The Lead Yourself First Blog

How To Develop A Leadership Mindset

How To Develop A Leadership Mindset

Have you ever found yourself standing at the crossroads in your life, either questioning yourself or finding it difficult to make choices, either personal or professional? Your capacity to move forward and take a leap of faith rests upon self-belief and taking charge of yourself. Developing a leadership mindset has no relation to one’s career or job title. It has everything to do with the manner in which we interpret situations and events and subsequently make decisions. i.e. the thoughts that drive actions and result in specific outcomes. We are constantly evaluating our current conditions; both consciously and unconsciously. Our perspectives regarding the circumstances in which we find ourselves today have been shaped by ideas and values learned in our formative years. Continue reading “How To Develop A Leadership Mindset”

Resentment, Resistance, Rejection: Demystifying the Fear of Change

Nothing changes if nothing changes. The only constant is change. All great changes were preceded by chaos…Wise and witty sayings on the subject of change that have become popularized and shared through the ages. Yet, many of us continue to baulk at any organizational change initiatives, despite the evidence presented by leaders who tell us that if we don’t move forward and break from the past, we risk becoming irrelevant. Continue reading “Resentment, Resistance, Rejection: Demystifying the Fear of Change”

Four ways to deal with a bad boss

A recent Gallup survey reported that 25 per cent of people would like to fire their boss, if they had the power. Interestingly, the majority of those 25 per cent were reported as the “highly disengaged” cohort.

On the other hand, those who enjoyed a healthy relationship with their managers were reported as “highly engaged” in their work and consequently had no desire to oust the boss.

The reasons for disengagement, however, aren’t necessarily a one-way street. Poor leadership plays a significant role in the engagement equation and it is a fact that managers and employees alike become disenchanted and disconnected due to the negative impact of mediocre leadership at the highest level.

Continue reading “Four ways to deal with a bad boss”

image: MIchelle Ray's Dad August 2010

Remembering the heroes in our lives – Tribute to my father

“My legs are swollen and I don’t feel like going up to the coffee shop today.”

As soon as I heard my father utter those words on the telephone, thousands of miles away from his bed in the nursing home in Sydney, I knew that everything was different, even though I didn’t want to believe what was happening. Dad was no longer able to dial my number, so I would call him instead, all too often finding him in his room. Time was slipping away.

Continue reading “Remembering the heroes in our lives – Tribute to my father”

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

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

“The Mighty Have Fallen”…Lessons from a Generation of Mentors

Eleven months ago at 90 years of age, my father’s voice fell silent. My brother and I watched him take his last breath as he departed the world for another place to join my mother. The enormity of the loss is still with us as we unveiled his headstone this weekend in Sydney, Australia.  Many from his generation exemplified the greatest examples of overcoming tremendous adversity during their living years and I know that their legacy lives on in me.

Growing up in the safety and security of Australia, it was often difficult for me to comprehend the situations that my parents endured; although I have no doubt that their experiences had an indelible impact on my identity and perspective on life.

As I remember my father, I think of the stories he told regarding his upbringing and the tumultuous years he spent as a prisoner of war on two occasions. First, in a forced labour camp in Hungary, only to be liberated by his future captors who placed him in a Russian prisoner of war camp until after the Second World War. He went home to discover that many members of his family had been murdered in the concentration camps.

Like many who faced the reality of a world changed forever, my father’s survival skills prevailed. He emigrated to Australia in 1952, arriving with a small amount of cash and big dreams. He seized the opportunity to forge a new beginning and saved his earnings to return to Europe. While attending a trade show in Vienna he saw an automated knitting machine and recognized an opportunity.

With his hard work ethic, endearing personality and strong sales skills, my father was able to secure the necessary financial backing and ultimately sell the machines to the largest department stores in Australia and New Zealand. Dad was the first to introduce knitting machines to the southern hemisphere and became wildly successful with his new business venture.

Despite the horrors of war and loss everlastingly etched in his memory, he was nonetheless a risk-taker extraordinaire and entrepreneur before the words became popularized. Above all, his eternal optimism triumphed over his darkest times.

Even though he experienced numerous ups and downs in business, including the collapse of the knitting machine venture (as Dad put it, the Australian public’s fascination with the introduction of television took over from their first love affair with his knitting machines,) he would always persevere.

