Blog

Get in the Game

Sometimes, we just have to just get in the game and stop holding back. We’ve gotta jump in head first and be a part of the great conversation that’s going on all around us. It’s right there, every day. Let’s not let it pass us by – we want in, right?

Read, think, reflect, internalize, and then engage. Give, and then give a little more. Let’s take time to give what speaks to us from the heart, so we can be a part of something bigger than what we see in our immediate surrounding. There’s so much more right in front of us. Let’s boldly tackle more because we can – but we have to try if we want to play.

Be brave. Be courageous. Be you.

It might start with just one step into a new conversation at work or a volunteer activity with a new group – or hey, maybe it’s even a new blog – but it’s a start. Let’s make our way into a larger dialogue. For me, it’s about helping others grow, learn, succeed, and building something more meaningful as we inspire and support the people who are closest to us. It’s about sharing what we love and being who we truly are. It just takes a little heart, soul, and passion that might feel overwhelming at times, but pushes us to be our best selves, making a difference to those we love most.

Let’s be vulnerable and authentic, and let’s try something a little fresh and a little scary. We have to step on the field and bravely get in the game to even start to play.

Take Your Time and Enjoy

So often in life we rush. We move quickly to fit as much into our day as possible, and ironically forget to appreciate the precious moments in between all the hustle. I’m such a victim to this harsh reality, and it’s time to slow down.

I realized recently as I was committing to another volunteer project, a half marathon training team with my girlfriends, and a few other things to add to the mix, I’m not taking on too much, but I am forgetting to slow down enough to enjoy the beauty in each individual opportunity. There are so many great things in life to enjoy, and it is possible – but we have to commit to the enjoyment. Whether it is time with family, discussions at work, a book to read, or conversations with friends, it all matters. We can spend quality time in each arena if we’re focused, not frantic.

I’ve been frantic for too long, worrying that I’m not getting it all done to the best of my ability. Well, face it sister – that’s okay. Just be present. Just engage positively. Just do your best in that moment, and it will all work out.

If you’re a type-A planner, organizer, and thinker of things on the horizon like I am, it becomes so easy to lose sight of what’s right here before us. It can be instinctive to focus too much on the finish line rather than on the mile we’re tackling in the moment. Yes, I need to start thinking in running terms if I’m going to make this half marathon thing happen…yikes!

When I look at my sweet little boys and see the joy in their eyes and the love they have for each experience they encounter, I realize how simply we can truly live our lives. We just need to focus on enjoying the bike ride, splashing in the pool, coloring outside the lines, and swinging for the fences with each pitch thrown our way. These guys live each moment with energy, passion, and the will to have simple and wonderful fun. They’re spontaneous, loving, and ready to run at any given moment.

So, let’s find our own ways to run, jump, and play. Let’s breathe in the happiness around us, focus on the now, and the rest will fall into place. We can still plan, think ahead, and take on projects and opportunities to enhance our own growth, as long as we find our balance and capture the joy that comes along with each day, embracing a few more of the moments that are here right now. Let’s just take our time and enjoy.

Some Love To My Fellow Moms

On this Mother’s Day, it only seems fitting to send some love to my fellow ladies who work so hard to truly be amazing moms at home, at work, and wherever we go.

You wake each morning, ready to tackle the day ahead, powering through your routine to make sure you’re ready for work before getting kiddos dressed, fed, teeth brushed, and lunches packed. If you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe you got to sneak in an hour to exercise first, but sometimes that’s a rare feat. You lather on their sunscreen and get them out the door, and if you’re anything like me, on more than one occasion you’ve probably left the house with mismatched earrings or mascara on only one eye because someone stole your attention while you hurriedly tried to get it all done. No worries – you’re a mom; it’s okay, and you’re doing your best. Don’t forget to pack the napkins you volunteered to bring for the class party.

