Connect with Us

Let Us Help You!

Request a FREELeadership Consultation

BLOG: Extraordinary Leadership and High Functioning Teams

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Taking Stock of My Career Development

"All I want for the Christmas/Hanukkah/holidays is ________________."

career development

For many of us, this is the time of year to run around like crazy looking for gifts for those we love. We may drive ourselves senseless looking for the perfect gift for our spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, son or daughter, or life-long friend.

To others, service and helping out those less fortunate may be the best way for us to "get in the spirit of the holidays." We may find real joy in shopping for a deserving family struggling to make ends meet, helping to create a holiday experience, that exceeds the family's wildest dreams. 

All this attention on gifting for others is good for the soul and while it can be commercial, stressful and down-right challenging, just simply taking time off to be with those we love remains a wonderful way to reconnect and celebrate this spirit-filled time of year. 

And yet, as we round the bend past the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the holidays, it's equally important that we begin planning for taking stock in what's happening with our careers. Career development is no longer about waiting to see what happens at the performance review time (delivered once or maybe twice a year).career development

Career development is about building a campaign that leverages a person's skills, strengths, talents, hopes and dreams and vets those against the company's landscape, culture and your boss/manager's opinion of your future potential. And, while your manager's view of where you are headed matters, it falls on you to make sure you are asking for what you need to develop a true career development plan that allows your career to blossom and grow. 

Rather than head into 2015 with the same old approach to waiting to see what happens with your career, take the initiative and start to see your career development as something you can optimize.

The 4 biggest things you can do to change the course:

  1. Know where you currently stand. Ask your boss, peers, clients, friends and family for feedback on how they see you as a leader. Ask them for the specific things you do well and what you can do to be an even better leader in the future. 
  2. Know where you want to focus you career development strategy by taking part in our survey on: THE PERFECT CAREER STOCKING: LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AREAS OF FOCUS 
    • I need a vision of where I can go in my career
    • I want to inspire others to follow me and set their own visions
    • I want to increase my confidence level in my strengths and in my opportunity areas so I am ready for the next role
    • I want a senior leader sponsor me at work
    • I want to increase my executive presence
    • I want to influence others, becoming known as someone who makes things happen at work
    • I want to develop my public speaking and writing skills
    • I want to become more adept at tough conversation
  3. Know what role you want next, but be specific and open (sometimes others see potential we don't see.) 
  4. Know the importance of meeting regularly with your boss/HR. This requires you to do some "heavy lifting" but it is the ideal way to highlight all the specific things you are doing to ramp up your career development and share the specifics of your success by goal. Seek feedback on progress and take heed on the feedback you are given. 

career developmentWill it be easy? No? Are the stakes high? Sure, but complaining about a lack of promotion has never been more prevalent for some leaders in middle management roles. In the familiar words from the Rolling Stones, putting responsibility for success or failure on our shoulders is often the way we finally get what we need.

 "No, you can't always get what you want
No, you can't always get what you want
No, you can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need"

Read more:  Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want Lyrics | MetroLyrics 








Extraordinary Leadership: What Does it Take To Be Great?

"Great and good are seldom the same man." -Winston Churchill

cc_extraordinary_leadershipGreat. Extraordinary. A stand-out person, one who leads at a higher level. A man or women who others want to follow. A person who shows they care. A leader who can make decisions, set direction, inspire others with a strong vision for the future, while executing on the needed deliverables. 

When you hear the word great, and you think about leadership, what comes to mind for you?

After several years at Macy's as a senior leader myself and after countless leadership training sessions with thousands of leaders in a variety of industries, when we ask people who was the greatest leader they have ever worked for, here's what we hear:

  • "The thing about this guy was he/she pushed me, believed in me, when others didn't."

  • "I remember my best boss to this day, she was tough and some of her feedback was hard to hear, but she was so fair and she had this way of making me feel really valued, I would have followed her any where."

