There’s no one thing that is true.  They’re all true.” – Ernest Hemingway

When in conflict, you can waste a lot of energy trying to prove that you’re right (and that someone else is wrong).  Assume, though, that everyone engaged in disagreement is right and justified to have the emotions that they have.

Rather than be “right,” isn’t it better to be empathetic and try to understand the other person’s perspective?  Doing so will give you greater insight into what the other person is thinking, feeling and experiencing.  This will allow you to also understand how cooperation and compromise will resolve the conflict (as compared to heated anger and debate that will only further frustrate your relationship).

The next time you are in a contentious debate with someone, have the discipline to hit the pause button and share, “You have given me a lot of things to consider – things I never have considered.  Rather than argue, can I just view your perspective for 24 hours and we can pick this up again tomorrow?”  If you can dedicate time to really understanding and respecting the other person’s point of view, then you will be much closer to resolving your current conflict and possibly preventing conflicts that might occur in the future.

by David Spungin

Quite often I’ll get requests to teach effective time management skills to managers. People are “juggling more balls in the air” than ever before and many can’t ever seem to catch up with the pace of life. To really address these challenges, we must not only look at how people are managing their time, but also at how they are managing their stress and energy levels.

Time, Stress and Energy are undoubtedly interconnected and thus leaders should learn to excel in all three of these competencies in order to maximize their personal effectiveness. Think about your own experiences. Some days you might not be able to get your to-do list accomplished. This in turn might lead you to start thinking about all the things you need to catch up on and as your mind starts racing, your stress levels rise. You lie awake at night trying to figure out what to do next, losing valuable sleep and waking the next day with even less energy than the day before.

So what can we do to reduce this self-perpetuating cycle? I would like to highlight what I believe to be the single best thing you can do for each of these domains.

  1. Manage your time by practicing “worst first.” Everyone has something they dread doing throughout the day. Get into the habit of doing it first thing in the morning. Not only will you manage your time better, but you’ll feel less stressed and more energized as you no longer have that monkey hanging on your back.
  2. Manage your stress by finding a physical outlet. Nothing busts through stress like physical activity. I have found nothing more effective for limiting stress levels than 30 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise daily. Leaders hold their boundaries firmly when it comes to making time to exercise. This means they schedule time in their calendar and protect it accordingly.
  3. Manage your energy by maximizing your time off. Think of your personal energy level as being like a car’s fuel tank, you can only go so long before you need to stop and refuel. Yet, not all fuel is created equal; there are various levels of octane to choose from. When it’s time to refuel, put the right stuff in your system. Do the things that bring you the most energy. Maybe you love to travel, or spend time outdoors, or really invest in quality time with your family. Plan accordingly and when your downtime happens, invest in your energy reserves.

Committing to mastering these three skills can greatly increase your personal effectiveness as a leader. The key word is commitment and all new behaviors start with a personal choice. So what choices will you make today?

by Courtney Lynch

The past decade has been a revolutionary one for social neuroscience.  Advancements in the understanding of how the brain works have been numerous and are quite helpful to leaders who are seeking to influence and inspire.  If we know what our brains subconsciously need in order to collaborate effectively with others, then we can practice what we universally seek.

Research has shown that much of the motivation driving social behavior is similar to the drivers that fuel our primal survival instincts.  Bottom line:  our brains are constantly seeking to minimize threat and maximize reward.  Fight or flight is real and present during our seemingly benign interactions with others in meetings, at the water cooler and when networking.   Our brain treats social needs in much the same way as the need for food or water.  A landmark journal article by David Rock, an Australian scholar, details the common social needs the brain has in order to believe all is well during interactions:

  • Status – a relative importance when compared to others feels safe
  • Certainty – being able to anticipate the future is good
  • Autonomy - a feeling of control over events inspires effort
  • Relatedness – connection with others helps the brain to think friend over foe
  • Fairness – a perception of even exchanges between others is soothing

Keeping these SCARF factors top of mind can inform your leadership actions.  Focus on supporting the status of others by reinforcing their contributions and value.  Bring certainty by providing clear intent and expectations.  Resist the urge to micro-manage.  Take the time to personally connect with those you work with.  And, be fair and just in your actions.   Smart leaders know understanding the brain is a key to effective leadership.

by Angie Morgan

My three year old loves to “potty talk.”  Partly because it gets a rise out of me, and partly because he can get away with it.  The other day he put a phrase together that shocked my entire family … and made me ask myself, “How did we get here?”

Well, it didn’t happen over night!  Somewhere in his short-lived life he started using these words at home.  And, after realizing that he could shock us and there were no real consequences, he started exploring the boundaries of acceptable behavior.  (He definitely found them!)  Needless to say, moving forward language is going to be scrutinized in the Morgan household.

Has something like this ever happened to you at either home or work? Have you ever casually observed a behavior that – at first – was a concern, but not problematic; therefore, you weren’t aggressive addressing it?  Then, a few weeks later, addressing the issue became paramount to your team’s long-term success?

Maybe it was a safety issue, such as you noticed crewmembers lax with safety standards and then a safety emergency presented itself.  Or, maybe even with deadlines, such as a team member was soft with deadlines until one day he/she blew a major deadline that damaged your reputation with a key client?

The lesson here for all of us is to pay attention to the pink flags in our lives – those small warning signs that indicate a performance issue.  Those pink flags will eventually turn red!  It’s always easier to define the boundaries of acceptable behavior and hold others accountable to those standards earlier in a relationship than later.   Doing so saves you from often avoidable situations.

by Courtney Lynch

We’ve all heard about the importance of taking time for ourselves.  When we hear this we often think of rest and relaxation. Making time for some R&R is important, but it’s not all you need.  When was the last time you set aside time to fully reflect on where you’re going and where you’ve been - both professionally and personally?