Your days are likely filled with meetings, deadlines, proposals, reports, trainings, and more at the office. Your mind is racing as you’re trying to do your best to be the top-notch professional you know you can be. Your heart skips a beat when you look down at your phone and see the school calling, knowing in that instant your next call is not going to be the webinar you’re scheduled to lead, but instead a ring to the pediatrician because someone has a fever. Thankfully, today isn’t that day – it’s just a skinned knee and they’re letting you know everything is okay and not to worry. Back to work, but you’ve been there before. In that moment, you pause briefly and worry that your kids don’t get enough hugs, snuggles, and trips to the library or the park, but you know they love you and you love them right back even more. Every day you’re showing them what it means to work hard, be dedicated, stay strong, never give up, and do your best. The moment passes, and then you jump on that webinar with a little pang of guilt, but you know you’re doing the right thing.

You pick the kids up in the evening, probably after their after-school program as the last few moms are pulling into the parking lot right alongside you. You share a brief conversation with these gals, as they’ve quickly become some of your best friends. They get you. You get them. You have just a moment to connect and catch up, likely about the upcoming class trip to the zoo that you’ve both booked a vacation day to attend so you can chaperone and be there for your kids. As you walk down the hall together, you enter the classroom, so excited to hug your kiddos. The little ones embrace you – hard, eager to see your smiling face and show you their latest creation from art class. The older ones might be sad to leave their friends at the end of the day, but you know you’ll get some good conversations out of them right before you close the last page of tonight’s bedtime story. They have so much to share and you want to learn it all.

You drive home and tackle dinner, a load of laundry, a dishwasher to unload, some outside play in the backyard, and then it’s baths, stories, and sleep. You might fall asleep on the pillow right next to them. You try to rally after those final hugs of the night to spend some quality time doing something for yourself, or simply to have a few moments with your husband or a significant other. Sometimes you can pull those eyelids back open to make it happen. You might even sneak in a few pages of the book you’re trying to read, or the latest episode of your show that you DVR’d last week. Or was it the week before? How many weeks are you behind on this season? It doesn’t really matter. Life is moving fast, you’re exhausted, but it’s love and you’ve tried your best all day, every day.

You head to bed knowing you’ve given your day 110%. Your family, your colleagues, your company, your friends – every person and every project got your best effort. You mom like a champ, work like a champ, and know that when you follow your heart and do the right thing, it always works out. Your life is full and no matter what comes up, you’ve got this. You’re a mom and you’re amazing. Yes, you stumble and fall along the way, but with heart and passion you get right back up and dust off the scrapes and bruises just like you tell your kids to do.

So, today – no matter how the day unfolds – be thankful for the crazy in our lives, the love in our hearts, and enjoy both a moment for yourself and a moment with the ones who have made you so happy (and equally as tired), knowing that you’re showing your family the love, heart, and the commitment it takes to do the right thing.

Learn By Teaching

 

That particular Sunday in February was different than most Sundays. I wasn’t a student anymore, in fact I hadn’t been one for a long time, yet I found myself stepping onto a very familiar campus wearing a completely different pair of shoes. Gathering with former classmates in a building where we’ve all spent countless hours doing group work, crafting papers, discussing theories and models of leadership, and studying for endless exams, we met again – many years later. A little older, a little wiser, and a lot more experienced, we opened the big, heavy, wooden doors to a building we practically lived in as undergraduates. This time, however, we were alongside classmates who spanned nearly 25 years of graduating classes from our alma mater, The Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. We reunited to walk these familiar halls in new shoes and with a renewed purpose: to teach our real-life lessons learned to students who were eager to leap into their careers with the right set of tools in their toolbox of professional skills.

Every year I am honored to return to the school to facilitate a workshop for current students on how to deliver a great elevator pitch. It’s part of a larger program called the Jepson EDGE Institute, and it’s run by a group of dedicated alumni who develop workshops to help students prep most effectively for interviews, networking, internships, and more. Each time I facilitate a workshop within this bigger, grander program, I love to see those ah-ha moments where the theory and practice comes together for a new generation of aspiring professionals. A side bonus: I learn so much about my own strengths, opportunities, and more.

