Admiring Our Problems

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I’m heartbroken for the Jacksonville community who is living through the aftermath of yet another school shooting.  I’m also saddened and frustrated we haven’t put our differences aside to address the complex social issues that led to, not only this shooting, but the dozens of other issues our nation and our world are facing.

As a management consultant I’ve learned the first step in solving any problem is developing an understanding of the cause of that problem; however, our level of verbal discourse is so deafening we can’t hear each other.

Perhaps it’s time we quieted our voices and got started.

I don’t think any of us can pretend to understand how to address all the social issues causing our problem, but I was reminded yesterday I have the personal responsibility to do what I can to be part of the solution.

I been admiring our problems long enough.

I’m going to take the hour I’ve been spending every night sitting in my Lazy Boy, yelling at the television, shut my big mouth, and do something productive to work toward a positive solution to one of the issues I can address.

Even if my efforts only lay the groundwork for those who come after me, some of my greatest heroes never got to witness the effect their efforts.  Susan B. Anthony, for example, died before women ever got the right to vote.

I need to get busy.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Own Your Own Power

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I was first introduced to the concept of “owning my own power” after complaining to a friend about a professional colleague.  My friend wisely asked me how I had addressed the issue with my colleague.  I found it tough to admit that I hadn’t.

He paused and said, “Own your own power and quit acting like a victim.  Go talk with your colleague, explain the issue, and tell him what you need from him.”

Words to live by.  How many hours had I’d wasted before I was hit with this blinding flash of the obvious?  How ridiculous was it to be irritated because someone else hadn’t done what I thought they should, or, had done something I didn’t think they should have, yet not addressed the issue?

Even with that knowledge, sometimes it takes a sleepless night or two before I’m ready to admit that I’m upset with someone over an issue I have yet to address.

I’ve also learned that when I’ve stewed about a situation I have to be particularly careful to leave my emotions out of the dialogue when I address it.

Over time we each develop a method for doing this.  My current method involves writing the person a letter (not an EMAIL!)   Particularly when it’s an emotionally charged issue I pour out my emotions in the first draft.  Then I save the letter and go do something else.

After I’ve had time to clear my head, I edit the content to tone it down.  I continue “edit, go do something else” cycles until the picture in my mind of the person’s response is one that will resolve the problem.

At that point I typically go see the person or pick up the phone and call them.

I’m stewing about a situation now and just finished the second draft of the letter…. This one’s going to take a couple more rounds of introspection to acknowledge the part I played in causing the situation.  Clearly, I’m still a work in progress.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Procrastination

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During the Super Bowl, probably about halftime, I was on my way home after running some errands. I had the radio on and was listening to an interview with Tim Urban about procrastination.  Tim, a blogger whose blog, Wait but Why, explores procrastination.  He described his early theory that procrastinator’s brains were different than non-procrastinators.

He tested this theory by arranging MRIs of his brain and a friend’s, who he believed was not a procrastinator. He described the results in a hilarious TED Talk, illustrated with pictures that looked to have been drawn by a fourth grader.  Both brains have a Rational Decision Maker who is depicted with a steering wheel one would see on a ship; however, the procrastinator’s brain also has an Instant Gratification Monkey.  Every time a procrastinator starts to do something that’s necessary to keep his ship on course, the Instant Gratification Monkey takes over, grabs the steering wheel and replaces it with an activity that’s fun and completely non- productive.

When a deadline approaches, the third character living in the procrastinator’s brain, the Panic Monster, takes over and scares the Instant Gratification Monkey back up into his tree so the Rational Decision Maker can take over long enough for the activity to be completed, typically at an irrational pace.

He went to explain that after the TED talk he received thousands of EMAILs from people saying they had the same problem and how frustrated they were that they couldn’t control the Monkey.    EMAILS came from doctors, engineers, and lots of PhD students, people who’d had great accomplishments that made him realize there are two types of things we procrastinate about; those that have deadline and those that don’t’ but we’re all procrastinating about something. 

We all have a Rational Decision Maker, an Instant Gratification Monkey, and a Panic Monster in one form or another.  The problem is, unfortunately, activities that have no deadline don’t wake up our Panic Monster.  So, any career that involves some effort to get started doesn’t wake up the Panic Monster, because there is no deadline.   Activities such as taking care of your health, exercising, or tending to your relationships can go undone.