  • "He/she had an impact on everyone, their ability to rally people to the new changes needed was amazing."

  • "My best boss--he/she is still a large part of who I am and what I became, I still call them, and I have modeled by leadership style around theirs."

  • "This person called me and asked me to take this role that I just knew I should turn down-- I wasn't ready-- but they insisted I was, and that was the real turning point in my career." 

It doesn't matter where we have done this training exercise, the results are always the same. Extraordinary leaders tend to do 5 things better than their peers:

  1. cc_extraordinary_leadershipThey have a vision. Usually a positive one conveyed with confidence about the future and where the business is going and how their followers or direct reports are part of it. This vision fills others with hope, and understanding of "why" others are part of it helps to galvanize the vision becoming reality. 
  2. They lead with confidence--even in the face of adversity, bad business, or economic downturns. Their steady flow of belief calms down the anxiety in others so that they can do their work with confidence and the security of feeling like things can and will get better. 
  3. They build powerful networks to help others get work done more effectively, not just because they want to be know as "powerful". They volunteer to connect others. They get the notion that work has gotten more complex and the person who has the best networks for getting work accomplished more efficiently will emerge as a person more valued in the organization. They don't see the need for silos, they would rather seek collaboration with others. 
  4. They have a strong set of communication and people skills. People know where they stand. And, they set out to communicate to improve things: performance, people development, vision or strategy. They are not afraid to give direct feedback or hold someone accountable because they know, these things are the best ways to invest in others. They are also just as apt to seek feedback for how they can improve and get better. 
  5. They believe in their team. And, as the team leader they are willing to invest in higher team performance. They know it takes a lot to build trust, engage in healthy conflict, gain commitment to the team goals, hold team members accountable and drive for results. 

Download our extraordinary leadership audit and see where you stand. And, please feel free to share your best boss ever story, we would love to hear from you!

Download our Free Leadership Assessment

Coaching Skills for Leaders: It's Harder Than You Think


cc_coaching_skills_for_leadersThese days, it seems like a lot of our clients want their employees to know how to coach. They throw words around like "we want a coaching culture" or "our people need coaching skills if they want to lead today's talent more effectively".

Part of this desire is born out of hunger for an organization where leaders are less about telling and more about asking. And, that is a good thing. Certainly, leaders with growing job responsibilities are looking for talent who can step up and take on more responsibility.

Tired of having to have all the answers, the enlightened leaders and their organizations want to have their direct reports think for themselves, sometimes making mistakes but gaining valuable experience in the learning about their own capabilities. Most of the time, teaching coaching skills for leaders boils down to teaching and training around 2 things:

  • A supreme understanding of the importance of listening, truly listening
  • An "aha" appreciation for asking questions that flow from the conversation

Just last week, we were working with a client to train a group of their sales leaders. Now this bunch was pretty convinced they already knew how to coach! One of the participants shared with us that he simply kept asking questions until the person came around to the answer he was looking for and voilà, great coaching!cc coaching skills for leaders 001

Because we wanted to show him what coaching really looked like, we invited him up so that we could coach him in a demonstration in front of the room. After the 3 minute demo was finished, he marveled at the the fact that "all the answers and the work had come from him and we asked questions that flowed from what he said." He truly had no idea what coaching looked like. 

In our work training thousands of leaders we see too many people who believe coaching is:

  • Giving advice
  • Having preconceived questions
  • Waiting for the person being coached to arrive at the "right" answer
  • Something that takes too long
  • Too soft

We are not surprised that companies want coaching skills for leaders. We are also not surprised that most companies say they want to invest in their leaders acquiring the skill set. BUT, they usually want a recommended 2-4 days of training to get crunched into 1 day. 

cc coaching skills for leaders 002If this happens at your company, there still may be hope. Even one day of training offers a great opportunity for your leaders to start to gain appreciation and skills around better listening and asking effective questions. But really the most important thing you can do, is get your senior leaders to really take on the coaching skills and framework being used in these training programs. Walk the halls and start demonstrating what it means to:

  • Ask a question and truly wait for the answer
  • Role model humility and not having all the answers
  • Giving timely feedback that is future focused

Coaching is not as easy as it sounds and it does take skill and practice to unlearn the tendency to direct or give people the answers. But taking the time to learn to coach, may be one of the best investments you ever make. 