I return to this program annually for many reasons, but mainly because I truly love to teach. I love to educate and inspire hungry learners by sharing real stories that tie to real experiences, in this case it’s how to put your professional best foot forward. Partnering with former classmates, engaging in meaningful dialogues, answering thought-provoking questions, and helping young students sort through our advice so they can make their own career choices is truly my kind of fun and quite honestly, pure delight. I love seeing the sparks in the students’ eyes when the bigger picture starts to take shape – the shape of their own professional futures.

The secondary benefit, however, is that I always seem to learn a little bit more about myself. Each time I facilitate a workshop of any format or topic, I engage in feedback and self-reflection that helps me grow personally and professionally as well. I watch myself on film, just like any athlete preps for a big game, listening to my own inflection, tone, and observing my presence in the room. I pay close attention to how I answer questions from the audience too. Am I cutting right to the chase, or am I asking meaningful and intriguing follow-up questions to spark more dialogue? When it’s the latter, I know I’ve made progress as a presenter, leader, and advocate for professional growth and development.

I never skip the feedback or self-reflection process, always writing detailed notes and jotting down key phrases that came out of the discussions. I try my best to capture these crucial thoughts, so I can incorporate them the next time I give the workshop or presentation, and I save my notes for every upcoming session. I always, always, always actively craft a plan to make the next presentation even stronger. I take those observations and tidbits of feedback into my future prepping and planning process to push myself toward continual improvement, so I can ultimately deliver the best possible product to the learners.

Honestly, I am a continual work in progress when it comes to this stuff, or anything else for that matter. I’m not perfect, that’s for sure. No one is. We should always be learning, never stale, and certainly never done with our own development or continuing education plans. If we ever feel like we’ve arrived at our absolute peak, we clearly still have work to do. It’s humbling to continually learn from what works, what doesn’t, and to always try to get better, especially when it comes to teaching and training. If we’re truly in this game to help shape the next generation of impactful professionals, then we should work on our own content and delivery to make that happen, no matter what field we’re in. Its focusing on things like staying current on key topics in our industries, while making sure our personal experiences drive the essence of where we’re headed. When I teach, reflect, and challenge myself to step out of my own comfort zone, the learning takes even greater shape for me. Most importantly, it sets the stage for what I can deliver even more effectively the next time to support others in the process.

So, here’s a look at the guest blog I wrote about my most recent experience with this great teaching, training, and learning program, and what it meant to me to be a part of something way bigger than any one presenter or alumni volunteer could ever deliver alone.

It’s truly a group effort, and a powerful, team-based experience that takes endless dedication from so many individuals to pull off. It’s an honor to work with such talented peers, faculty, and staff to be able to collectively give back to these eager and aspiring students. What I learn about myself each time is simply a little bonus, but something that speaks directly to me when we engage as a cross-functional unit in this program. Maybe it’s because I’ll always be a student and true lover of learning at heart, regardless of what shoes I wear today and what path they walk along the way.

Be you. Enjoy you. Take time for you.

As I sit here and tell you it’s time to relax and unplug, I must admit that blogging, writing, and drafting my next article is my way to unwind. I may not be fully unplugged in this age of digital scripting, but doing what I love is so rewarding. Everyone needs to find their way to peacefully settle into that happy place, and this is mine. Putting pen to paper (or keystroke to laptop as it goes these days), is such a rewarding activity. It’s the process of just letting thoughts creatively stream onto each page in however they decide to take shape that always gets me. It doesn’t matter where I am, but if I have a moment to articulate some ideas and just be me, it’s exactly the happy place where I belong.

Each morning I wake up early and set aside an hour of time to write. Whether I’m working on my blog, my book, or a new article, I’m crafting away making just a snippet of progress each day. Taking a brief moment for myself when the house is quiet and the sun hasn’t quite risen yet, is just the spark I need to get focused and feel like I’ve had a little time to breathe. It’s so incredibly important to find this time for you, whether it’s morning or night, or somewhere in between.