When faced with the biggest test of his personal life…the role of caregiver for my mother at the age 80, he rose to the occasion despite a breaking heart, witnessing her demise to the cruelty of dementia.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from my father was this: In order to rise above our challenges of any description, we need to focus on developing a resiliency mindset. It is a business and life strategy that many individuals and organizations must adopt in order to deal with adversity as well as uncertainty.

My father also taught me about the willingness to dig deep and gain strength from past experiences. We can overcome seemingly impossible challenges in the present by drawing upon our own inner resources.

The most striking words from his eulogy came from one of my father’s business associates. When describing his generation, he reminded the mourners: “the mighty have fallen.”

There will never be another generation that resembles my parents’. We have much to learn and appreciate from their timeless legacy.

“Money doesn’t talk…It swears”

“Money doesn’t talk…It swears” – Bob Dylan

In my upcoming book, “Lead Yourself First”, I dedicate several chapters to the subject of values. Values drive our behaviour and decisions, as well as our professional and personal relationships. Making values – based decisions in business and life aren’t always easy, even when we feel that we know ourselves well. One of the most difficult areas pertains to money and finances, especially if we find ourselves at the crossroads regarding career change or making an investment in a new business venture. Although there are some simple truths such as having your finances in order prior to taking such bold steps, conversations around money are often emotionally- charged due to the fact that our values also come into play.  Therefore, the subject isn’t merely about numbers, being practical or even logical.  Going through the process of ascertaining what lies behind the rationale to leave a job or stay, to invest or not to invest; to save or spend is an important exercise because we discover more about what is actually influencing such choices. In addition, the manner in which we justify our course of action is also a reflection of our principles.

The financial values dilemma is not only felt at an individual level. It happens in corporations on a daily basis. If you listen closely, you will hear people frequently professing values-laden statements regarding their workplace or direction of their organization. It isn’t unusual for leaders to experience conflict in this arena, especially during these times of uncertainty. While working with one client recently, one member of the senior leadership team was frustrated due to the push-back he was experiencing from his colleagues. He wished to maintain the status quo in terms of staff retention…in contrast to a number of his peers who he felt were reacting by taking an ultra cautious approach; entertaining cutbacks and terminations. Critical business decisions such as these may appear to be based on fiscal evidence. However, the values of a core leadership team are often driving the process.

Is it possible to be completely objective regarding where one may stand on financial values, or indeed our entire values system?  The challenge lies in the fact that we have all been influenced in varying degrees by the standards of others, be they family members, peers, associates, coaches or well-intended friends. Therefore, the sample inventory exercise below will reveal the extent to which you have allowed yourself  to be governed by accepted morals or ethics that perhaps hinder your professional and personal direction. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Rather, your responses reflect your current position and beliefs and illuminate information regarding your financial values that my surprise you. 

Values inventory clarification – Money

  1. What does financial freedom represent to you?
  2.  Do you subscribe to a scarcity or abundance mentality?
  3.  Were you taught to manage your money at an early age?
  4. When you think of the term “financially responsible”, how would you define it?
  5. What were some of the prevailing attitudes around money in your family?
  6. How has the recent economic volatility impacted your career? If you have not been affected directly, have you witnessed the effect on colleagues, business associates, and clients?

Leading yourself first in your organization, your career and your life requires clarity around questions such as these. Can you lead your team with confidence regarding business decisions that impact them directly? Do you trust yourself to take the necessary commercial risk to grow your business into a viable entity? Are you ready to take the leap of faith associated with a career change? When we truly understand that our values underpin everything about us that makes us tick, we are able to approach the crossroads with greater conviction.

Michelle’s book, “Lead Yourself First”  is due for worldwide release this year.





Getting Unstuck: Finding momentum to create change

The truth is that many of us are never taught how to lead ourselves at work, in business and in life. As a result, we settle for mediocrity and dissatisfaction.  Why is it that so many talented, creative people stay in jobs that make them miserable?  Is it because family responsibilities must come first and the financial risks associated with leaving are too great? Is it the fear of the unknown, the comfort of the status quo? “Better the devil you know”…etc? Or is self-doubt, a lack of faith, trust…perhaps all of the above? We have a burning desire to transform professionally and personally, to alter the course of our vocation, to let go of people and situations that no longer serve us, yet we hold back. Until the level of discontent becomes greater than the fear of change; we will stay stuck, perhaps for many years.

