The Lead Yourself First Blog

How to tell people at work what you really think of them

ID-10054899Act One Scene One:  Learning a brand new way of implementing: “Don’t get mad, get even.”

During a recent training session regarding workplace relationships, I asked attendees to think of a time when a co-worker, client or manager’s words left them absolutely speechless.  Shock waves filled the room as participants willingly shared their stories. One example in particular threw everyone for a loop. As one of the attendees revealed the details of an encounter with a VP, the workshop discussion quickly heated up as people chimed in with their best comebacks. The collective “you have got to be kidding” sentiment made me think about the importance of knowing how to respond professionally to a disparaging remark in order to keep one’s credibility and composure, as well managing as the ramifications of unpleasant business interactions spiralling out of control.

What were the words that left everyone aghast? Continue reading “How to tell people at work what you really think of them”

Drama in the workplace: Are you ready and willing to end it now?

Understanding and managing drama in the workplace is a concern shared by leaders and individuals alike. Not only is it emotionally draining, the cost and consequences cannot be understated. In fact, one of the key reasons for soaring levels of workplace disengagement links directly to the existence of dysfunctional workplace relationships.

Drama occurs because we are emotional beings. We have a desire for self-expression and unfortunately, due to stress and overwhelm, we all have the capacity to display the worst version of ourselves from time to time. However, some of our colleagues and managers not only HAVE problems, they ARE problems. And many of them don’t realize the effect of their theatrics and emotional outbursts because they are operating in a state of oblivion…constantly reacting to workplace pressures, personality triggers or stressors that are occurring in their personal and professional lives, with little awareness of the impact of such behaviours on a larger scale.

The big questions that demands answers are these: Why does drama persist and why does it escalate? Here are five explanations:

1. At a very basic level, many people actual enjoy the show…either as a participant or a spectator. After all, life would be pretty dull and work would be very boring if there were no drama; nothing to gossip about? Let’s be honest, many of us willingly contribute to the juiciness of a good story by partaking in the gossip in the first place, even if we don’t spread it ourselves.

2. Drama also manifests on a regular basis because accountability isn’t taught or understood. It is often easier to blame others and share in the misery rather than accept responsibility, even if we do not know all the facts. Pointing the finger in the other direction requires very little effort.

3. Leaders don’t want to, or don’t know how to deal with it. This is one of the most common workplace demotivators. Sadly, a lack of action builds resentment amongst those who desperately want their leadership to deal with these people issues. As a result, those who once felt engaged and happy will slowly but surely find that the dysfunctional atmosphere taking a toll on their level of performance and satisfaction.

4. Organizations may invest in core technical skills or training, however the interpersonal skills that are essential when it comes to managing drama and conflict are lacking. Practicing outstanding communication skills in the face of such challenges can make the world of difference, not only to one’s peace of mind, but to the organization’s bottom line. When people feel disengaged and disconnected, when they do not feel inclined to express their concerns, absenteeism increases, turnover escalates and business declines as a result.

5. High morale is a low priority. At all levels, everyone feels the increasing pressure of managing their daily workload. As a result, paying attention to the human element slowly becomes neglected. Yet, this is precisely the issue that necessitates the greatest consideration. In addition, it is fascinating to note this is the one area that is within an organization’s control: the atmosphere within its own walls.

Based in Vancouver, Canada, Michelle Ray is a leadership expert who helps individuals and organizations succeed and take the lead. Her keynote presentation and workshop: No More Drama! How to Build High Engagement, High Morale and a Happier Workplace will be offered as a one-hour, complimentary webinar on June 27.

Leadership Values – Crisis or Opportunity

“The ideal leader is the servant of all – able to display a disarming humility, without the loss of authority”

…Col. Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop, Australian Hero, Leader Extraordinaire

Not a day passes without a reference to a leader’s fall from grace somewhere on the planet.  News regarding the behaviours of a political despot, government official or corporate executive’s transgressions spark continued outrage from a world that seems to relish sensationalism, no matter how ugly or scandalous. Headlines laden with allegations of misdemeanours that include misappropriated use of company or government expense accounts, fraudulent spending of tax payer funds, drug addiction, marital affairs, lies and corruption of some form or another continue to demand our attention. When confronted with their assortment of character flaws, denial of the truth by these leaders seems to be the easier option.