In other words, the activities that, when neglected, cause us no end of regrets, grief and unhappiness and can make us feels like spectators in our own lives.

He ended his TED talk with a graphic showing a life calendar comprised of a box for each week of a ninety-year old life.  He observed that we’ve all used up some of our boxes and maybe we each need to take a hard look at what we are procrastinating about.

I know I do.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Learnings from the Management Consultant: FOCUS!

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Recently I was in the middle of a conversation and realized while the person was talking I was thinking about something I really needed to get done and watching the clock as the minutes ticked away.  Every few minutes I had to tune back into the conversation.

The person I was talking with had a genuine need to talk with me and had made it a point to schedule and be available for the call.  I was genuinely interested in what he had to say, it was urgent and important to both of us, yet I found it difficult to FOCUS on what he was saying.

In thinking about how I can improve my focus I thought about how I might be able to apply some of the meeting behaviors I’ve talked about with clients and how I can apply them to one on one meetings, whether they’re in person or on the phone.

  1. Establish the logistics of the call. The call came in an hour before I thought it would because I hadn’t confirmed the time zone and who would place the call.  I’d made the assumption about the time zone and that I’d be placing the call.  Because I had both wrong, I was doing something else when the call came in and wasn’t focused.
  2. Start the call agreeing on the topics and duration of the call. The conversation would have been so much more effective if I would have said, “George, I have a meeting I have to leave for in an hour.  I have these three topics to discuss that should take no more than 10 minutes each.  What are your topics and how long do you want to allocate to each?
  3. Get rid of distractions. Both of us had a series of distractions during the call.  I had the phone on speaker to allow me to continue getting ready to leave for my next meeting in case our call went overtime.  Had I just sat still and focused on the call I could have insured we covered all of the topics in the hour available.
  4. Summarize what was accomplished and the next steps. We talked about a series of steps we would each take, yet 24 hours later, the information I was expecting hasn’t arrived. It would have taken me two minutes to summarize our commitments and I could have easily sent a follow-up EMAIL to confirm my understanding.

Fortunately, I’ll have many opportunities to improve my FOCUS.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Recovering from a Professional Error

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My first business was launched when I received a coveted shoe shine kit for my tenth birthday. In bed that night I rehearsed my sales pitch until I could say it without fear. The next morning, I lost no time loading my shoe shine kit into my wagon and visiting every home in my neighborhood collecting shoes to be shined until my wagon was full.

Back at home I got to work. With newspaper spread out on my bedroom floor I carefully spread the polish over each pair, then buffed them to a glossy shine. When I’d finished I carefully placed each pair back in my wagon and set off to deliver them and collect 25 cents a pair.

There was just one small hitch … I hadn’t kept track of where I got each pair. When my dad came home that night he walked with me through the neighborhood and waited patiently while I knocked on each door and explained my dilemma. By the time it was dark my wagon was empty and all the shoes had been delivered.

That was enough to put an end to my business. I was embarrassed and humiliated. At ten I hadn’t yet developed enough wisdom to learn from that mistake and label the darn shoes the next time. I just gave up. I hid my shoe shine kit at the back of my closet and didn’t shine a pair of shoes again until I joined the Army.

Over time; however, I learned more from that failure and those that followed than most of the successes I’ve had in my career.

  • Admit My Error: On reflection, my father and none of those people were angry with me. Once I explained my mistake and asked for help resolving the problem every one of them tried to help me. I’ve learned this is true of most of the mistakes I’ve made. Taking accountability is empowering and most people respect an honest apology when coupled with an honest effort to correct the issue.
  • Don’t Give Up: I’d like to say this was the only time I ever gave up, but it wasn’t. It took many years before I learned to honestly assess if there was something I can do or had done differently and then took the necessary action, either to correct the error or prevent it from happening again.
  • Define Success and the Required Steps to Get There: I finally learned from a wise colleague to ask myself and anyone else involved, “What does it looks like when it’s done?”  This ensures I have a clear picture of what success looks like, what it’s going to take to get there, and if it’s a joint effort, everyone is aligned.
  • Strive for Continuous Improvement: At the end of every job or project I take the time to reflect on what and how I can do better. This can sometimes be painful, but taking the time for it helps me reduce the probability I’ll make the same mistake again.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups. Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released soon.