Truthfully, though, this wasn’t always the case. I had to proactively change my routine and a piece of my lifestyle to find this precious time.

If you run at a lightning-fast pace, focusing relentlessly on working, parenting, staying healthy, volunteering, or anything of the sort, you may have found yourself in a place like where I was a few years ago. I was hitting the snooze button multiple times each morning, rolling out of bed in a daze to power through an action-packed work day, shuttling my family around town for various sporting events and stops at preschool, and then going to sleep each night purely exhausted (inevitably jumping out of bed a few times to take care of the kiddos) before waking up to do it all over again the next day. They were all rewarding and wonderful experiences, but before I knew it, years had passed, and I hadn’t stopped. Not once.

I bet many of you know exactly how this feels. It isn’t about struggles or problems or comparing varying degrees of chaos in our diverse lives; it’s just about time. If only there were more hours in the day, right? You’re incredibly grateful for every blessing in your life, but that feeling of sand in your eyes as you try to muscle through each day never seems to fully disappear, no matter what you do and what you face each day.

Taking time to stop, unwind, and do your thing – whatever it may be – is so important. My things are pretty simple: reading, writing, or sneaking in a good workout. I can feel such a difference in myself after I’ve taken that much-needed moment to unplug, and I bet you do too. When we take this leap into a just a few minutes of down-time, the results are remarkable. We’re rested, refreshed, personally satisfied, and in turn more productive at work and more engaged at home.

The key: be strategic about making time regularly and stay disciplined about how you use it. Find it and don’t let go. For me, I choose to sacrifice an hour of sleep each morning, but it’s an energizing hour. The first few days of finding this time were exciting. It was new, and while giving every ounce of energy I had to others, it was finally for me. Then, suddenly, it got exhausting and overwhelming as the reality of waking up early every single day set in, but I kept going. Before I knew it, it was a rhythm – a habit I couldn’t miss. I once tried to let myself sleep in for just a week, and all I could think about was how much I missed my hour of writing time. By the third day I was back up before the sun, returning to my moment once again. I just had to do it. It sounds crazy, but it’s my version of relaxation, and it is a big part of me now. How will you find that part of you?

So, as I sit here blogging away and taking my moment to unwind, I hope it sparks a little fire for you to do the same, finding your thing and embracing it. Be you. Enjoy you. Take time for you, even if it’s just a quiet pause for a cup of coffee and a few sun salutations in the morning, or a moment to read a few pages of a good book before you hit the pillow at night. It might not be every day, and that’s very real. Life happens. It might not be for a long or extended period of time either, especially if you propel through life at a similar pace, but you’ll be thankful you did take a moment for you when you wake up in the morning ready to embrace the true rewards we find in each day of our lives, however challenging or crazy they may be. We all feel it, we all need it, and we’re all better at tackling our own unique reality when we can have even just a moment to ourselves.

Encourage Strengths to Shine

Most people don’t live in a world of perfect clarity. We don’t always have a yes or no answer, or a vivid picture of exactly where to go next. Everyone has a story, a reason, a background, a unique path that’s defined where they are today. There’s gray – lots of gray. Understanding where people are coming from and what they may be feeling in their own experience is so important when it comes to working effectively with others.

We have to be okay with the fact that very few things are going to be purely clear-cut, with razor-sharp definition. We have to listen, engage, and make an effort to grasp the human element of each individual’s past, present, and future. Particularly when we’re navigating toward change and aiming to bring a team along with us, we’re going to find ourselves playing in undefined space quite a bit. It’s how we handle the process of working through it with our teams that can make all the difference and positively drive us toward the desired result.

When we raise the expectations at work, ask our teams to do something new, or simply just change part of the day-to-day game, we’re likely going to encounter elements of resistance, or at the very least, emerging or intense feelings. When we do, it’s time to listen. It’s time to support our teams as a unit with a common goal but know that everyone might need to take their own path to arrive at the finish line. Being supportive, understanding, and willing to work with them in a way that reflects their strengths and inner drive is key.

