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Category Archive: Business Leadership

CEO Mindset: Are You Developing the Right Skills?

How do business owners/ executives encourage or even inspire their team without being a good model? According to a recent survey conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, only 9% of their executive respondents chose “practices self-development” as their primary skill a leader needs. Becoming CEO of your small organization is a process of learning and developing as you understand your changing role, the roles of your team members and how the business works relies heavily on your ability to develop yourself. New challenges crop up all the time. Self-development is happening, one way or another.

James* (not his real name) is typical of many small business leaders. He was telling me in a coaching session that he was having difficulty moving out of his typical “I’m one of the team” style to one where he is out of the office meeting potential partners, looking at possible acquisitions and prospective higher level customers. He is excited about where the company is going but he is feeling a little strange supporting his team as they become the safety net for current customers and day-to-day operations. James, like a lot of blossoming CEOs, is discovering that his communications skills need some enhancing so his focus is on identifying his expectations, how he influences the corporate culture through his actions and words and making sure his messages are clear.

Is self-development misunderstood?

You may have read that meditation is the latest leadership and management “thing.” It is easy to imagine that self-development is only about deepening your self-understanding through some sort of esoteric process. However, it is something you can do on a daily basis that goes beyond the latest fad or even deep self-exploration. The kinds of skills needed by small business owners/ executives often depends on the company’s growth plan. Like many of my clients, James is learning how to delegate some of his responsibilities to particular team members. To accomplish this, he had to identify his beliefs about where he fits into his organization, how he trusts his team and determining the strengths and weaknesses of his team and staff. This is all self-development (and he is learning quite a lot about himself along the way).

Four questions for self-development

Whether you are the sort of person who seeks out self-understanding on a deep level or not, there are probably skills that you would like to build up so you can be the best leader of your company. Frequently, the specific areas that a business owner/ executive targets for improvement are tied into the business goals. That saying from Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you won’t get you there” is a good reminder that each stage of your company will teach and enlighten you. Simply put, old behaviors don’t always get the same results and can even lead to failure. These four questions are a good conversation to have with yourself:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Why am I going there?
  • Who is going with me?

Becoming a leader is an evolutionary process. Discovering how your thinking and feeling grows and adapts over time makes it easier to notice which skills need attention. This is all part of the CEO Mindset.

Are you developing the right skills?

Embracing the role of CEO is often one of accepting that you are a steward. Sure, you might be a key part of business development or a sponsor of a potentially innovative product. But your role is more the Shaper than the  Actor.  The “right” skill for you may be accepting the role of steward and dropping role of  technical expert or it could be speaking less and listening more. The “right” skill may be improving your presentation skills so you can pitch effectively to investors or a more sophisticated customer. Identifying and learning the skills you need for the next stage of your business will support your team and staff staying focused on the business goals and doing what they do best.

Related posts: What Stories Do You Tell Yourself While Growing Your Business?

Using the CEO Mindset For Smarter Communication

6 Ways SME Leader’s Role Changes When Growing Internationally

 

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Expanding In the US: Choosing the Right Place For Your Business

expanding in US, Irish business, costs, locationOne of the common topics that come up with the Irish business owners or managing directors I speak with is just where in the US to set up their business. Common themes are familiarity with a part of the US where they studied or worked years ago, wanting to be near hubs of a particular industry or a place that holds resonance or romance (New York and Boston get mentioned a lot!). Noticing a trend or under-served market is only the beginning. Choosing the right place for your business will support how your business grows as well as how your employees develop. This segment of your planning is an important part of the expansion process.

What is most important?

Underneath it all, the location you pick has to be consistent with the vision and goals in your business plan. There are a few things to consider as you settle on the best place for your expanding business.

  • Infrastructure: This is a major consideration. Evaluate your access to established warehouse, lab or retail space, the ability to ship easily (highways, railways, water and air) and other similar companies in your or complementary industries.  You may even want to note the specialties of local universities, entrepreneurial/innovative communities, strategic alliances or partners and/or the investor community.
  • Costs: It is a good idea to get a sense of what labor, renting or buying property and proximity of  supplies might cost in each location that you are considering. Also learn about business taxes, income taxes and other start up expenses for each potential area. It is worthwhile to compare the incentives offered at the state and local level (many towns and cities in the US are competitively looking for companies).
  • Customers: You can discover this through market research. Locating close to actual and potential customers will aid in networking and customer service.
  • Hiring locals: Besides becoming aware of the specialties of local universities, you may need to know what costs are involved in attracting employees. Certain industries attract people to settle in specific area so certain skill sets are readily available. Assess whether it makes sense to have expats or locally-based staff for compliance with employment and immigration laws.
  • Ease of travel (home and nationally): Being near major roadways and airports will support your access to customers everywhere. Also, it may make a difference when you (or any expats) want to get home without a lot of hassle or expense.
  • Quality of life: As you acclimate to the US, there are times when you are going to feel homesick and want the tastes or sounds of home. Check the area for groups from your home country and restaurants that serve authentic food. Also learn about the various residential areas (like anywhere, US cities and/or towns can vary in wealth), the cost to rent or own, cost of living and how easy it is to buy groceries, send children to school and recreational activities.

