Posts Tagged ‘Leading’

This morning I read a post by Jenny Flintoft in which she offers a great exercise for reflecting on what our heroes can teach us about our aspirations for ourselves. When doing Jenny’s exercise I immediately put Ada Mazza, my mother-in-law, on my list. Now I know a mother-in-law may seem like a rather unusual choice for a hero, but that would only because you don’t know mine.

Why Are Some Heroes “Hidden”?

If you asked her who the head of the family is she would unequivocally say, Sandy, her husband. He is the oldest living man in a family of Sicilian descent. He has clearly provided so much for the family on many levels so this is not to diminish his role in any way. Yet when we think of heroes, or leaders for that matter, we often think of the person who is out front “leading the charge” or the people with the “highest level” positions of authority.

The people who don’t necessarily show up on our radar are those who choose to stay in the background. Yet they lead and inspire us just the same. We sometimes call them the unsung heroes. I call them “hidden” because you would not see them from a surface level view. They are far too busy making everything else work and, in Ada’s case, everyone else’s life work.

More often that not they do not want to be in the spotlight. Yet they are heroes nonetheless and they provide a tremendous amount of leadership.

An Example of What Our Hidden Heroes Provide?

In Ada’s case she sets the tone for every family gathering and every happening. There is no drama around her, only love and gratitude for what we have. She is the most genuinely and consistently positive person I know. She has a level of energy that defies her years and a brightness of spirit that makes you feel instantly welcomed and known. Perhaps that is because she is truly grateful for every little thing in her life.

For the last 2 years she has been the caregiver to her husband who is now in the last stages of cancer. Every time I am alone with him he remarks on how amazing she is and how lucky he is to have her. She does not waver in her positive attitude and gratitude for every last minute she has and whatever help anyone can offer no matter how small.

At one point the only thing they could do together was watch football games. She went out and got “Football for Dummies” so she could enjoy the games with him. This is just one very small example of the way she thinks and approaches life. She is always at work on how to make the best of every situation and how to make every interaction the best for others. She is even now hard at work on a project to honor Sandy’s father by telling his story as an immigrant to this country.

Do you see that as leadership? I certainly do. She continually sets the example for us all through her words and actions.

Today I want to express my love, admiration and appreciation for Ada, my “hidden” hero. For even just one moment I hope that she can appreciate herself for being the leader that she is in our family.

Who is one of your hidden heroes? I’d love to hear about them. And make sure you tell them, too!


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While on the way to catch my plane in San Francisco yesterday I realized I left my cell phone behind. After a moment (or two) of panic I realized this could actually be an interesting experiment. It was.

Throughout the day I noticed I was more interested in and observant of all that was going on around me. I interacted with people more and wondered how many times I have bumped into someone and not even noticed. I wasn’t busy rushing off to a corner to sneak in a quick call or check messages. It was actually a lot more relaxing. I didn’t sit waiting in anticipation during the last few minutes of the flight to turn my phone on the minute the wheels of the plane touched down. Instead I had a great conversation with the person 2 seats over with whom I had barely talked to during the 4 hour flight.

There are More Things to Distract us Now Than Ever Before

While the cell phone can be an incredible tool it is also a terrible distraction. It’s a distraction that can even be deadly. They issue tickets for “driving while distracted”: a poor consolation for the person who got hit. The cell phone is just one of so many distractions we have to deal with throughout the day. Many of us have had to learn to manage an expectation of 24/7 responsiveness. The tools we have to meet that challenge may help make us more efficient, but I am not convinced it makes us more effective.

I would venture to say that we try to do a lot more things while distracted than ever before. The cost in our day to day lives of multi-tasking may not be at the level of life or death. Yet I would like you to consider that the cost could be life or death of another sort. It can cost us the motivation of the people who look to us for leadership slowly blowing out the flame of their passion. It can also cost us mutual trust and respect in our relationships with the people who we count on and who count on us. If you invest just a little more time thinking about this you will likely see many more costs to consider.

5 Signs of Leading While Distracted

Do you or did you ever…

1. Engage in a conversation you have no bandwidth for or interest in at the moment.

2. Listen to the conversation in your head instead of what the other person is saying including that little voice that keeps repeating “I hope they will be done soon”.

3. Get on a conference call and answer e-mails or twitter thinking that since people can’t see you, they won’t know and that it doesn’t really matter anyway.

4. Schedule a meeting and show up unprepared or fail to prepare for someone else’s meeting and show up anyway. (NOTE: A really good reason is not a “free pass”)

5. Allowing a conversation to be interrupted by an electronic device (telephone, computer, blackberry, i-phone, tweetdeck, etc.)