When we actively work with our teams and embrace this spirit of empathy, we’ll likely find that we can produce something much greater than any of us could ever do on our own. When we allow natural talents to shine as we forge a path toward progress, the outcomes become stronger than ever. We just have to play to the strengths of our individual team members, so they can stay actively present and engaged. This is where we allow for, within reason, freedom within a framework to achieve the desired results. If we let reflections of our unique beings emerge in the process of reaching the end goal, we’ll get there together. We’ll very likely have team members who are more committed to the process and supportive of the final results, too.

As we learn from Tom Rath in the Strengths Finder 2.0, people are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs when they are given the chance to utilize their strengths at work. That’s a big number, and one that we need to be aware of when aiming to truly drive genuine growth and progress. So, the next time we’re challenged with achieving a team goal, let’s think about the best way to arrive at the finish line. Let’s think about the human element that ensues along the way, and the power our teams have to be more productive and aligned when they’re free to let their natural talents emerge. It may not be a path of clearly black and white. There may be a little gray, but the final product will be brighter, shinier, and emit more clarity than ever.

Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007.

Leaders Are Learners First

Ironically, the best leaders don’t think of themselves as leaders; we’re just a member of the team. We’re one of the bunch, and we work as a cohesive unit with our colleagues, peers, partners, clients – whomever we interact with on a regular basis.

The best leaders also know that we will never truly reach our peak or feel like we’ve arrived, because we should all be engrossed in a lifelong process of learning. There’s always more information to soak up, ways to improve, and innovative ideas that are untouched and ready to embrace. Whether its books and articles to read, podcasts to listen to, or social media feeds and blogs to follow, learning is everywhere. In our technology-based world, there’s so much knowledge right at our fingertips, and we should be taking advantage of every opportunity to embrace it.

We will best support our organizations and our teams for future growth if we’re taking advantage of all types of learning, truly engaging in where we’re headed and layering it on top of where we’ve been. So, let’s dive in and be ready to breathe new life into all that we do, and then share it as we go. It’s that dynamic combination of passionate experience combined with an insatiable thirst for more information that will ultimately propel our teams forward to be the game-changers, so let’s play. Let’s play hard and have fun with it. It’s our own responsibility to act so we can be a key part in where we’re headed together.

Let’s be learners first. Let’s truly be in love with learning, growing, developing, and understanding more today than we did yesterday. Let’s ask questions, get feedback, find out something new, and be fully in the learning game. It’s so worth it and it’s so refreshing. So, let’s think about what we want to learn, and get on it! Time is on our side, and it’s never too late to begin.

Set Realistic Expectations

In the game we call life, it’s important to make sure we’re always working toward progress while also creating realistic expectations. Setting ourselves up to be true to our word and able to achieve what we say we will is what starts to build trust, alignment, agreement, and understanding. The moment we say we’re going to do something or make a far-fetched reality come true and we find we cannot get there, we’re likely going to let someone down. That’s a place we can easily avoid with a positive approach and the right communication.

I always come back to the idea of searching for what we can do, not what can’t get done, because it keeps us grounded while also allowing us to achieve what we may not have thought possible prior to a second look. It’s simply the strategy of saying yes, but setting realistic expectations around when it can get done, how it can get done, and maybe even re-evaluating the outcome to define a slightly different finished product.

What does this mean? It means looking for the possibility, but not over-committing. It’s finding a way to see things from a new angle and making something positive work without letting everyone down. When we partner together with our teams, collectively work through tough scenarios, and truly embrace the possibilities instead of the roadblocks, we can get there.

If we’re setting clear expectations from the start and not over-committing ourselves, we’re on the right track, and even setting ourselves up to exceed expectations. That might mean empowering our teammates to take on more responsibilities, or phasing our way into new plans and projects, but with the right people, clear communication, and realistic expectations set from the start, we can make it work.

The funny thing is, it always works out. I use that phrase all the time when seemingly impossible stuff hits us. If we step back, evaluate the bigger picture, think clearly, work together, and define realistic expectations with a dash of patience along the way, we can always get pretty remarkable things done.