The Towers Watson’s 2010 Global Workforce Study of over 22,000 employees in 22 markets revealed some key points regarding career change and choices. These are particularly interesting findings for anyone considering making life-altering decisions regarding one’s professional path. From their surveys, they discovered that mobility is at a decade-long low point, and many are sacrificing career growth for a secure job. Their results also indicated that confidence in leaders and managers is disturbingly low.

A recessionary environment exacerbates the feeling of helplessness, as we believe that we cannot escape our situation. When we experience enormous frustration ith our employer due to a poor relationship and lack of support from our immediate manager, we slowly begin disengaging from our work. When you add these two factors together, it is no wonder that people lose interest in what they are doing and genuinely feel stuck. How do you free yourself from the “trapped” experience?

1.  Realize that self-doubt is often at the core of your fear

In the words of Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Recognize that the opposite of fear is faith. We prefer to stay “safe” and therefore it is understandable that we can easily justify our rationale to maintain the status quo. By listing the “pros” and “cons” associated with moving in, we can get clarity around the feeling of being at an impasse.

2. Pay attention to the signs that are pointing you in another direction

When we are caught up in the fear, we often miss the signs indicating a new path. By taking the step outlined above, we will have more awareness regarding the signposts that are either subtle or flashing neon lights, guiding us elsewhere.

3. If your job and workplace aren’t going to change, it is up to you to initiate change

Staying stuck in a job or career where the situation has become untenable will invariably take a toll. Only you can decide whether that psychological toll of staying outweighs the financial risk of leaving. If you can find the momentum to re-think your attitudes and beliefs around creating change, change will happen!


Fish Jumping: Photo by Danilo Rizzuti


Eight steps to communicating Change

Using Caring Communication when dealing with Change:  

During the past few months, a trend has emerged regarding the information clients are requesting that I cover during my presentations and workshops. Almost always, the topics of workplace communication and managing change come up during the pre-event conference calls. Therefore, it is no surprise that these two subjects are inexorably linked. We cannot effectively manage change without communication and if we don’t communicate effectively, we experience frustration and resistance to change. There are a myriad of change realities that organizations and individuals are trying to grasp.  How do you confidently communicate change? For organizations, the biggest concerns relate to greater transparency, compliance, accountability, cut-backs and budget constraints. How do organizations communicate these issues without inciting fear and negativity? Unfortunately, blunders occur because change is communicated hurriedly; without careful consideration, thought or care.

At the heart of it all is that people and organizations as a whole are trying to achieve one thing: Buy-in. The question is: “how do I get people to buy into the change process?”  The most important and often neglected fact is that the responsibility for any communication always lies with the SENDER. It does not matter whether communication is face-to-face, email or telephone. It is not the receiver’s job to try and decipher meaning. The sender needs to be clear and adapt the delivery of their message based on the receiver’s preference and style. In order to masterfully communicate change, as the sender and initiator of the communication, the key is in knowing how to deliver the news with sensitivity. The old adage “before I care how much you know, I need to know how much you care” must be recognized in the sequence of communicating change. Emotions first. Logic second.  Here are the steps, in order:

  1. Recognize that change is an emotional experience
  2. Address the receiver’s fears
  3. Tell the recipient/s how the change will benefit THEM
  4. Show them at least one greater benefit of the change that makes sense to them, versus the maintaining the status quo
  5. Ask for input and actively listen to responses
  6. Tell the recipient/s how the change will benefit the organization
  7. Involve the recipient/s in the change process
  8. Celebrate the accomplishment of moving through the change as a team

If you follow these eight steps, plan your delivery and sincerely take the time to think about how the receiver will interpret your news regarding change, the likelihood of a negative reaction will be significantly diminished. Remember, you have already established a reputation based on your current repertoire of communication skills. When you alter your style, people are often suspicious and may doubt your new approach. It takes time to build credibility as a great communicator.

Photo: Time For Change by Salvatore Vuono