Is 2018 the Year You’ll FINALLY Start Your Own Business?

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Now that the new year is firmly on its way the resolutions we made a week ago have started to be tested.  This can be particularly true if those resolutions are those we’ve made year after year and failed to keep.

If one of those resolutions was to start your own business, you’re in good company, as 25% of the U.S. population is interested in becoming entrepreneurs.

The top ten reasons I hear when I ask someone why he or she wants to start a business are:

  • My current profession doesn’t pay enough.
  • My current job prevents me from spending enough time with my family.
  • I plan to work after retirement.
  • I don’t have enough saved to retire.
  • I’ve always wanted to start my own business.
  • I’ve always wanted to (fill in the blank) __________.
  • I want to be in the driver’s seat and in control of my destiny.
  • I hate my job.
  • I’m unemployed.
  • I have children, or parents, or a spouse who need me to care for them.

Whatever YOUR reason, the why needs to be important enough to you to cause you to take action.

Is this the year that you’ll finally take that step?

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Fernandina Beach, FL and Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.

Qualified Candidates Who Lack Executive Presence are Often Overlooked for Executive Positions

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A client I recently coached comes to mind as an example of the need for executive presence.  The woman had been with a company since its inception – more than twenty years.  She’d advanced to senior manager level, then about ten years ago stopped being promoted to positions of greater responsibility.  Although she was widely respected for her ability to “get things done” and was often called upon to “do the impossible” when a project was in trouble, she hadn’t been selected for a newly established executive position.

The day she learned she hadn’t been selected she came to see me.   I’ve rarely seen someone so devastated.   She was at a loss to understand why, after all her contributions and hard work, she hadn’t been selected.  I’d been working with the organization for some time, been privy to the selection process, had worked with her on several initiatives, and knew the issue.

The company had a relaxed dress code she embraced and she put little effort into her grooming.  Her desk was cluttered with the soft drinks and snacks that she consumed  incessantly.  Because her computer screen was visible to every passerby, a standing company joke was the amount of time she spent mindlessly surfing the Internet or on personal calls.

Her communications were informal and laden with slang.  During several presentations I attended it was apparent she was unprepared.

She was known to gossip andhad a strong informal network that often worked around established processes and procedures.   While on the surface this was seen as a strength, the company’s growth had plateaued, largely due to the tendency to abandon standard processes and work in crisis mode.

The person who had been selected for the position dressed well and was impeccably groomed.  In her previous position at the company  she’d  transformed her department by establishing measurable goals and enabling her team to meet  their goals.

Her reputation was stellar.  She was warm and friendly, but with executive reserve.  She was always prepared and the tone and level of her communications were always professional.

In short, she had executive presence.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in late 2017.

 

 

The Executive’s Toolbox: Developing A Roadmap

Setting specific goals brings focus to what we do every day.   Without goals, it’s too easy to get so caught up in (whatever “comes up”) each day, only to look up and realize we’re only sustaining the status quo or losing ground.

My “adopted” daughter, Tina, did that six years ago.  At the time she was still recovering financially from a relationship that caused her to move from Wichita, Kansas to Dallas, Texas.

She set two specific goals.  Her first was to have financial stability and not live paycheck to paycheck.  Her first leg of that portion of her journey was to rebuild her credit rating.

She found a job working nights that allowed her to pay her debts and, while reducing them, began to put 10% of everything she made in the bank.  By the time her old car conked out last year she had plenty of money for a down payment and had rebuilt her credit rating so she was able to get a car loan for the rest at a low interest rate.  Now she’s saving for the down payment on a home.

Her second goal was to have a career as a counselor to help other people, particularly children.  She knew it would take an advanced degree and that her first stop along that path toward was to attend community college and earn her Associate’s Degree.

At the same time, she enrolled in community college and in less than three years finished her associates degree.  She then began pursuing her bachelor’s degree and at the halfway point was invited to take classes that would apply to both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and will finish both within the year.

