Thursday, December 01, 2016

When you lead well, people will follow

I recently attended the retirement party of a friend and former colleague, Mary Beth.  Over 150 people turned out to bid her farewell.   She had been running her department with a large team for over 17 years, mainly with the same management team, which speaks to her leadership skills.  

How did she do that?  Well from my observations, she consistently worked with integrity.  She cared about her staff, the parents and children who came under her domain.  She treated everyone with respect and valued other people’s opinions, even when they contradicted her own beliefs.  And maybe most important of all, she had a great sense of humour and loved to have fun.

So as a leader or manager, how can you achieve this?

Take an interest in your team
One of her managers told me that she spent the first one-on-one meetings with her answering questions about herself, her family and her goals.  She was surprised and had expected that they’d leap right into business and talk about the issues.  Get to know the people who are working with you.

Ask questions
This is one that I observed myself.  When one of the staff would have a challenge and come to her for help, instead of giving her an answer, she’d throw it back at the staff member and ask what she thought was the solution.  What would she advise?  

She didn’t make herself out to be the expert, the keeper of all solutions.  Instead she encouraged her employee to think for herself and at the same time, conveyed that she was respected and her opinion valued.

Be inclusive
It can be all too easy, especially in government, to take a silo approach to solving problems or getting a project off the ground.  By that I mean that often departments get somewhat territorial about what falls under their domain, and so they don’t reach out and involve others, they hold the reigns of power and control tight.

My buddy, on the other hand, was always quick to invite others to the table, recognizing that there was strength in involving others and bringing in fresh perspectives.  Early on she started a multi-disciplinary network that included many players from different sectors, and to this day, it works well, always putting the needs of children first.

Party time
Maybe it was because she worked with children, but there was always some party or gathering in the works, so that staff could come together and have fun.  It was a chance to play and let go some of the stresses of the work.

And clearly she’d taught them well as the animated video her management team produced to say goodbye and pay tribute to her, was clever and funny as they poked fun at themselves.  They were following her lead as she’d given them permission to play and laugh while on the job.

After an illustrious career spanning over 40 years, Mary Beth’s retirement is well earned.  She has led the way and now the mantle has been handed over. 

While her colleagues will miss her, I actually gain – because now she will have time for that breakfast we kept promising to have. 

Now we get to play.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Open for business. Open to learn.

Scared. Excited. Nervous. Worried.  Sound like you?

Yes there is a real thrill about stepping out on your own, being your own boss and in control of your life (or so you think).  

But it is quickly coupled with a nervousness about whether this bold step you have taken is going to work out; that it’s going to pay your bills and ultimately lead to business success.

The challenge is that often you feel alone with your fears and that no one else can possibly be feeling the same way.  And yet that assumption would be wrong.

It was one of the reasons I started Company of Women as I found it lonely working at home and desperately wanted to connect with like-minded women who were on the same entrepreneurial path as me.

I often compare starting a business with having a baby, in that despite any homework you may do, nothing really prepares you for reality.  Also the emotions that stir up within you range from pure joy and excitement, rapidly followed by self doubt and anxiety that you are perhaps not cut out for this new job – be it as a parent or a business owner.

I have been in the entrepreneurial trenches for sixteen years now but earlier this year started a brand new venture.  Quickly I was reminded of what it feels like when you don’t know what you don’t know.   When you are used to being competent and knowledgeable, it is humbling to be back in the novice seat again.

And maybe that is why I am reflecting on what it is like to be in start up mode and why I’d like to see us – us being Company of Women – offer something concrete to help you get your business off the ground.

In the past I have run groups for newbies and at the beginning I’d often find that there was a group sigh of relief when they discovered that they were not alone with their emotional roller coaster.   I always remember one woman confessing that often when she got up in the morning she didn’t have a clue as to what she should be doing to further her business.  Around the table everyone was nodding in agreement.

The other interesting commonality that I observed is that while at the start of the group, the women were starting a certain business, by the end of the six months, their focus had changed and evolved as their concept of their business became clearer.