Examine YourCoaching Ability


New Leader Onboarding: Time to Go Back to School

"Everyone and everything around you is your teacher."- Ken Keyes, Jr

cc_new_leader_onboardingIt's that time again, time when the kids go back to school. With both of my boys now in high school, this is not a new drill for me. Yet, every year is different. There are new teachers, new students, new attitudes, and new chances to learn. For most kids, there's an excitement to going back to school—a sense of hope and optimism. And being new at something can also make one vulnerable—Will I make friends? Will I like my history teacher? Will I have any classes with my best friend? Will I get teased?

Part of the vulnerability is realizing that you are about to do or be something you have never been. Kids simply don't know what it means to be a senior or a freshman or a sophomore because they have never been one. It's really awesome to think about it. And, that's why my husband and I couldn't wait to see our boys that evening after their first day. cc_new_leader_onboarding

"Well, how did it go? Do you like your teachers? Is so and so in any of your classes? Where's your locker? Was it easy to get to your classes? Was it fun? So, how do you rate the day, on a scale of 1-10?"

They both gave it an "8". Not bad, after all it is high school, so that's probably a 9/10 for most people!

Because I work with companies around leadership development practices that engage their talent, I started to think about back to school and the correlation a new leader feels with joining a new organization. What would it take for a company to receive an 8, 9 or 10 from a new leader on the first day?

Going back to school is a lot like onboarding a new leader, but you really need the following for the day to be a stand-out for your new talent:

  • The boss is wonderful: Just like the right teacher can really bring out the best in a student if the student is willing to learn, the right boss is essential. This boss couldn't wait to greet the new talent. He/she set expectations and made the new leader feel welcome. He encouraged them to ask questions and made himself/herself available. 
  • cc_new_leader_onboardingThey get to do something useful day one: It could be something small, but they leave the first day believing they contributed. 
  • The culture is a good fit: Not every student is a good fit at every school; sometimes a student's needs are best suited elsewhere. This is probably one of the most overlooked criteria to a new leader's success. Have you made sure this leader will be a success? Were you honest about what it takes to be successful?
  • They feel really welcomed: Just like it is not unusual to see the school hold a breakfast or a team-building activity on the first day of school, your new hire feels the love the minute you arrive. They know where their office is and have the supplies/tools to be productive on day one. People stop by to say hi or welcome them to the company.
  • The role is clear and the role is aligned his/her skills: Students are not asked to demonstrate knowledge of Algebra II until after they complete Algebra I in school, so hopefully, your new hire feels the job makes the most of the talents and skills they do have. The job description was accurate and expectations are understood.
Does your company make it easy for new talent to feel good about joining the company? Is the new leader onboarding process exciting and fun for those making the decision to work for you? What can you do to help a new colleague or leader feel welcome?
"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." - John Wooden
Request a FREELeadership Consultation

Finding Meaning In A Complicated World


cc work life balance 001I don't know about you, but some days I wake up and think, is this it? Am I doing this thing called life right? And, if I am how come I feel so stressed and tired all the time? Why do things feel so hard? When did it all get so complicated and why is it so hard to find the right work life balance? I am always running from project to project, yet I feel like I never have what I need to show for it. 

I was in the grocery store the other day to pick up some peanut butter (with two teenage boys at home, we go through a lot of the stuff), and I thought when did this happen? There are now well over 40 different peanut butters: extra crunchy, crunchy, smooth, whipped, organic, sugar-free, salt-free, extra protein, old-fashioned, honey enriched and so on from an assortment of brands I knew and some I had never heard of. Gone were the days of Skippy, Jif and Peter Pan dominating the category and battling it out. I must have stood there for ten minutes pondering my options. Settling on a private brand, organic version of sugar free, smooth peanut butter took time, but had I really accomplished anything? Would my teenagers really thank me for choosing organic over conventional or even appreciate the deliberation it took?