The frequency of prominent public figures coming under scrutiny is nothing new.  The underlying concern is the spectacle that such leaders generate as a result of their questionable activities, as well as society’s reaction.  Their examples should serve notice for us all to examine our own values, as we are indeed the leaders of our own lives. We look to our leaders for inspiration and become profoundly disappointed. Nonetheless, we seem to thrive on the drama of it all. By doing so, are we not condoning their behaviour? The display of deceit by those that we uphold as role models as they dance around the truth defies logic, yet it has become the norm. Therein lies the premise of this article: We are experiencing nothing short of a values crisis. When we witness bad behaviour on the part of our leaders, do we choose to partake in the entertainment factor, or do such examples cause us to reflect on our own standards?

Several months ago when the news broke regarding the “groping” incident that allegedly took place between the embattled Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, and former Mayoral candidate Susan Thompson, I was in the studios of a that city’s local news-talk radio station for a prime-time interview, planning to discuss my recently-released book. Instead, the interview took a different tack as I was asked to comment on the unfolding political uproar. The allegations were the story of the hour, the day, the week.  I chose to focus on the values question rather than engaging in political posturing. If the allegations about the mayor were true, then it was an example of outrageous behaviour on his part. If the accuser was fabricating the story, then it was an example of extreme opportunism at its worst. Both parties had the opportunity to show exemplary leadership. Unfortunately, the “he said/she said” guessing game continued, with the outcome left hanging in the court of public opinion. As I write this piece, the same mayor in question is ensconced in yet another leadership crisis.

Stories of leaders who allegedly conceal the truth continue to receive top billing in the media.  In Canada, the expense activities of Senator Duffy, (and subsequent payment by the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff, Mr. Nigel Wright, of the $90,000 owed by Duffy) together with Prime Minister Harper’s management of the issue have made the news for weeks. In the U.S, IRS official Faris Fink admitted only days ago to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the lavish spending of over $4 million on a training conference several years ago in Anaheim (including his starring role as Mr. Spock in a Star Wars spoof) “was not the best use of taxpayers dollars.” The organization has also been in the spotlight with the credibility of President Obama’s response to the Tea-Party claims of bias regarding I.R.S purportedly singling out a number of Republican groups applying for not-for-profit status for extra scrutiny continues to make headlines.  In addition, his administration’s reaction to documentation indicating a cover-up regarding the deaths of U.S. officials at the embassy in Benghazi, Libya, is being reported on almost daily.

In an excellent article: “On the Nature of Scandals” published by the National Post late last month, the author, Professor Jack Mintz, wrote:  “What matters most is accountability to establish trust. Those who make wrong decisions must pay the price for their wrongdoing. It applies to companies and individuals who fail to make the grade. The same for politicians and public officials – they must be reprimanded as well.” While I wholeheartedly concur with Professor Mintz’s conclusions, holding leaders and others accountable when a violation of trust occurs is just one part of the solution. When the leaders themselves can practice personal leadership by admitting and accepting their own values dilemma in order to acknowledge their own truth, they will be better positioned to regain trust and respect. When individuals decide that their time has come to accept personal responsibility; whether or not they possess the title of “leader”, we in turn become a more values -based society. Professing values and living by them are two very distinct propositions.  Keep in mind these essential principles in order to turn a values crisis into an opportunity:

Humility is not humiliation

My father was one of my greatest examples of living by this principle. When my mother was diagnosed with dementia, my father became her primary caregiver. Unfortunately, her health deteriorated to such an extent that he was no longer able to provide the level of care that she needed. My father was always a proud man, yet he knew that by adopting a posture of humility, he was able to achieve what was best for my mother. By revealing his vulnerability in order to receive help, he demonstrated his depth of character and commitment to do the most important thing. Humility should not be confused with humiliation. Rather, it is an attractive human characteristic that demonstrates a level of transparency; something that is often missing in politics or business dynamics. All too often, leaders opt to build a wall around themselves in order to “stay strong” when their integrity comes into question. The greatest strength can be found by accepting what is, becoming more transparent and revealing one’s humanness.

