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”

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The “Wow” Factor…Brought to you by the U.S. Post Office

Cynics may say that you would never expect a public servant to give outrageously good customer service. So let me prove you wrong. Ross, who works at the USPS located in Point Roberts, WA provided incredible service…so good that he puts many corporate retailers to shame.

Despite the fact that Canada Post has an outlet across the street from my house, I deliberately drove 45 minutes to the nearest U.S. border to mail my packages bound for multiple destinations across the United States. You may be asking “why”? Well, from past experiences I can tell you that not only are the savings enormous, the service that I have received at my Post Office across the border is second to none.

Last Friday, Ross delivered a customer service experience that I will never forget. As I placed my packages on the counter and waited for Ross to carefully weigh each envelope, he asked the game-changing question: “Can I offer you the “WOW” factor?” Continue reading “The “Wow” Factor…Brought to you by the U.S. Post Office”

image: group of people giving the thumbs up

Why New Year Resolutions Fail: Five ways to lead yourself in 2015

re·solve verb \ri-ˈzälv, -ˈzȯlv also -ˈzäv or -ˈzȯv\ :To make a definite and serious decision to do something.

Eat less. Exercise more. Get a new job. Start a savings plan. Ditch your partner…whatever lofty goal you decide to set for yourself, it is likely you will give up before the first month of 2015 comes to an end, if not sooner. Sadly, the statistics aren’t good. Although millions will start the year with the best intentions, only eight percent will achieve their new year’s resolutions.

How does one explain the fact that year after year, the vast majority who set resolutions succumb to the comfort of the status quo?

Continue reading “Why New Year Resolutions Fail: Five ways to lead yourself in 2015”

image: boy and girl holding valentines

Are you feeling the love? Five tips to be happier, productive and inspired at work

I will always remember the antics of one of my co-workers whose desk was beside mine at my first corporate job. Dan would saunter into the office whenever it suited him and immediately announce his arrival to the entire staff. In a bellowing voice, he would ask the same question every morning: “Who can I annoy today?”  Continue reading “Are you feeling the love? Five tips to be happier, productive and inspired at work”

How will you take the lead in your life, your career and business in 2014?

The end of a year is always a time for reflection. As each one passes seemingly more quickly that the previous, we usher in a new year with the opportunity to pause and appreciate special moments that occurred over the past 365 days. Focusing on the positives sets the tone for anticipating good things.

Continue reading “How will you take the lead in your life, your career and business in 2014?”

The fear of success is bigger than the fear of failure

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough – Og Mandino

“My goodness! What would it be like if I had the life I always wanted! How would I cope if everything I desired to achieve actually came true! Wouldn’t that be terrible?” This kind of self-talk is an example of someone who possesses a “fear of success.” Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it? While “fear of failure” is an all-too-familiar term in modern-day ethos, we don’t often hear about the “fear of success.” At first glance, these phrases look different, but, in fact, they have similar interpretation. It is not unusual for people to be afraid of success because of the connotations attached to the word. The idea of success can elicit an equal, if not greater “fear” response as failure. Furthermore, many people cannot “cope” with success and, as a result, they unconsciously sabotage it. How does this happen? It is important to understand the ramifications of such thinking, as well as the rationale (or should I say the “irrational”) behind it.

Allowing your inner critic to surface on occasion in human. However, if it becomes a way of life and you continue to move in a downward spiral, your journey to success will become even more daunting. By interpreting setbacks as a sign of the universe conspiring against you, the potential risk of sabotaging your own success increases as negative thoughts intensify. Many of us maintain a personal belief system that keeps working against us, without understanding its origins.

The fear of success is based on three factors:

1. Regard we have for ourselves (self-concept)

Fear and Courage

A individual’s belief system cultivates either a positive or negative self-concept. Based on the internal lens we use to view ourselves, we attribute meaning to the terms “success” and “failure.” Self-concept goes beyond being placed under the “self-esteem” umbrella. Psychologist Albert Bandura says: “Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the sources of action required to manage prospective situations.” In other words, if you believe in your capabilities to manage and overcome whatever life throws at you, you will find success in your life . . . however you choose to define “success”.

2. Lack of clarification in relation to success values

Just as the word “money” is laden with values attachments, the same can be said about the word “success.”  It is essential to achieve clarity around your personal, uniquely individual definition of success in order to actually live it. There are widely held assumptions in our society that success and wealth are synonymous, almost interchangeable terms. It is at the core of many a values struggle! However, not everyone measures “success” and “wealth” in financial terms. Once we achieve clarity regarding what success actually means on a deeply personal level, the experience is invigorating.

