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Passing the Baton – One Woman at a Time

Cheryl offers: October’s HBR article “Why Succession Shouldn’t Be a Horse Race” describes how Xerox’s former CEO Anne Mulcahy successfully identified, developed and eventually passed the CEO baton to Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company while also marking the first ever woman-to-woman succession. What was most interesting was how Anne deliberately worked to avoid Jack Welch’s famous departure when two of the three top candidates left with him once they learned Jeff Immelt had gotten the job. She said “I don’t believe in having people face off against each other for the CEO job in a classic horse race.” Kudos to her on two fronts: first for recognizing that losing valuable talent in this day and age is not good business and secondly for seeing collaboration is better for the business than competition when putting the best person in the job. GE lost 3 very talented employees when Jack left. Anne managed to retain her 3 top contenders after Ursula was named CEO, although one has since retired.  This article reinforced a message I read in Women and Leadership by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah Rhode.  In chapter 9 written by Marie C. Wilson, she notes “We need to fuel each other’s ambition, to give women the encouragement they need, and the courage embedded in that word. With our help, they can and will step forward and say, “I’m here. I can do this, and I want to lead.” This was written in 2007, just about the time Anne and Ursula were starting to write business history.  Those who support the laws of natural attraction would say, “Of course!”

Florence Nightingale sighted in Afghanistan

Cheryl offers: On the front page of Sunday September 19’s New York Daily News and the Wall Street Journal was a picture of several women in Afghanistan. They were dressed in blue veils and garments to identify them as voting poll administrators. These women were there even though the Taliban had threatened to harm anyone participating in the voting process.” WOW” was all I could think as I stared at the picture. These are truly brave women! It occurred to me today as Randy Mayeux delivered a book synopsis of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein that the stories about Florence Nightingale in that book could also be about the women in this picture. You see, Florence didn’t listen to conventional wisdom nor heed warnings from others. She made history by following her passion about what she knew but couldn’t necessarily prove.  She was one of those “obsessive people who have the skill, motivation, energy, and bullheadedness to do whatever is necessary to move them (new ideas) forward: to persuade, inspire, seduce, cajole, enlighten, touch hearts, alleviate fears, shift perceptions, articulate meanings and artfully maneuver through systems.” The only word missing from fully describing the Afghanistan women in that picture was courage; the kind of courage that inspires and motivates. None were likely named Florence, and yet they share more than a name – they share her spirit. WOW, am I lucky to have witnessed this!

Why “Help me understand” Falls Short – Part II

Cheryl offers:  Have you ever had one of those experiences where you complete something and think “Well, that was OK, but it didn’t quite hit the mark; and I’m not sure why I feel this way?”  Well, it happened to me with the blog a few days ago by the same title, only it was part 1 and I didn’t realize it at the time. Something kept bothering me about that blog. I felt like I was missing a point, something really important. Then it hit me out of the blue while I was not really thinking about it at all. What was missing is this. The phrase “Help me understand” is about having the person asking the question understands or learn more. Or as is often the case, it is about them having an idea of what the answer should be and seeing if by talking about it more, you can figure out what they think you should know. The focus of the conversation is on the person stating the phrase.  In a true coaching relationship, it’s the opposite! The coach does ask questions, but not for their own education on the topic. In fact, when we train leaders to be coaches, we direct them to avoid the topic and keep the conversation focused on the coachee. True coaching questions are designed to facilitate the learning for the person being asked. This is the direct opposite of the phrase “Help me understand” intent when the learning is asker centered. This is what was tickling me from my unconscious. In a true coaching relationship, the focus of the listening, the questions, and the energy is all on the person being coached. So, when a person says they want to have a coaching conversation and then ask to be educated, just know this is NOT a coaching conversation.  Maybe this is why many people are insulted or put off by the phrase.

And you know how that came to me out of the blue? I bet everyone reading this has had this experience. Annie McKee discusses this in Resonant Leadership. Our brains need to rest so they can be truly creative. When we rush about working frantically, then try to think clearly, most of us find it difficult to easily select that best answer. When we allow ourselves down time and rest, our brains have the energy and space for creativity.  Rest is essential to great leadership.

