The Lead Yourself First Blog

How To Build an Extraordinary Workplace Culture

Three Ways To Sustain An Extraordinary Workplace Culture

How often does one hear a president of a company open an event for his leadership team with the words: “Mom and Dad, I want to thank you for all you do”. Not only were his Mom and Dad in the audience, they were interacting with everyone throughout the entire meeting, from start to finish. The Founder (aka “Dad”) joined both his sons on stage to answer questions from attendees, holding nothing back. More than 300 people hung on his every word; laughing and at times moved to tears, as Dad told stories about the early days, his reasons for starting the company, as well has his vision for future success.  As I witnessed the smiles and animated conversations that ensued during coffee breaks, lunch and the reception afterwards, it was clear that this was no ordinary company. What made it so special? In a word: Culture.

The ability to sustain an extraordinary workplace culture while growing at an unprecedented rate is a scenario that many organizations would like to have. At the same time, preserving the unique attributes that make an enterprise successful can present its own set of challenges. The solution to maintaining an outstanding culture lies in consistently applying the following principles: Continue reading “Three Ways To Sustain An Extraordinary Workplace Culture”

@remaining humble: Remembering the Founder of Email

Last week the world lost a real pioneer; a man who transformed communication and revolutionized the way we do business. Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email and the creator of the “@” symbol, was described as “humble, kind and generous with his time and talents”. Mr. Tomlinson spent almost 50 years with the same employer, the Raytheon Company (formerly known as BBN Technologies). He worked there until his death. Joyce Kuzman, a Raytheon spokesperson, said of Tomlinson “people just loved to work with him…He was just a really nice, down-to-earth good guy.” Paradoxically, unlike the millions who frequently use his invention today, Mr. Tomlinson was not addicted to email. Continue reading “@remaining humble: Remembering the Founder of Email”

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”

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”

Young Business People

Confidence, Composure, Credibility: How to maintain a collaborative spirit at work

It is often said that we spend more time with our work colleagues than our own families. With many of us working long hours, the pressure of juggling multiple tasks, doing more with less and managing mounting stress can often take a toll. In addition, we find ourselves spinning our wheels knowing that we need to be the best versions of ourselves at all times; maintaining a helpful and pleasant demeanor with our internal and external clients alike. However, the ability to work collaboratively while being mindful of our emotions sometimes eludes us for one simple reason: our humanness.

How do we preserve a spirit of cooperation when working with diverse personalities, differences of opinion, clashing values and varied interpretations of priorities?  How is it possible to rise above the small stuff and remain focused on the big picture? The answer lies in leading yourself first in all relationships, professional and personal, by honing these skills: Continue reading “Confidence, Composure, Credibility: How to maintain a collaborative spirit at work”

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”

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

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)

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