3. The Impact of Conditioning

We are conditioned to think of ourselves, our values, and other people in terms of either/or. By polarizing our thoughts into society’s concept of good or bad, right or wrong, etc., it becomes difficult to discern our own unique value proposition regarding work, career, family, money, success, politics, institutions, etc. A powerful set of influencers have shaped our ideas throughout our lives, either subtly or otherwise. Examples of these influencers include our family of origin, culture, education system, religious credo, media, etc. When we are able to identify those influencers and in turn, recognize their impact, we can see our own version of the truth through a fresh set of eyes.

Now is as good a time as any to examine what you think about yourself, to look through that internal lens and focus on how you manage your life in the world. Change any self-perceptions that are fueling a fear of success.  Equipped with a healthy self-concept and clarity regarding your values, you will find success in your career, your business, and your life.

About the Author: Michelle Ray is the CEO & Founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute

When Customers Walk – The Business Consequences of Disengagement

Please help meAfter a seventeen hour journey from Australia to Canada, plus forty-five frustrating minutes talking to airline staff about a pair of prescription glasses that were left on board, our friends left Vancouver International Airport knowing that the chances of anyone caring enough to resolve their concern was almost zero. A young woman who listened to their plight while repeatedly attempting not to yawn informed them that if found, the glasses would be taken to the appropriate location for lost articles. She scribbled down the company’s website name and told them to fill out the on-line form for lost and found articles. It was time to go on her break and there was nothing else she could do. The fact that their airplane was still at the gate, and the fact that the “at your service” agent could have easily communicated with airline’s ground staff to check for the glasses seemed all too difficult.

This scenario is not merely an example of poor customer service. It demonstrates something much deeper…a problem that is reaching endemic proportions in many workplaces of every description: Skyrocketing levels of employee disengagement. The results of a new Aon Hewitt study, reported in HRM Online, found 47% of workers are disengaged from their work – the lowest employee engagement levels in North America in five years.

Healthy levels of workplace engagement indicate discretionary effort, i.e. wanting to do, rather than having to do a job. HRM online also noted that “the drops in areas such as diversity, customer experience and leadership lead to an overall decrease in how employees felt about their overall work experience.” In the case of my friend’s lost pair of glasses, she encountered an individual who was not only unwilling to ask another colleague at the gate about the status of the glasses in that moment, but gave no thought to the bigger picture regarding the future buying decisions of an unhappy customer in her highly competitive industry.

Workplace cultures, together with employees’ perceptions of their role in the grand scheme of impacting the bottom line are key indicators of engagement. A recently published report entitled: The impact of the new long-term employee…Dealing with the Increasingly Shorter Definition of “a Long Time with the Company” defined engagement as: “the degree to which employees are psychologically invested in your organization and motivated to contribute to its success.”

The above definition ought to become the new benchmark for assessing the entire spectrum of organizational effectiveness. Employers of any size and industry that continue to ignore the significance of their staff remaining disengaged do so at their own peril. Unfortunately, the front line is not the only cohort who is psychologically “checking out” on the job. Management are also disconnecting for a host of reasons that include pressures to achieve higher performance and productivity with reduced staffing levels, limited resources, and increased workloads. As a result of being pulled in divergent directions, they are compromising their own abilities to lead, inspire, and motivate in order to meet or exceed senior leadership’s expectations.

Sadly, the story of my friend’s lost pair of glasses continued on a downward spiral. Email communications with supervisors and managers proved futile, as it became evident that their apologetic responses were obligatory rather than empathetic. At no time did my friend get a sense that there was a genuine desire to resolve her concern, from the top down.

When individuals at every level of an organization lose sight of the “how” and “why” of their job function, the disengagement cycle continues to build, job satisfaction wanes, client service is affected and opportunities for business growth are lost. As a leader, are you personally setting the example for your team to be highly engaged? Is your customer service a reflection of a team doing what they do because they have to or want to? Disengagement is not only evident within your internal operations; it is also evident to your customers who may ultimately experience its consequences and take their business elsewhere.

 

All the world’s a stage, and now is the time to own your place on it

For the purposes of this blog, allow me to take license with William Shakespeare’s original quote: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” Instead, I invite you consider that there has never been a better time to take our respective places on the world’s stage, and this has little to do with professional speaking.

When eighteen-year-old German podcast sensation Philip Rierderle recently took the stage as the opening keynote speaker at the National Speakers’ Association Annual Convention, he held an audience of 1400 professional speakers spellbound for the entire duration of his speech.  Mr. Riederle was the youngest speaker to grace the general session platform in the Association’s forty-year history.  With his excellent command of the English language, he mesmerized the audience of skeptical old-timers, first-timers and techno-phobs by smashing the stereotypical myths linked to his millennial generation.

He captured my attention, however, not only because of his remarkable confidence as a teenaged speaker. For me, it was the manner in which he has channeled his passion into a mission. At the age of fifteen, Reiderle became famous with his podcast “Mein iPhone und Ich…” (My iPhone and me), currently reaching over one million viewers each year. As he built his massive community of Generation Y followers, traditional corporations began wondering how and why he was able to attract this generational cohort in droves to his own on-line community, while they continued to struggle in their own marketing efforts to connect with this significant segment of consumers. Today, Rierderle is an entrepreneur and renowned thought leader consulting with major companies worldwide regarding the consumer habits of his generation.