All of this to say that starting January 2017, we are launching a Start Up Club with a special membership rate for those at the beginning of their entrepreneurial venture or those about to embark on this journey, as well as webinars and online resources to help you focus, build your business and most important, establish your own support network.

We have a wealth of expertise within Company of Women, and these women are generously sharing their knowledge with you. 

As I have said in the past, you don’t have to be alone when you own.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Running on empty. Again.

You would think at my age that I would know better.  But I never seem to learn until my body says STOP.

It has been an exciting, busy week fast on the heels of a successful writers’ retreat. I mention the retreat because that was the start of my fast lane dash.  When you work over the weekend, you lose that chance to catch your breath, to restore your energies so come Monday you are roaring to go.

Not me.  Now I don’t want to turn this blog into a whiny post, especially since I am a big girl, and I am doing this to myself.  

I get excited about stuff, say yes, without checking my calendar and before you know it,  for example, I have three meetings in three different cities all on one day.

And as a result:

  • ·     I have over 800 emails in my inbox waiting for an answer.
  • ·      It’s Friday and I still haven’t written my Thursday blog
  • ·      I am sneezing and coughing all over the place.

Why do we do this to ourselves?   I am constantly writing about self-care, taking time for yourself, slowing down, and so on.

I think it is time I paid attention and took my own advice.  I am switching off now and going to curl up with a good book.

See you Monday.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Invest in yourself. Get a mentor.

When you start a business, you don’t know, what you don’t know and often you end up finding out the hard way.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a fast track so you could avoid some of the pitfalls?   When you have a mentor, someone who has already ‘been there, done that’ it could save you a lot of heartache. 

Sure you will still make your share of mistakes, that is how we learn, but just having someone asking you the right questions, gently or not-so gently prodding you in the right direction, can make a positive difference.

It is a lonely life out there as an entrepreneur. As a solopreneur you make all the decisions – something that attracts many of us to this career path in the first place, but the down side is what if you are wrong? Really wrong.

But you don’t have to be alone when you own. Having a mentor reduces that sense of isolation.  You have someone who is in the ring with you, cheering you on, celebrating your successes and providing support when business doesn’t go the way you expected.

Back in my career days I had a mentor who frankly saw my potential long before I did, and she would give me stretch assignments, which left to my own devices, I would never have taken on.  A mentor brings an objective prospective to your business, seeing your potential, perhaps gently pushing you out of your comfort zone and providing ideas that had never occurred to you.

As women we often don’t like to ask for help.  We don’t do vulnerable.  But having a mentor is none of that.  It is actually a sound business decision.  It means you recognize you and your business are worth investing in; that you have potential and want to grow – professionally and personally.

I encourage you to make that investment in your future.  Sign up for a mentor through our new Mentoring Program.  Go on --- you know you are worth it.

Monday, November 07, 2016

A walk in the dark

The darkness enveloped us.   Quietly we walked through the bushes, watching the ground below us as the path dipped and wove its way to our destination.

With candles and stars to guide us, we made our way slowly to the Labyrinth.  We were encouraged to focus on one thought – a mantra, question or concern.  

Single file, we walked through the labyrinth, all deep in our own thoughts.  No one spoke.

Curious as to what was the meaning behind a labyrinth, I did my homework. Apparently the seven circuits of the labyrinth correspond with the seven spheres of the sacred planets such as the seven days of the week.  Beginning to walk the circumference represents the involution and evolution of life and the quest for wholeness.  The winding pattern represents the circulation of vital energies within our bodies and walking the labyrinth has been described as a type of yoga.

You instinctively knew that you had to follow the same path in, and out.  No jumping over to get somewhere quicker.  It would have broken the spell and been disruptive to the walking meditation of others.

For several on our retreat it was a spiritual, meaningful experience, adding to a weekend which heightened everyone’s creativity and faith in themselves as writers.

We hadn’t planned to make this venture into the dark, but it strengthened the sense of trust we had in each other.  It sealed a bond between us, and without doubt was a highlight for many.