Work versus Personal Life: It’s Really Just One Life

Cheryl offers:  I was reading an article on the front page of the Dallas Morning News today from an author named Christine Wicker inquiring about the seemingly large number of women walking away from marriage these days.  This author is seeking answers to what she says seems to be quite a large trend, although one that has been going on for awhile.  For quite some time now, women over 50 initiate more divorces than men. Many believe it is based on the fact that women are working now and are so independent that they are rethinking marriage. And with more women than men working in the workplace these days, maybe there’s some truth to it. Frankly I wonder if it’s about trust. Haven’t we all become a bit more suspicious over the past decade? From 9/11, the fall of companies like Enron, to the recent oil spill in the Gulf, then top level executives from IBM and HP betraying trust, there are almost too many examples to count. In their book, Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace by Dennis and Michelle Reina, they state “Words help articulate our expectations, but actions demonstrate our trustworth-iness.” We take those wedding vows and then our actions tell our friends and families what’s really on our minds and in our hearts. I don’t believe you can separate work from our personal life; it’s one life we have and it’s integrated no matter how hard we try to keep them separate.  What’s behind this trend? I have no idea but what I do believe I know is this; don’t look at the words from these women, find out what‘s in their hearts. Where the heart goes, the body soon follows.

Why “Help me understand” Falls Short

Cheryl offers: I’m reading a new book right now titled The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizationsby David Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich. This is a great book on a topic that, until now, has not been as clearly described or explained. That topic is why we all work. It’s not about money, although that’s always important. It’s really about meaning.  We invest our time and our lives and want something back. Having a sense of purpose, a sense of value about our contributions is important no matter what the line of work.  I was reading along in perfect harmony with the authors until I reached page 142 where I read “Help me understand. These words put the leader in a coaching stance.” I stopped reading for a moment.  Perhaps for some these words invite dialogue. However, in my experience, more often than not I’ve heard students, employees, and leaders say they come across as condescending and patronizing in the most insincere ways.  This does not put a leader in a coaching stance. When leaders are viewed as anything less than authentic, sincere, and trustworthy, they cannot be defined as a coach by my definition or as defined by the International Coach Federation. According to the ICF, coaching is a partnership which requires trust and equality between participants.  “Help me understand” can easily be interpreted as a one up and one down relationship; that’s not real coaching. For anyone looking to expand their leadership capabilities and be a more coach-like leader, trade those 3 words for “Tell me more”. It’s definitely a trade up and this book is still a great book!

“Clarity dissolves resistance.”

Cheryl  offers: I was at DFW today catching a business flight to Nashville TN. Most people traveling this month seemed to be dressed quite casually, really comfortable for the hot summer months, with a few noticeable exceptions. The one exception that caught my eye was women in 5 inch high heels. Don’t get me wrong, I like high heels myself. In fact I wear them frequently, mostly because I’m pretty short and they make me feel more powerful.  However I do avoid them when I travel for several reasons. The first and foremost reason is safety. I can imagine how hard it would be to flee a potential plane disaster in high heels, sprinting to safety seems close to impossible. Like many travelers, my feet swell when I travel.  In high heels it can become an almost unbearable situation when walking long distances such as gate changes, terminal changes, and the inevitable walk to your parked car. I know, I’ve done all of these in high heels and that’s why I wear comfortable flats when I travel now. My desire to look professional, chic and hip are still a part of me; and a statement from the new bestseller SWITCH: HOW TO CHANGE THINGS WHEN CHANGE IS HARD by Dan Heath and his brother Chip Heath helps me deal with it better. They write “Clarity dissolves resistance.” How true! Once I was clear on the perils of running in high heels and walking long distances in shoes that feel a size too small after a long flight, my resistance to wearing low healed comfortable shoes dissolved completely.  Who knew it could be explained in just 3 words? And by the way, this is a terrific book for lots of other reasons.