Tina’s success was, in large part, due to her self-discipline and commitment; however, she used some tools that supported her along the way.   She walks around with a picture of her roadmap in her head.  She talks about it, thinks about it, and as she progresses toward each goal, updates it.

Mapping (and tracking) what we need to accomplish at intervals keeps the focus on what where we’re going and what we need to do next.

The process of converting our roadmap to paper is a tool that can serve as a visual  guide that illuminates hidden challenges as well as  opportunities.  The act of drawing the map demonstrates commitment to our goals and the map becomes a tool we can use to check our progress.

Consultants often use the process of building a roadmap with their clients to visually lay out the process of achieving a specific set of goals.  The maps typically have three basic components:  here’s what we want to do, here’s how we’re going to do it, and here’s how we’re going to know we did it.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of

.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Leveraging Our Networks: During Every Encounter

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Every year we have dozens of built in opportunities to network.  We attend our children’s school and sporting events, participate in holiday parties, workout at the gym and stop for coffee every morning at the same coffee shop.  Over time we get to know dozens of people, or do we?

We’ve probably delivered the same proverbial elevator speech we’ve written and practiced over time when we’re asked what we do for a living, as have they, but we often categorize them as “personal” rather than “professional” friends.

One of the most successful business development executives in the consulting industry, who lives in a Chicago suburb, attended both his daughters’ soccer games during their high school years.  During those years, he often sat next to their teammate’s father, was happened to be the CEO of a healthcare company.   When the company wanted to improve their performance, he received a call from the CEO.

While working with a team on a consulting engagement for a graphics company in New York we learned the company had just been purchased by a company in Chicago.   The purchasing company sent a representative to listen to our findings, we were thanked and dismissed.  Two weeks later the team got a call to present to the buyers in Chicago, who happened to be someone he met at a neighborhood Christmas party.

This same man’s passion has always been airplanes.  He holds a private pilot’s license, owns his own plane and is a member of multiple aerospace industry associations.  About ten years ago one of his friends, also a pilot, asked him if he could put a team together to help streamline aircraft production.  The team was successful and since then the preponderance of consulting engagements he’s been responsible for have been in aerospace.

His success is well earned.  Ask anyone who knows him and they’ll tell you he and his wife have spent their lives giving back.   When one of his former clients lost his job due to a merger, my colleague hired him immediately.  He served on the board of a start-up company for a new aircraft largely used for disaster relief and quietly worked to help them secure the additional funding they needed.

His genuine interest in other people shows with everyone he meets.  As a result he’s never really networking – he’s having a conversation.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Leveraging Our Network: Introductions

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Making the effort to connect people whose relationship may be mutually beneficial is a networking habit that demonstrates to members of our network that we hold them in high regard.  Almost like match-making – when we meet someone who appears to have parallel interests with someone else in our network – we can check with them to determine if they have interest in the connection, then make the introduction.  Although nothing may ever come of the introduction we have complimented both through our effort.

When a colleague makes an introduction on our behalf it’s important we acknowledge that compliment by following up on the introduction.

I’m reminded of an accomplished executive who I added to my team on a consulting engagement.   She had a deep background as a subject matter expert in a specific field.  As I got to know her I recognized it was important to her financially to be selected for additional engagements.

With her permission, I introduced her to two former colleagues of mine.  One owns her own firm and often has work she outsources.  The other is a highly sought after consultant who is often in the position to refer subject matter experts.

I received notes from both my colleagues thanking me for the introduction but, to date, have never received any feedback about subsequent calls that took place.

The learning for me was I could have been any of the parties involved in this scenario.  In this case I made the introduction.  I’ve been the person who was introduced and the person to whom someone was introduced.

I could be left with the feeling that I wasted my time; however, making the introduction gave me the opportunity to reconnect with two colleagues I admire.  It also reminded me how important it is to acknowledge the effort when someone makes an introduction on my behalf.

There may come a day when we need to contact that person, or someone else in our network, because we’re looking for a referral, a reference, or an introduction.  If we’ve established ourselves as someone who refers, provides references and makes introductions; and, who acknowledges our colleagues when we’re referred, when a reference is provided on our behalf, or when we’re introduced, we’ll be less reticent to ask for one when we need it and more likely to be the recipient of the support we need to be successful.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.