The Lead Yourself First Blog

Three strategies to respond positively to negative feedback

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”…Anon

If you have ever been at the receiving end of criticism, either from a co-worker or manager, it is likely you have found yourself struggling to respond positively…or worse, have defaulted to apologizing when you have done nothing wrong. Even if the criticism is warranted or offered inappropriately, you cannot control the other person’s intention, words or delivery. What you can do is respond in a positive fashion while maintaining respect…for yourself and the bearer of disparaging comments. Whether the feedback pertains to your work, your relationship or a specific situation that transpired between both parties, your goal is to rise above the negativity and respond, rather than react. Continue reading “Three strategies to respond positively to negative feedback”

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”

The trouble with leadership: It’s Time to Lead Yourself First

Leadership is always a subject that finds its way into the headlines. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a decline in the high standards that we expect to see from our leaders. Whether we are talking about sports, politics, business or religion, why are we so often profoundly disappointed in our leaders? Why do so many fall from grace and how does it come to pass that character becomes secondary to title?

Continue reading “The trouble with leadership: It’s Time to Lead Yourself First”

image: book cover saying 'change your mindset'

Do you manage change or does change manage you?

Addressing the subject of change instills fear in many people. The very thought of disruption to the status quo brings up feelings of anxiety and distress in many individuals and organizations. Pending gloom and doom consumes the collective consciousness as people grapple with the new reality. Viewing change positively isn’t usually the norm, although it could represent an exciting opportunity to do things differently.

Continue reading “Do you manage change or does change manage you?”

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”

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.


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

Wanted! Authenticity and honesty in the hiring process

“If you want to ruin the truth, stretch it. ~Author Unknown”

Dimensions International’s (DDI) latest global research on hiring trends has yielded some fascinating results. The study, titled “Global Selection Forecast 2012”, including responses from more than 250 staffing directors and 2,000 new hires from 28 countries, was conducted in partnership with Oracle.

In a Globe & Mail article published late last month, Scott Erker, senior vice-president for DDI’s selection solutions and the study’s co-author, said in a release: “There is a great paradox in that both unemployment and the number of open positions hover at uncomfortably high levels – and simultaneously, organizations and candidates are shaky about the decisions they made in staffing and accepting roles this year.”

The issue of accountability on all sides is the question. Employers need to be clear about their recruitment needs and communicate


their objectives up front. Otherwise, everyone loses. The new hirer takes on the position without knowing all the requirements and the employer scrambles to communicate them after the fact. Or worse, businesses find themselves going through the expensive proposition of re-hiring.

In addition, the research also revealed that that only 51 per cent of new hires are confident in their decision to accept a new job, often because the hiring process doesn’t paint a true picture of the work, the department and the company.

The interviewer needs to be completely comfortable in their role, asking the right questions while digging deep to ensure that the candidate is most suitable for the position. Unfortunately, the study found that less than 30 per cent of staffing directors felt satisfied with their interviewer-training program.

Who is speaking up and who is taking the lead? Without owning their respective truths, individuals and organizations will pay an emotional and financial price. Whether it is the interviewer who doesn’t know how to ask the right questions, or an organization that does not prepare management for the critical recruitment phase by equipping everyone an accurate description of the “big picture”, or the he employee who regrets taking a position in a tight economy in order to get by, the lack of accountability begins with authenticity and honesty on all sides.


Photo credit: “Businessman Handshake” by twobee

“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.