I went home from the store and sat down to read the New York Times article on "Why You Hate Work", that highlights what we've been hearing the past few years about employee engagement levels and it hit me. Our lack of engagement at work has a lot in common with picking out a jar of peanut butter:

  • It's all gotten way too complicated: roles aren't clear, workloads are heavier than ever, and technology hasn't made it easier but harder
  • Decisions take a long time to make as a result of a high level of data and once we make them, we second guess them (i.e. Should I have gone with the low sugar versus the no sugar from the private brand or from Jif?)
  • We no longer feel any connection to the mission, vision or values of the company because we really don't understand how that lines up with who we are
cc huffington thriveSo in my response to the malaise and apathy I have been feeling as of late, I decided to crack the book my boys and my husband gave me for Mother's Day. Arianna Huffington's book "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder." Before you begin to think, I am into mindfulness, yoga and a host of other propensities espoused to the writer, let me assure you, that has not been the case. But, this book is so much more than that, it has offered me (and thousands of others- the book is ranked #109 on Amazon) a way to put into perspective what I am feeling about my life and my work.

Things are too complicated:

  • We are too sleep deprived, too dependent on technology, too stressed, too anxious
  • We are working too long, too hard and without an answer to the reason why
  • We are in need of a movement to help us slow down, re-engage, find meaning, and time to play
  • We have lost our way as it relates to the need to make more, do more, keep up, stay current, compete and it is truly costing us 
It is high time, we took the time to re-commit ourselves to having a life that matters; one with meaning and purpose where we do not feel the need to be anything but our best selves capable of bringing out the best and brightest in others. 

I just hope the next time I go to buy peanut butter, I keep these lessons top of mind!

“Making money and doing good in the world are not mutually exclusive.” -Arianna Huffington

View our "Tough Talk" book launch video


We had a blast celebrating with friends, colleagues, and clients the publication of our new book, "Tough Talk: Ten Tips for Disarming Difficult Conversations". It was gratifying to us to see that our passion to help organizations maintain creative focus by confronting potential derailers early is embraced by so many thoughtful, smart and savvy leaders. Enjoy this one minute salute to the evening and creative solutions!

Hope is a Strategy

We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.” –John Green

cc_employee_engagementJust last week, I reconnected with a past client who had recently left a top post. Brought to a new company with much fanfare and anticipated success, he left amid rumblings of his incompetence and struggling business results. This high flyer, who had enjoyed a serious track record of past success, met up with a culture that claimed to be innovative and dynamic, but showed itself to be much more risk averse and skeptical of outsiders.

Having breakfast together some four months after the departure, I marveled at just how fabulous this leader looked. He laughed and joked and spoke about his health and happiness in a way I hadn't heard from him in the last year. He looked better, sounded better, and had dropped weight. He wasn't even looking for a job (thanks to a nice severance package). He shared with me that the whole experience had left him with a new perspective. He swore his next job would be scrutinized with a more thorough examination of the culture, the people and the mission. He told me he would never work again in a hopeless environment devoid of respect and meaning—even if that meant taking a lesser role or changing course. 

The fact is this story is not an isolated one. We have the pleasure of working with senior executives in mid-size to large organizations and lately we've noticed a pattern of behavior that we find troubling: hopeless resignation. This trend bears out when we read about employee engagement scores registering a mere 30% of workers being actively engaged. And, a Pricewaterhouse Coopers Saratoga practice study just recently reported that top talent is now voluntarily leaving at the highest rate seen in the last 10 years, up to 6% in 2013 versus 5% in 2012. 