The attractiveness of authenticity

Some human qualities that are often perceived as weak are actually the opposite. For example, revealing a challenging aspect of your life when you experience a personal struggle can create a unique bond with another individual who has dealt, or is dealing with something similar. When I disclosed the story about my mother’s illness and my father’s response to a group of leaders in the Oil and Gas Industry, the senior VP approached me at the conclusion of my presentation and began to cry. He had just gone through the same experience; placing his mother in a care facility. By telling my own story, he felt a deeper connection to the educational message and content, because it was a story he immediately related to in his own life.

 Lead with your values

In order to eliminate any ambiguity regarding values that are important to you, you need a strong sense of self. One explanation for the current values “crisis” is that many of us are “others values-based”; attached to societal, individual or cultural values that do not resonate at our core. Eventually, this internal struggle of trying to align your own values with another set of divergent values may cause you such distress that you either have to speak up or move on. On the other hand, when you are leading yourself first, the process of discerning whether or not you are operating from another person’s values instead of your own becomes far less complicated, liberating and enlightening.

 Based in Vancouver, Michelle Ray is a leadership expert and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute. She is the author of the newly-released book: “Lead Yourself First! Breakthrough Strategies to Life the Life You Want.”

(Red Carpet Publications)

To Post or not to Post? That is the (social media) question

This morning I discovered an ad for weight loss on my Facebook Timeline. A few weeks ago, a professional colleague added a post to my post promoting his services. I did not invite their participation into my social media presence. Nonetheless, there they were. These unwelcome intrusions have given me cause to reflect on our rationale for using social media effectively and more importantly, whether we are using it purposefully.

For several years I resisted creating any social media accounts, simply because I felt that the requirement to “say something” on line was yet another task to add to my already jammed to-do list. I did not want to learn how to use the applications and I initially resented the notion of doing so because I’ve never been a fan of the herd mentality. Yet, I succumbed to the idea and began blogging and posting my thoughts. Although I do enjoy reading about the latest happenings with family and friends, I admit that I still have a lot to learn about maximizing the benefits of social media for commercial purposes.

I have come to the conclusion that for personal use, social media is a fun tool to stay in touch. I do not need to have any particular objective for posting a status update.  However, I am mindful about what I choose to broadcast. For business, social media is proving to be a very powerful tool, provided I have a clearly defined strategy. The instantaneous and very public nature of each post demands that I give thought to every word.

In a recent New York Times article “The Flight from Conversation”, psychologist and professor Sherry Turkle says: “We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them…In order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves.”

What began as a means to connect on a personal level has morphed into a force that is beyond our imagination.  Social media has changed the face of human interaction. We now feel the urge to broadcast our innermost thoughts. Each medium is a now a movement that has given the word “socialize”, or indeed the word “friend”, a new connotation that has transcended personal boundaries, changed political landscapes and revolutionized way we do business.

Do we value our virtual social networks; whether they are for personal or business use, as highly as our “real” connections?  Are we creating and posting status updates to impress, or to leave an impression? Are we giving thought to our broadcasts, or are we indulging our egos with endless self-promotion?  As  the world has become a smaller place due to technology, these are important questions for both individuals and organizations to consider.


The Age of Leading Yourself First

“To thine own self be true,” said Polonius in the play Hamlet, by Shakespeare. It is highly likely that Shakespeare had not intended for his character to be the spokesperson for humanity on the subject of living one’s truth (indeed, he was portrayed frequently as a foolish old “goat”.)