I challenge you to set aside an hour or two in the near future to reflect, write and discover recent lessons learned while examining how you’ll apply them in the future.  Completing a personal retreat is simple. It might consist of an afternoon in the library or your favorite coffee shop.  Perhaps you’ll head outside to a quiet spot or spend some time in a local museum.  The key is to get away from the rush of your day to day obligations and focus on yourself.  Just the intentional action of structuring time for ideation about your career and life goals will create opportunities for future growth.

During your personal retreat consider questions like these as you envision your next season of development:

  • What are you not doing now that you wish you were?
  • What joyful activities do you want to bring more to the forefront of your life?
  • What type of challenges do you feel ready to undertake?
  • What are some of the most significant lessons you learned during the past year?
  • What specifically can you do to apply the learning you’ve experienced?  What will you change, adjust, do more of, or stop doing all together as a result of the new knowledge?
  • What goals are you accountable to meeting during the next 3, 6, 9 and 12 months?  How about during the next 2 and 5 years?
  • Which relationships do you want to commit to strengthening?

As you respond to the questions you deem important, take the critical step of writing down your thoughts.  Your reflections will make an excellent starting point for evaluating your progress in the coming months.

by Angie Morgan

“When people show you who they are … listen.” – Maya Angelou

I was recently watching a television program that featured Maya Angelou; when she shared these powerful words of wisdom, I felt gobsmacked.  She so beautifully articulated a sentiment that I have always believed, but haven’t spent a great deal of time relating to my life.  Her powerful wisdom made me reflect on all the critical leadership roles that I fill: mother, spouse, business owner, manager, volunteer, friend, daughter, sister.  She made me think about the important people in my life … and, of course, if I really spent time listening to them and observing them to understand their own unique needs, personalities, hopes, dreams and desires.

Her words also made me call into question my actions and behaviors.  How do I show up in a group?  What do people believe about me based upon my spoken words and unspoken actions?

When I tell someone that I will follow up with them, do they believe me?

Do people perceive my impatience as uncaring?

When I “take charge,” do others feel that I don’t trust them with responsibility?

If my kids or spouse see me walking towards them, do they think, “Uh-oh – here comes the task master?”

Leadership development is centered on your ability to know yourself and commit yourself to expanding your ability to influence and inspire.  To be a stronger leader, challenge yourself to think about all the relationships in which you are called to lead … and ask yourself how you can lead others better. In turn, reflect upon yourself and consider how you can adapt your leadership style to be more present and engaged.

Hey, we’re all in this together.  If we can make minor behavior changes to achieve congruence between our values and our actions, we’ll all be in stronger positions to be stronger leaders.

by David Spungin

Have you ever been “hooked” by another individual?  Most of us have, and it usually happens with those that we deem to be “difficult” personalities.  Sometimes these people are very different from us, others times the issue is that they are too much like us.  Usually it’s something they do or say that triggers the “hooking” inside us.  Perhaps it was that insensitive comment in front of the team that poked you the wrong way.  Or maybe it was the passive aggressive e-mail that really got under your skin.  Whatever the reason or context, getting “hooked” is that moment when you realize you are no longer fully in control.

At a subconscious level, getting hooked almost always has to do with feelings or emotions related to power, authority, inclusion, and/or trust.  Yet, one will never be able to recognize what is really going on if they are psychologically and physiologically limited through being “hooked.”  Thus, before assessing the situation and taking any action, the goal is to first return to a state of centered presence.

Quickly accessing a centered presence is a particularly important skill set for a leader to master.  It’s important to remember that a leader is “always on a stage” and even just one reactive and unprofessional outburst can adversely impact one’s credibility.  So how can a leader find their center under stress?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Stop and notice.  The most important thing you can do to get “unhooked” is to shine the light on what’s happening to you.  Your body wants to move towards or away from the perceived threat, so interrupt the instinct by forcing stillness.
  2. Get out of your head and into your body.  Your thoughts about this individual are sparking the emotional reaction.  Thus, you need to get out of your head’s incessant replaying the past event and anticipation of what might be in the future.  Noticing and then purposefully pacing your breath is perhaps the best way to bring yourself back to the present and regain control.
  3. Ground yourself.  The mind and body are intimately connected.  Thus, if your mind is currently driving your body’s reaction, then it makes sense that shifting the body might conversely change the mind.  Hence, sit up straight with the small of your back against the seat.  Plant your feet firmly into the ground.  Place the palm of your hands on your thighs and keep your chin level. Root yourself into the world and find your calm confidence.
  4. Find your center.  Now that you are ready to be the leader that is needed in this moment, it’s time to assess your options for action.  Yet, mindset is an important part of this process.  If you are not careful, your thoughts might quickly spin you up again into a state of being “hooked.”  Thus, first ask yourself, ” What am I grateful for in this world?”  This can be a powerful question to keep our head out of the clouds and emotions positive.  Then remember that there are few things in this world that we can control, and many things that we cannot.  Often the one and only thing that we have complete control over is our own behavior. It’s important to note that whatever the course of action you choose to take, it should be delivered from a service-based leadership mentality and executed with humility.

Finally, don’t wait until the next time you get “hooked” to try this out.  Returning to a centered presence is a highly complex and challenging skill for a leader to master.  It takes a lot of practice in each of these skill subsets to pull it all together, particularly when under stress.  Yet, it’s a worthwhile investment!

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