Giving

As we approach the close of a month filled with celebrations of great food, fun, loved ones, and time spent reflecting on what we’re thankful for, its important to not only be thankful, but to also embrace the spirt of giving. Whether we donated to a meaningful cause on #givingtuesday or found a way to simply enrich the lives of others, I hope we all made our distinct and impactful contributions.

As leaders in business, it’s important to think about giving daily. Let’s pay it forward and always aim to help others learn, grow, and achieve. Let’s prioritize the education and development process for our teams, and ensure everyone is set up with the tools and resources it takes to succeed. Let’s clearly communicate our support, so we can inspire those around us to do the same. When we give with our hearts and ingrain these actions into our daily lives, the spirit is contagious, and it naturally multiplies the good around us.

Seasonally, its everywhere, but the challenge becomes continuing this illuminating power of giving well beyond what we feel and see today. Taking action and making sure we embrace the spirit of giving in our daily lives is what truly makes a difference in our companies, our communities, and beyond. When we give each day, perhaps just starting with a little more intentional effort on teaching and opening doors for those right around us, we can inspire, support, and help everyone succeed.

Let’s give thanks to those who have invested in us, and think about how we’ll invest in others. Actions speak louder than words, so let’s take a moment to do the right thing and give with our hearts. Let’s give knowledge, give support, or just give a listening ear, and be fully present and intentional every day of the year.

Be a Great Coach

 

Great coaches challenge us. They give us feedback, but don’t beat us down. They artfully find a strategic blend between constant encouragement and ongoing development. They help us embrace more of our true potential. The best coaches are the ones who acknowledge that we’ll stumble (or should I say fumble?) from time to time, but they look at everything as a learning and growing opportunity. They know there’s always something good that can come out of any scenario. They help us navigate through these moments, and make sure we’re reflecting on what’s happening, so we’re prepared for the best possible outcome the next time. They realize we’re not perfect, and they help make us better every day.

Coaching on or off the field is an investment in people, and it takes work. It’s a commitment to who we are and what we believe in, so we have to show what good looks like all the time. When we lead by example, do the right thing, and help our teams get through the weeds, we’re on the right track. If we’ve had experience with great coaches, mentors, or leaders before, it makes translating this approach to our own teams a little easier. I’m very fortunate to be able to say I’ve had some incredible coaches in my life at work, at school, on the court, and beyond.

If you’re committed to being a great coach, you’ll be there for your team members, so they don’t feel lost or out there on their own. The simplest thing to do is to be available to work through anything, to bounce ideas off each other, and to figure it out together. You probably won’t have all the perfect answers for your team, and that’s okay. You’re real and you’re human too, and no matter how long you’ve been in your role, there will be things that come up that you’ve never had to handle or think through before. Don’t sweat it. Be available, be approachable, listen, and be willing to pitch in no matter what.

A great coach makes it known that their team can call on them anytime, and they’ll work through a strategy together. When we stay aligned and think through difficult or complicated scenarios with a unified approach, the magic happens. We share ideas, discuss the tough stuff, and ask each other questions, so we get to the best possible solution as a team. There are no surprises, because we’re communicating regularly and working as a unit. Leadership is truly about great partnership. Coaches who partner with their players, who maybe even get into practice and do the workout with the team, will achieve trust, understanding, and respect. Their players invest in the team and commit every day to being their best because they feel valued, supported, and appreciated. It takes significant effort, but it builds a stronger future. When players know the coach has their back, they’re in. Is your team in?

Be Grateful and Appreciative

Being grateful and appreciative is never overrated. When people go out of their way to do something for you, you cannot say thank you enough. The appreciation we show for each other helps us strengthen and develop the bonds of teamwork that move us forward every day. The more we say thank you for the positives we encounter, the more we see them multiply in effect. That’s when good things really get done. Teams succeed by helping each other out, so show a little love and give thanks for all of that hard work.