So what's happening here? Some might argue that the economic downturn has recovered enough for high performers to feel like they can take some risks. Or, one could point towards the continuing war for great talent being a driver of voluntary turnover. As to the employee engagement scores, while the numbers are bad, they are not that different than they have been the last few years. Yet, something feels different. We hear a lot of leaders lamenting about:

  • The feeling that some things will never change

  • The feeling that some people will never change

  • The fact that people are working harder than ever and with fewer resources

  • The fact that talented leaders were passed over for a promotion

  • The latest change initiative failure

  • The poor results with the new product

  • The company culture

  • The stifling power struggles 

  • The fact and feeling that the leaders at the top have no clue what is happening with the employees at the bottom, closest to the customer

  • The fact that bad behavior—from bullying to lying and scheming—is rewarded as long as the leader produces results

Against the backdrop of this dialog, we look to Amazon's top 5 business books and discover that positioning hope, leveraging strengths and overcoming obstacles are best sellers. "Strength Finders" by Tom Rath, a book about the power in leveraging the best things about ourselves continues its position of dominance at #1.

The book makes the point over and over again, that most managers and organizations will go out of their way to have a leader work on their "opportunities" or weaknesses. And, while Rath certainly believes we all need to work on what isn't working, he brilliantly points out that overcoming our shortcomings is often done best by leveraging our strengths. Furthermore, he makes the point, we aren't all supposed to be great at everything. So embrace that you are more analytical, while your peer may be more strategic, that will help both of you successfully contribute to the work.

New to the best seller list, weighing at #4 is Ryan Holiday's recently published "The Obstacles in the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph." This book makes the case through endless examples of past leaders who have turned difficult times into opportunities to grow and thrive. And, finally #5 "Profit from the Positive" by Margaret Greenberg offers up a new slant on how positive psychology tools can impact the work environment for the better and drive bottom line profits.

Perhaps it's in the times of struggle when we feel most hopeless that we truly learn to tap into hope. We find out what's most important to us and we learn what's most valued. In this way, we uncover the truth about our circumstances, learning that choosing hope-- by selecting the right cultural fit, or the values we hold most dear or the books we read-- is a valid uplifting and defining strategy. 
They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” -- Tom Bodett

Difficult Conversations: Negotiations


cc_tough_talk_book_tipsI can still remember the moment when I realized two male peers were making 20% more than I was despite our roles, responsibilities and time in our jobs being almost identical. The company had just handed out our expected United Way contributions and the HR director made the mistake of saying the number on our forms was based on 5% of our annual salaries. Since my male peers were sitting beside me, it was not hard to see that my contribution was lower than theirs. I quickly did the math in my head. Now what? Sure, I had suspected they might be making more but now I knew.

I didn’t necessarily handle the issue as I would have liked. I remember talking with my boss about it and letting my emotions get the best of me as he tried to explain the reasoning.

Indeed research from Stanford Business School and Margaret Neale, confirms that women can leave as much as $1-$1.5 million of salary on the table simply because they do not like to negotiate for themselves. The same research reveals women are good negotiators, ironically, when they negotiate for others! But women aren’t the only ones who may hate to negotiate. Many of us are afraid to ask for what we want because we fear it will lead to loss of job, disappointment from our boss, conflict or more work! Those who are more conflict averse may shy away from the whole unpleasantness of asking for something more—even when they deserve it.

Our passion for helping leaders grapple with this issue is why we wrote the book, Tough Talk: Ten Tips for Disarming Difficult Conversations. Our work inside numerous organizations with thousands of leaders at all levels shows there are 3 keys to getting what you want in negotiations:

  • Prepare for the conversation- the single most important thing to do before you sit down to have the conversation. Download our easy to use prep sheet. Taking time to look at the facts from all angles helps you assess the right way to approach the conversation calmly and in control.
  • Know what you are worth- understanding how your role contributes to the bottom line of an organization is vitally important. And, understanding what the marketplace is willing to pay is just as crucial. A website like is a great place to start.
  • Make things happen, deliver results- and find a way to claim your accomplishments. Set up quarterly meetings with your boss to review your results and opportunities. We see too many people still hoping their boss will notice how strong their performance is and give them the raise or the new promotion.