These are just a few of the considerations you will have as you look at all of the places you might settle your business in the US.

Professional help makes the path smoother

There are a lot of details to arrange. It may make sense to work with a trade organization (such as Enterprise Ireland) or a consultant who specializes in connecting companies with the necessary resources (something akin to a concierge and advocate).  It may even suit your purposes to work with both. Having someone based in your desired area sets you and your company to work with more appropriate resources. While you could do all of this on your own, time zones and frequent travel will not only get in the way of what you do best but could open you up to greater expense. Keep in mind that each region of the US has its own quirks- accents, idioms and customs. Working with a well-connected  professional can help you put real numbers and deadlines into your business plan plus introduce you to the resources you might want or need.

Choosing the Right Place For Your Business

Expanding in the US is an exciting process and can even be fun as you meet new people who are excited and interested in your business. Everyone may express an eagerness for you to choose their particular location. However, the process of evaluating each location to see if it is the best place for your organization must be more than a feel-good exercise. Combining the hearts and minds of your and your team will help you decide if your desired location supports your vision and business goals.

Related articles: Irish SME Owners…Introductory Post About Growing In the US

6 Ways SME Leader’s Role Changes When Growing Internationally

8 Tips for Expanding In the US For Irish Small Businesses

 

 

 

 

 

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CEO Mindset: Be the Goose, Be a Better Leader

empathy, leaderWhat does being a goose have to do with being a great leader? Well, it starts with a story…

The Farmer and the Goose

Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had a flock of geese. One day a fox came into the yard where the geese lived and tried to snatch a goose. There was a terrible flurry of wings and beaks pecking at the fox. Eventually the fox was driven off but one goose was left with a broken wing. The farmer saw all of this and went to help the goose. But the goose kept hissing and running away from the farmer. After chasing the goose around and not catching it, the farmer asked, “how can I be the goose?”

Concerns and assumptions may interfere

There are times we avoid asking certain questions like “how can I be the goose?” because we think it is not becoming or appropriate. After all, generally being a goose is associated with foolishness. Also there are times when we feel disappointed in or angry with a team (or staff person’s) member’s behavior.  But at the same time, who will get things running smoothly again? Ultimately, it is our model that shows others what is expected. Asking ourselves to examine more closely why we are avoiding the difficult situation or people can highlight what concerns and assumptions are going on in our heads.

Great leaders are empathic

There is some confusion as to how an empathic leader behaves. Empathy is not sympathy or pity. It does not imply or state agreement. Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding his/her perspective. You do not even have to agree but acknowledging the other person can give you insight so you can identify the actual problem (which can be very different from what is being reported), if your vision and expectations are clearly communicated or the strengths and weaknesses of your team. While people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are lionized for being harsh, driven leaders, the statistics of disengaged workers (63% of workers worldwide are not engaged) is a wake up call for leaders in small and large companies. In a 2014 survey conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison, it was reported that 58% of managers fail to show understanding towards their employees.  And how many anecdotes have you heard about people enjoying their work but unable to tolerate the organizational culture?

How to “do” empathy?

As Henry Ford  once said, “The secret of success – if there is one – is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and to consider things from his or her point of view as well as your own. ” It is both easy and hard to do.

  • Quiet yourself- If you have a chatterbox in your head, you will remain focused on your opinions, assessments and thoughts.
  • Listen actively- Ask questions, reflect back what you heard, summarize both agreement and disagreement and request suggestions for resolving the issue

  • Watch the nonverbal cues- Eye contact, tone of voice, speed of speech, posture and choice of words are all hallmarks of how engaged the person is in a conversation. If something feels off, even if you cannot identify what, acknowledge the disconnect by stating, “I think I missed something here” or asking “do you have any additional concerns?”.
  • Lend a hand- Asking how you can help get a task done opens the door for conversation. Your team member may say he/she does not need the help but your offer lets them know you noticed.
  • Practice, practice, practice- Even the most empathic of us have off days or get distracted by the enormous amount of work and responsibility. If you are new to expressing empathy in a leadership role, it might feel awkward. No matter your experience level or stress level, empathy is improved with use.

“How can I be the goose?”

Asking the question is the start of empathy. When you see a staff member struggling, you are like the farmer wanting to help the goose with the broken wing. As you go along, you may notice that some people respond well to questions about how the work is going while others may need to hear you tell them to take a break and refresh themselves. Empathy gives you a better sense of how your small business is functioning and lets your team (and staff) know you want them to be well and perform well.

 Related posts:

    How To Be the Sun When Leading Change

    Great Leaders Develop Via Relationships With Self and Others

    Leadership, Mindfulness and Practical Enlightenment

 

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CEO Mindset: Are You Contagious?

CEO Mindset, emotional contagion, neuroscience, Imagine you start your day in a terrific mood. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and you are looking forward to today’s client meetings. Then, you meet the office curmudgeon on the way in and have a conversation. Suddenly, the day isn’t quite so wonderful or your work so engaging. What happened?