Working together to drive progress takes effort, and that usually means supporting each other out quite a bit. There’s very little we can achieve alone in business or in life, so when you see or feel a good deed in your presence, acknowledge it. When you notice your teammates going out of their way for each other, call it out and make it known. Let your entire team see their support is recognized and appreciated all the time. It’s worth it to no end, and they’ll be more likely to continue paying it forward and giving it back.

Believe it or not, the handwritten note never goes out of style either. It may sound like an outdated way to show your gratitude, but it is still by far one of the best ways to say thank you. Since they’re used so rarely today, notes might be even more valuable than ever. Taking the time to put your words of thanks on paper is truly a way to go above and beyond the expected in a world driven by fast-paced digital communication.

So, the next time you want to say thank you, I challenge you to write it down, pass it along, and send some happiness to someone who deserves to know you care and you’ve noticed their good deed. It’s the right thing (or should I say the write thing?) to do.

Always Learning

It’s so important to continue to grow, learn, and evolve every single day. There are endless opportunities out there to absorb more information, and it’s up to you to seek it out. Staying current in your industry and beyond is critical to your success, and the success of your organization.

If you dig in and learn, share what you come back with, and help your team members see what else is out there, you’ll probably inspire them to do the same. You’ll begin to see articles passed around, conferences discussed, and podcasts, blogs, and Twitter feeds on the recommendation list. You’ll gain insight from everyone’s different perspectives, and the creativity will start to flow.

When we value learning, whether it’s formal or informal, we open ourselves up to unlimited possibilities. We often stumble upon valuable concepts and new strategies in the process, and find ourselves inspired by what’s fresh, exciting, and potentially game-changing. The momentum we can create through all forms of education is infectious, and one we should take advantage of every day. When you tackle each day with a willingness to grow, your enthusiasm will spread and you’ll see success start to build.

So, stay current, stay relevant, stay informed, and know that the future of whatever you do probably looks different than it does right now. Be brave, be curious, and strive for something better than your best each day.

Leadership First

Have you ever stopped to think about the real difference between management and leadership? It’s funny how so often we have jobs that are titled “Manager” of this or that, and it’s so far from how we should really be approaching our actual roles each day.

Maybe in the sense of process, it’s okay to be a manager. We can literally manage the steps, the details, the deadlines, and the line items on an excel grid that need to be accomplished to complete a task. If your job is transactional in every way, then go ahead – manage away.

If, however, your role is about relationships and working with others, the game changes. If what you do centers around interacting with people (and let’s be honest – most of us work with tons of people every day), then I challenge you to set down your management stick and pick up your leadership hat to transform how you do what you do. You and your team will thank you for it.

Do you ever find yourself just trying to knock things off your to-do list to get them off your back? Do you get to the office each morning (or worse yet, sit on your couch each night) and power through a load of emails that landed in your inbox in an attempt to get ahead for the day, rather than lag behind? In the essence of time, do you fire off one-line responses that, whether you know it or not, might get taken wildly out of context and come across as cold, rude, abrupt, or even angry with just a few short words? Do you ever find yourself justifying that behavior by saying things like, “Oh, please don’t ever take my emails to heart. I’m usually just pressed for time and trying to get back to you quickly.”

Yep. We’ve all done it, and we may start our day out feeling accomplished and on schedule, but who do we harm along the way? When you’re a true leader, relationships should always be your top priority. Before you sit back down at your desk and reply, take a moment to think about your response. You may want to consider the human element in all that you do. It’s not hand-holding or coddling, it’s being thoughtful and professional. Think about the people who work with you, and how your actions will impact their experience, and their future. Do you want your team to see your willingness to help them grow and learn, or to fear they might upset you and always be watching their backs? Do you want your peers to know you’re a team player who is eager to work together, not in opposition, to accomplish a greater goal? Do you want to show how you’re a thoughtful and strategic partner with a vision for the future growth of your company?