Eventually, I did get the salary adjustment I asked my boss for and the experience really helped me negotiate a new promotion the following year.  While it was shocking to get the proof of what I was being paid relative to my peers, it really did help me to know my worth.

Do you find it difficult to know what you are worth at work? We would love to hear you share your most successful negotiation story with us.

Difficult Conversations: Peer-to-Peer Accountability


cc tough talk tips 003

You could have heard a pin drop. Someone finally told John he wasn't pulling his weight that he had missed the deadline again causing the whole team to suffer. Mary was clearly disturbed, so much so that she blurted out, "do your job, so the rest of us can do ours." John was shocked, but stammered how "sorry he was". The team leader, Bill, took the opportunity to sit down and talk about roles and responsibilities and while things were painfully stilted for a few minutes, it got the whole team talking. 

This team had been through the fire together and they valued forthrightness and honesty. As a matter of fact, people had been dreading saying something to John because they all liked him so much. Mary had the courage to act on her frustration for her own sake and the good of the team. She was practicing the art of "peer to peer" accountability.

How safe is it for you to speak up at work? Amy C. Edmonson introduced the concept team psychological safety back in 1999 as a way to measure the safety level that exists on the team as a unit. What she found was fascinating, the more comfortable people are at speaking up is in direct relationship to how this behavior is treated on the team. If people tend to get their hands slapped for voicing differing opinions or calling out something they believe is wrong, over time the whole team will feel this way--even if it never happened to them specifically.

We know these conversations can be difficult. We just wish there was a way to support more Marys out there. 

Be inspired to conduct your own tough talk. Learn more about the different types of difficult conversations in the workplace with tips and strategies for preparing for them in the new book, Tough Talk, or download a free chapter. See additional resources to help you prepare for your tough talk in the workplace.

Thorns to Roses Inspires a Book about Difficult Conversations

"We complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."- Abraham Lincoln

cc_tough_talk_bookLast November, we had the pleasure of delivering a keynote and panel discussion at the WAVE annual event for trailblazing women in corporate America. WAVE stands for Women Adding Value & Excellence. This three-year-old volunteer organization is the brainchild of Susan Baxley of Teradata and Christine Tombelesi of GE. The title for the event: The Conversation - From Thorns to Roses: How People Deal with Critical Conversations was a regular request from leaders in the organization. The event was held at the UPS headquarters, with the keynote immediately followed by a lively panel discussion with four spectacular women representing UPS, W.W. Grainger, GE Capital, and Google.

These four leaders shared personal stories and insights the audience found both practical and revealing. One of them confessed that, in fact, early in her career, she was terrible at this skill but gained confidence in tackling the most difficult of conversations through practice and preparation.

After the event, we shared our Difficult Conversation prep sheet and were surprised by the number of people who downloaded the form and wrote us notes or emails thanking us for the tool. 

Realizing we were onto to something, we began to ask about the most common conversations people struggle with at work. After collecting the data from the poll and having several subsequent interviews with clients around their angst with difficult conversations, we sat down to craft a practical book that offered solutions to both individuals and organizations struggling to disarm difficult conversations at work.

In April 2014, we published our first book, Tough Talk: 10 Tips for Disarming Difficult Conversations.

We are off to a terrific start with our first book, with several companies and organizations asking us to keynote or deliver a workshop on difficult conversations in the workplace. We are delighted we listened to the wisdom of our clients. There are too many difficult conversations in today's work environments and we are hoping to do our part to change that for the better.

Download Free Chapter

All Posts

Subscribe to receive email alerts when a new blog post is published

Your email:

Let Us Help You!

HR Leaders:Get FREE Help