Riederle’s delivery and presence served a dual purpose. Not only was his message timely, he also demonstrated a rare blend of authenticity and brilliance by completely owning the stage…the stage on which he stood as a speaker, as well as in his own life. His passion for educating others via podcasts on the multiple uses of an I-Phone that began as a hobby has morphed into a unique calling to heighten generational understanding on a global scale. By doing so, Riederle is helping businesses simultaneously open their minds and create new growth opportunities.

There has never been a better time to take your place on the world’s stage. You don’t need to be a publisher, a major media outlet or renowned speaker. You can claim your place by ensuring that, like Riederle, your vocation is congruent with your personal passion. At the click of a button, you can utilize social networks to tell others about issues that matter to you. There are no limits to expressing your creativity thoughtfully and purposefully.

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 isn’t a job- it’s a state of mind

Leadership Isn’t A Job, It’s A State Of Mind

The Globe and Mail speaks to leadership expert, Michelle Ray,  about her new book, Lead Yourself First:

Have you ever used a word so often that it has lost all meaning? Leadership has turned into one of those words for me. Even asking, “What does leadership mean to you?” sounds like a pompous question thrown into an awkward team-building session. A quick poke around the Internet would lead most to believe that leadership remains inextricably tied to the likes of Steve Jobs or Sheryl Sandberg. Women and men both have it, so it seems, but it manifests differently.

So I’ve decided to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch to re-examine this elusive word that remains a constant in business jargon. The first hint of insight came from a candid book called Lead Yourself First, by Vancouver-based leadership expert Michelle Ray. Leadership is a mindset, not a title, according to Ms. Ray. It has everything to do with values and little to do with corporate climbing.

Despite the book’s cover image of a business woman donning boxing gloves (which led me to believe this would be yet another management book telling women to fight their way to the top), Ms. Ray preaches introspection. She shares her war stories about turning into a corporate slave, dealing with charismatic managers who fall short on their promises, and being subjected to a screaming boss that followed her inside the washroom to continue yelling, while she cowered in a stall. I simultaneously laughed and cringed.

But what do these tales from the trenches have to do with leadership? If you argue that leadership is a way of thinking, rather than a job description, the word begins to take shape. “My premise is for everyone to view leadership as a state of mind rather than a job title. Especially in these times, it’s incumbent of all of us to see ourselves as leaders of our lives,” Ms. Ray suggested. Leadership means knowing your own values and being able to translate that into a vision for yourself and others. Think of it as navigating a ship: There could be a hundred people on board or you might be alone but the main task is the same – how do you chart its course and keep it from sinking?

Rather than glean inspiration from the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Ms. Ray draws examples from more relatable people, such as Stan, a security guard at the Regina airport. Stan shared his story about losing his son to suicide, then his job and marriage. Despite this, he set a course to pull his life together, perform well at his role and have a positive impact on those around him. He demonstrated strong personal leadership skills by recognizing the importance of character, but he wasn’t a traditional leader. “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,” said Ms. Ray, adding that leadership doesn’t have to be about moving up the management ladder, or even being in the workplace.

The idea that leadership connotes a characteristic rather than a skill seems to resonate. I asked Carrie Kirkman, president of Ontario-based apparel maker Jones Group Canada, to describe the essence of her leadership, which she distilled to one word: courage. “I’ve never been fearful in any job that I’ve had. If I believe something, I am like a dog with a bone,” Ms. Kirkman said. She recalls a point in a previous role, as the general merchandise manager of the women’s apparel business at HBC. When the company was sold in 2008, she believed the move gave the company a window of opportunity to signal a change to the marketplace and demonstrate how the company could evolve. Some of the company’s leadership was skeptical but Ms. Kirkman stood her ground, believing that the ability to have independent thought and vision within a large corporation made her stand out from the crowd.

That gift of influence is a key component of leadership, according to Cindy Novak, president of Toronto-based Communication Leadership Network, which provides training to build leaders and their teams. “Managers direct or tell people what needs to be done while leaders achieve outcomes by influencing others to work to achieve a common goal,” said Ms. Novak, who believes leaders accomplish this through a combination of strong communication skills and the ability to effectively relate to others. “The bottom line is that leadership requires a different set of competencies than being a great manager,” she said. Settling on the definition of leadership is a tough riddle to crack. What is missing, Ms. Ray said, is the idea of taking charge of yourself. “A title on a business card or a placard on a desk or door does not automatically make someone a leader,” she said. “It may give the impression of self-importance and achievement, however, the title alone is not enough.”

By Leah Eichler/The Globe and Mail/May 3, 2013