There is No “Good” Excuse for Not Giving Someone Your Full Attention

We can justify these and other distracted behaviors with “well everyone else does it” or “there just aren’t enough hours in a day” or “I’m trying my best”. Those reasons may get us off the hook in our own minds, but there is still a cost to the person/people on the other end. We have all done something like the things in this list. If you are like me you have done every one of them at one time or another. The point is not that we should feel bad about it. We can, however, be more awake so we can be 100% responsible for the impact our actions have on others.

If you are thinking, but I’m not the leader or I hate it when my boss does those things, think again. Anytime people are counting on you is an opportunity to lead, even if it is simply by example. Furthermore, the extent to which we allow others to get away with these behaviors with us harms both our relationship with them and with ourselves. Consider whether the message you are sending through your actions or inaction is one you really want to send.

What is the Solution?

The solution falls into the category of “simple but not always easy”. It is to make a conscious choice to give whomever you are interacting with your full attention. (Hint: The grocery store clerk is NOT less important than your boss in this regard.) It is a choice you have to keep making over and over and in countless situations every day. The hard part can be coming to terms with the cost. The good news is we can definitely get better at it with practice. The better news is we are likely to be grateful for all the things we discover that we have been missing out on.

Perhaps the most significant gift we can give another person in this fast paced world full of distraction is our full attention. It can be just for a moment, but it can make THE difference in whether that interaction has a positive or a negative impact on your relationships and even your results.

What could we all do to get better at giving the gift of our attention?

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When it comes to teaching people to communicate we have historically focused a lot more on effective speaking, writing and presenting than on effective listening. Yet what has you trust someone more: the ability to speak eloquently or the ability to listen so that people actually feel heard? Too much of the former and not enough of the latter is all too often what causes us to label someone that 10 letter word “politician”.

If you buy into the belief that successful leaders engender a high degree of trust, I would argue that listening is a critical skill. It may even be more important than speaking skills. I’ll even suggest that by learning to listen better you will actually become a better speaker, presenter and writer.


1. Prepare for What You Want to Learn, Not Just What You Want to Say

We spend a lot of time preparing for meetings by putting together speaking notes and PowerPoint presentations. Our focus is all too often entirely on us. Whether the meeting is small or very large it is as though we were preparing for a performance with our attention on what we want to say. Yet how many PowerPoint presentations have you fidgeted or even slept through? I don’t sit still well so these are particularly painful for me!

Whether you are preparing for a one on one meeting or a meeting of 100 I suggest you prepare for a conversation not a presentation.

Think first about your audience. What can you contribute to them? What are their burning questions? Then think about how to engage your audience not just talk at them. Consider what you want to learn from the conversation, not just what you want to communicate. Prepare a thought provoking question or two. Great questions have the power to turn a presentation into a great and memorable conversation. When people are engaged their energy rises and attention sharpens.

TIP: Make one of the goals of your next meeting to learn more than the person or people with whom you are speaking.

2. Ask Questions AND Give People Enough Time to Answer:

To be effective at asking questions we have to become comfortable with what I call the “pregnant pause”. When you are asking a question it can feel like an eternity waiting for someone to answer. The bigger the group the longer that pause can be. It is uncomfortable and our tendency is to want to jump in and fill the space.

Remember that people may need a few minutes to think about your question so they can formulate an answer. And as group size increases the discomfort for many people to actually answer your question also increases. They may need even a little more time to muster up the courage or to formulate their answer so they can speak confidently.

TIPS: Prepare a question other than “do you have any questions?” for the end of what you have to say or present.

Focus on taking 3-5 slow deep breaths after you ask a question (remember to keep eye contact though or you can get so relaxed people think you checked out!).

3. Ensure People Know You Heard Them (and that you hear more).

Nodding your head is a helpful way to let someone know you are listening, but unfortunately we can nod and not hear a thing they said. And they know it, or at least they feel it. You actually have to speak before someone really knows you were listening. You can do that with phrases like “I understand”, “uh huh”, etc. You know the drill. But if you really want someone to know you heard them, try giving them back what you heard.

This is not about being a parrot. It’s about saying in your own words what you got out of what they said, or what you will do as a result of what they said, or asking a relevant question. That is the only way we can ever be sure that we actually understood what was said.

Do we hear what people say or do we hear what we think they said?