Be the good in what you do, and don’t be known as the one who tackles each day as a reactive and impulsive task-master. Think about the people you work with directly and indirectly, put those relationships first, and you’ll see engagement, development, and productivity skyrocket. Be thoughtful and careful with each word you use (written or spoken), because each individual word counts. You don’t have to take a lot of time to be thoughtful, but you do have to choose your approach wisely. Maybe sometimes it actually means picking up the phone (so old-fashioned, I know!), to embrace the human element and engage in conversation. Your spoken word may land very differently than your written word, no matter how many times you’ve put pen to paper and thought you got it right.

Leaders think about people first, not just process. When leaders elevate others, act respectfully, and put effort into their relationships, the processes falls into place and is the natural next step. It might take more effort, and maybe a little more time, but the ROI is unparalleled. Grow your team, your business, and your future by being a leader, not just a manager, no matter what title is written on your business card.

Feedback Isn’t Criticism

It’s important to remember that feedback isn’t criticism, and if we deliver it as only areas of opportunity, we’ll alienate our teams, discourage their productivity, and curb all creativity and energy. When momentum is rolling, we have to encourage progress and simply help our teams make sure they’ve uncovered all the options in their decision-making tree that may be masking the best possible solution.

Here’s another thing about feedback: there’s always something good in there, so don’t overlook it. Your team members need to feel a few wins, so don’t ever hesitate to draw attention to what’s working and why it’s spot on. Feedback is a way to share ideas that spark conversation so you can find a better result by thinking through the tough stuff as an aligned unit. Feedback is always a combination of what’s going well and what we can do to improve. It’s gotta be a little bit of both.

Finally, when you’re providing feedback, it’s important to share it in person – always. Never deliver it in an email. Ever. Unless you’re just gushing about a fantastic accomplishment and you want to take a moment to recognize success (which we should all definitely be doing), make sure feedback is given in person. Engage in dialogue. Talk about what’s working and what we can continue to improve upon together. Ask each other questions and show you’re coachable too. Recognize facial expressions, body language, and have a productive conversation about needs, goals, changes, and next steps.

When feedback becomes part of your regular routine and it takes a helpful and positive angle, you’ll see your teams start to crave it, not fear it. The more you embrace it yourself, the more apt your teams will be to engage positively and ask for feedback. If we all open ourselves up to being humble, honest, and eager to learn, we’ll be setting up for long-term success and growing the next generation of strong and positive leaders in our fields.

Be Professional

No matter what you do, professionalism counts – big time.

Business professionals should uphold a sense of conduct that is unparalleled. Your position or title doesn’t matter when it comes to character. Your heart, your soul, and the strength to follow your gut and be good are what count. Maintaining that high standard of quality, however, takes more than just effort. It takes a strong sense of self to truly be your best. It takes a willingness to be humble, yet fearless. Fearless when it comes to doing the right thing, that is.

When you mentor or lead a team, or you’re simply someone who is highly regarded in your company, field, or industry, you should feel an intense sense of obligation to lead by example and do the right thing. Doing things well while doing good things is the best possible treasure you can pass along.

What you’ll find is your reputation will precede you – always. If you’re a person who does the right thing and still performs at exceptional levels, you should be incredibly proud of yourself. I’m giving you a virtual pat on the back right now for all you do. You should never feel the pressure to operate otherwise. It’s just not worth it, and it will eventually impede your ability to move forward, learn, grow, and help your organization reach its true potential.

The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Engage with a mentor who can help you navigate toward professional growth and development in a way that lets your powerful sense of character shine. This is the person who will challenge you and push you toward a higher standard of excellence while recognizing your wins – big or small – along the way. Your mentor will help you learn from his or her successes and mistakes, ultimately transforming who you are by encouraging you to reach past your comfort zone. This is the person who will leave a lasting impact on your professional development and your life.

The strength you already have in order to be a true professional (or to be a mentor who helps someone get there) is in you; everyone has the potential to find that inner glow. When you do, hold on tight, and embrace your commitment to being honest, genuine, positive, and true in the utmost professional way. It’s quite possibly the most valuable thing you can do.