Nonetheless, his ramblings remain legendary; renowned through the ages for their wisdom. This quote epitomizes the essence of leading oneself first: i.e. practicing personal leadership. To lead ourselves first means that we can differentiate our values without holding any attachment to another person’s idea of whom we are supposed to be.  When we are true to ourselves, we know ourselves and we understand our place in the grand scheme of things. We have discovered our unique purpose and we regularly tap into our intuition in order to make decisions of all kinds.  We are successfully practicing “me” management in every situation or challenge.

When we think of “leadership skills”, we usually associate these with individuals who are in a management or supervisory role. Leadership rhetoric has its roots in a variety of management theories espoused over the ages. What is missing, however, is the idea of taking charge of oneself. It has been commonplace to think of a leader in terms of “position”, generally associated with being in charge of others. However, a title on a business card or a placard on a desk or door does not automatically make someone a leader. It may give the impression of self-importance and achievement, however, the title alone is not enough. Neither is a job description that notes functions associated with managing people.

The importance of practicing personal leadership is everyone’s personal responsibility. Attaching importance to what we do for a living is often recognized as a yardstick for measuring success. However, the manner in which we conduct ourselves has far greater significance and impact in the long-term. Therefore, the meaning of leadership denotes character, above all else. It has nothing to do with a job title.

 Definition of leadership

 A leader is someone who recognizes that character is the greatest test of true leadership. A leader is someone who is clear about their values and applies them on a regular basis. In other words, having values and living by one’s values are two distinctive propositions. This has very little to do with moving up the management ladder into a leadership role. Furthermore, one doesn’t have to be in a workplace to be a leader.

Be the best version of you with others

 Honing this specific talent is more noteworthy, because human beings progress further in life by mastering the capacity to appreciate, relate to and communicate with the vast array of personalities, cultures and demographics, without judgment or discrimination. A business title conveying “leader” is no proof of having acquired this gift.

 Experience the totality of the moment 

According to physics, the earth’s average orbital speed is around 30,000 mph. Our planet is spinning so fast, yet we don’t even feel it.  One could say the same thing about numerous interactions that occur on a daily basis. Do we truly experience them? It is an interesting dichotomy, although the reality is that it is precisely because of the speed at which we live, we happen upon human encounters that have a fascinating potential to provide a quantum leap in our own learning, yet we shrug them off.  Rarely do we stop to consider their impact.


Leading yourself first in your organization, your career and your life requires commitment, desire and discipline. Recognizing the true essence of leadership is the first step. We are experiencing a unique period in our history where it is possible for anyone to be thrust into the spotlight, either through our own efforts or via the plethora of social media. Therefore, at any given moment, we have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership on a daily basis, regardless of vocation or position, in all that we do.

Michelle Ray is the author of  “Lead Yourself First”, coming soon!

Sixty Seconds On-line: The new imperative for every business

Life is just a minute. Only sixty seconds in it. Forced upon me, can’t refuse it, Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it. But it’s up to me to use it. I must suffer if I lose it. Give account if I abuse it. Just a tiny little minute. But an eternity is in it! -Dr. Benjamin Mays

When I came across this amusing and interesting infographic that illustrates what happens every minute on the internet, it made me think of Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock,(1970), where he popularized the term “information overload”. Could anyone have imagined then how profoundly the world would change? Consider the enormous amount of information and dialogue happening on-line today. For example, every sixty seconds there are: 100+ new LinkedIn accounts, over 98,000 tweets, 1500 blog posts—the list goes on.
60 Seconds - Things That Happen On Internet Every Sixty Seconds
Infographic by- Shanghai Web Designers

From a business perspective, consider what are you contributing to the social media conversation. The new imperative for us all is to keep up and connect. How are you linked in with this enormous amount of knowledge? Do you know your customers’ social media preferences and are you communicating with them based on their preferences, rather than your own? From a personal leadership perspective, how are you standing out in this ever-expanding crowd? Are you ensuring that you’re not intimidated by this vast global network, but are instead benefiting?