We are interpretation machines. We listen through the filters of our personal beliefs, knowledge and experience. All too often we don’t hear what people have actually said, or tried to communicate anyway, even though we think we did. This is a significant cause of mis-communication. Practice this and not only will people feel heard by you, but you will actually start hearing more of what they are saying. I can guarantee you will have fewer communications breakdowns all around if you get really good at this.

TIP: If you don’t feel like you are being heard you are probably not listening.

Any questions?

,,,just kidding!

What else do you need to know or understand to feel confident that you can execute these steps?

Which one of these is the most challenging for you?

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No I am not talking about the theory that red cars get more tickets or have more accidents. Although that is a theory, there actually seems to be little evidence to support it. Besides, the question of whether they do or not is not as interesting to me as why they might. Perhaps it is because of their color alone. Then again, maybe the hype about red cars made them more noticeable. Why do we notice one thing and miss something else entirely? That is what I am talking about.

Pontiac Grand Am (no it's not a 1985 model)

Pontiac Grand Am (no it's not a 1985 model)

When I graduated from college I bought a red Pontiac Grand Am. And from then on I noticed two things while driving around: (1) how many red cars were on the road, and (2) how many Grand Am’s there were of all colors. We notice things that we have some personal connection to, whether that connection is based on our experience, our desires, our knowledge, or something else. Here’s why: because everything we have learned and experienced creates the context or lens through which we relate to the world. It shapes what we pay attention to amidst the daily onslaught of signals and information. It even shapes what we are capable of seeing or observing.

Creating a Simple Context for Observing Leadership in Action

That is why I believe it is so important to create a context for leadership that enables you to see it in action. If our context for leading is limited to grand gestures like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech we will miss leadership in its simplest, most elemental form. If we want to be able to seize an opportunity to act as a leader in any given moment we must be able to perceive the moments of opportunities or they will pass by unnoticed like all the cars you drive by every day, but don’t really see. And if we cannot see leadership in the actions of others how will we be able to recognize it in ourselves?

The challenge here is to define leadership in action and in a way that it can be recognized by anyone. Because if you can recognize it you have access to doing it and to teaching others to lead as well. My equivalent of a “Red Car” for leadership is this: speaking up, stepping up and/or standing up for something you are committed to.

A Recent Example…

Danny Brown
posted an entry on Twitter on January 31st offering a free press release to the first 50 people donating $20 for his 12 for 12k fundraising challenge.

True, he happens to be the leader of this initiative. But the point is anyone could have done something similar – it was as simple as posting a 140 character “tweet”.

Your turn…

What acts of leadership have you observed? If none come to mind start looking for the “Red Car” and come back to tell us about what you observed. And please don’t worry about getting it right. We will all learn from looking at acts of leadership through your eyes.

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Here’s one interpretation of what a moment of courage feels like and the choice our courage provides.

Of one thing I am certain: anyone reading this has already had moments like this. May you have many more in your lifetime. In fact, there’s probably a lot of people who are counting on it!

Photo by ©Henie

Photo by Henie


Your heart beats,
louder and louder, faster and faster.
You feel its echo as if it were the hammer
beating the drum in your ears.
The moment is seemingly endless.
You’ve been here before.
This is the moment when
courage meets reasonability;
When it takes courage
to bring commitment to life
lest it be snuffed out.
Perhaps it’s courage that brings forth these moments,
the power that propels us past the edge of what we know,
and the source of our choice to stay there
moment by moment.

P.S Thank you Henie for the great picture to go with the poem! Visit Henie’s blog for more wonderful photos and words of inspiration and wisdom at http://www.HennArtOnline.com

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True courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to proceed in spite of it.–Unknown

Leading can be simple. And it is not always easy. Sometimes just the thought of doing something as simple as raising your hand can make your heart race uncontrollably. It did for me back in school and at times it still does. What do we fear? After all, raising your hand is not usually a matter of life or death. Mostly I think we fear being embarrassed or even humiliated. What if I say the wrong thing? What if people laugh at me? What if my boss doesn’t like what I said? We fear losing our jobs. We fear being alienated from the group in some way. Perhaps the reason more people cite their fear of public speaking as stronger than their fear of death is because we actually have to live with what comes next.

We’ve all had those moments, which is probably why the fear can be so intense now. Some of us have had more of them than others. Yet it only takes one experience to embed the memory of how awful it feels deep into our souls. We need not feel bad about our fear though. Believe it or not there was a time in human history when being shunned from your group meant almost certain death. In today’s technology driven world we forget that we are social creatures who depend on each other for our survival. So perhaps there is more to this fear we think. It may even be coded into our DNA. Of one thing I am certain; it is real and it stops us.


The question is not “how can you eliminate the fear?” We can’t. The question is “what will it take for me to transcend my fear, to be willing to take the risk despite how scary it feels right now?” True, embarrassing moments, even bad things, might happen if we were to speak up, step up or stand up. Yet it is also true that the most amazing things could happen. We often think that the people who are willing to take that risk can take it because they have more confidence, they have more power or authority, they have less to lose, etc. Essentially we believe they must have something we do not. Hence they can and we cannot. I believe the only thing that separates the people who choose to lead from the people who do not is this: a reason that makes taking that risk far more compelling than their fear.

So what do you care about enough that could be more compelling than your fear?
What difference do you want to make that could transform that moment of fear into a moment of exhilaration? It is not the enormity of the risk that matters. It is the willingness to take a risk, even a small one, to step outside your comfort zone for the sake of something that really matters to you. We all have fear, but will we let fear have us? Will we let that feeling of fear prevent us from creating the community, the workplace, the life or even the world we want?

I call those moments when your commitment to something inspires you to transcend your fear a “moment of courage”. You’ve already had these moments in your life. Many of them were probably unexpected. You don’t have to plan for them. Simply be on the lookout for an opportunity to act from your commitments in spite of your fear. Just remember to breathe…

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When something goes wrong we were trained to ask the question “Who is responsible?”. As a kid we learned to either run and hide when we heard that phrase or respond quickly with “It wasn’t me, it was _____” to save ourselves from punishment. Our parents and teachers worked hard to help us learn to take responsibility rather than run and hide or blame others, but didn’t that usually mean owning up to having done something wrong or taking the blame?

So is it any wonder we still react in similar ways with similar feelings when something isn’t going the way we planned? What about when our boss (or anyone we perceive as having power over us) is unhappy with what’s going on? Perhaps it’s not unlike how we feel when we see a cop in the rear view mirror even if we are not speeding. Somehow we still get that pit in our stomachs!

On the other side of this conversation are those who have actually done harm to us and really are to blame for it. There is not a person alive who has not been victimized in some way small or big in their lifetime. By victimized I mean being harmed by another. We have learned to defend ourselves and perhaps even seek to bring the guilty parties to justice in some way.


Unfortunately over time we have turned the reaction of “it’s them” into a practice of looking for who is to blame whenever the going gets tough. It’s not just a personal practice, it has become a cultural one. And it is costing us all in a big way.

When we ask the question “who is responsible/to blame?” we are talking about the past. We cannot change what happened and spending too time and energy on that conversation is a waste of time unless of course your purpose is to bring someone to justice. And we do waste a lot of time, not to mention energy, in that conversation. Sure it can be helpful to understand what went wrong, what mistakes we made, etc. so we can learn and perhaps prevent the problem from happening again. The key word here is “perhaps” because the complexity of our problems and speed of change today have reduced the value of analysis in many cases. There is a really good reason why the phrase “analysis paralysis” emerged in business conversation. Besides, fixing one problem often just illuminates another one. It’s a never ending cycle that doesn’t necessarily move us forward.

Yet there is a better far more empowering way to relate to the world, to our world, with all of its warts and problems. We can stop asking the question “who is to blame” and start asking the question “what could I/we do now?”. We can start thinking from a context of it is up to me, whatever “it” may be, rather than it is up to them. In doing so we take our focus off of the past we cannot change and put in on the future where we can actually make a difference. We also take our power back as individuals who can make a difference. Big or small, it all matters when it comes to our future.


“It’s up to me” is the fundamental context for leadership. One very simple way to identify possible acts of leadership you could take in any situation is to ask yourself the question “what could I do now to make a difference?” Leaders take personal responsibility for themselves and the world around them.

A key message from President Obama’s Inaugural Address yesterday was taking back responsibility for ourselves and for our country. This is our country and its future is up to us. But whether it is about your country, your company, your work group, your family or even yourself, it has to be even more personal than that for us to act. It must be up to me, the person who I see when I look in the mirror. So this is one case where taking things personally is highly recommended and empowering!

If I told you to go commit a “Random Act of Kindness” today you would likely immediately sense the kind of opportunities to look for. It would be simple and easy. Consider you can do the same thing when it comes to leadership. Committing an “Act of Leadership” can be just as simple as committing an act of kindness. It may take a bit more courage, but I assure you it can be just as satisfying.

YOUR MISSION FOR TODAY… should you choose to accept it is to commit a Random Act of Leadership. And don’t forget to tell us about it so we can all learn and encourage each other to keep going.

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