 You caught the bad mood

Yes, seriously. People have this ability to both sense and take on another person’s mood and it is called emotional contagion. It can work both positively and negatively. While this may seem a bit on the strange side, consider this. Humans are social animals so we have the ability to read both verbal and nonverbal cues. This includes empathy and other aspects of social connectedness. Research since the 1700′s has noted that people will unconsciously adopt the posture, tone of voice, facial expressions and other outward signs of emotions. It seems that the nonverbal cues, including micro-expressions, are the most powerful and we will mimic or synchronize ourselves to match another person.

Recent neuroscience research

Curiously, we have a section of our brain called the insular cortex (which is in the cerebral cortex which is located in the front of your brain) which is thought to be responsible for perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning and interpersonal connectedness.  Since our brains work so quickly, we are often unaware of how well we can both sense and blend ourselves in relation to another person’s behavior. Essentially, humans are wired to note both subtle and overt clues to begin, maintain and grow our social connectedness.

What does this mean for business owners and executives?

If you are a business owner and/or an executive, you are in a position of authority. Leaders create, by words and actions, the value system and preferred behaviors. With this authority, your staff and/or team watch you more. There is a much greater likelihood that you can infect your company with your moods. This can put you at odds for creating that warm and human-centered organization you imagine.

Try an experiment…for about one week, stop yourself 3 times every day and ask yourself,

  • What do I feel?
  • What am I doing?
  • How is my team/staff acting right now?
  • How is my team’s behavior reflecting my mood(s)?

Supporting your CEO Mindset

Noticing your own emotional state will help you determine if you are contagious in a positive or negative way. And reinforce your emotional and social intelligences. Using the CEO Mindset is more than understanding your role in your organization. It also facilitates how you understand the effect you have on your staff/team.

Are you contagious? And is it more positive or negative?

Related posts: Leadership, Mindfulness and Practical Enlightenment

                         Giving Thanks Is a Hidden Leadership Tool

                         Using the CEO Mindset For Smarter Communication

 

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STARTING EXPORTING TO EUROPE – PLANNING IT OUT

It is my pleasure to introduce you to a talented colleague. This guest post is by Stuart Allcock, a business consultant and entrepeneur based in Ireland. His company Applied Business Support Ltd helps businesses internationalise their activities, removes barriers to business growth, and works with universities to commercialise their technologies.

US business exporting into EU, export planningThis article is intended for the small to medium-sized US business looking to export for the first time and thinking about selling into the European Union (EU).  Realistically this article’s tips could apply to any part of the world you’re thinking of exporting to, not just the EU.  There’s plenty to do to prepare yourself before you think about jumping on a plane going eastwards.

 Business planning

Planning for exporting isn’t really much different to formal business planning for any organisation.  Some owner/managers argue that you can’t really plan a business strategy until the company has already got some hard trading experience behind it.  This may have merit.

 However, the flaw is that sound business planning is done on a foundation of diligent market research (MR).  If it’s done properly, it’s designed to uncover important facts about what pitfalls and risks to avoid in the venture as much as opportunities to exploit.  Risks in exporting can be costly so mitigating those risks with good MR makes good sense.

Planning starts with diligent market research

It’s like arranging a car vacation to a region you’ve never visited before.  First you need to research what the region is worth visiting for such as culture, countryside, coast, food specialities etc.  Otherwise you could be unaware of all these tourism opportunities, at best coming across them by chance.  Then you would plan out where you are going to visit, which route you will take, and where to stay.

As best you can, you’d maximise the best use of your resources – mainly your quality time and money for an enjoyable vacation.  With no planning you might go nowhere of particular interest and pay a lot for mediocre hotels and food.  See any analogies with business planning?

 Export planning is no different

Simply put, with export planning you’re still looking at selling products or services into markets and territories, taking into account all the resources needed, calculating the financial impact for commercial viability, and addressing risk.  If export planning wasn’t already part of your original business planning, then there are quite a few additional things to consider.

 Some of these points are mentioned below.  It sounds a bit dramatic to say ignoring them is at your own peril – that might be a “worst scenario” situation, but there’s some truth in the statement.  Realistically exporting can be fun (if you like travelling and experiencing different cultures!).  It also has to be lucrative so it helps if a bit of common sense and good MR and planning is employed from day one.

Some suggestions

Risks can usually be reduced and costs minimised if a few general things are observed in the export initiation process.  A few suggestions are:

  • Do your research diligently.  You don’t even need to leave your desk to collect a lot of usable MR information.  All you need is online access and a telephone.
  • Supports might be available from your local government agencies to assist with export preparation.  There are other sources too.  For example in Ireland, if you’re considering setting up your own offices and maybe such as production or assembly, you should talk to IDA Ireland (www.idaireland.com) to see if and how they can help you.  Each EU country has its own inward investment government agency.
  • An exploratory visit to your selected country/ies will be essential as part of the initiation process and even before selling starts properly.  This could be for visits to potential end-users for validating the product or service, meetings to evaluate future sales partners, or research at local exhibitions.Differences in cultures (= the way we do things) may mean your existing products/services aren’t quite the right specification – or even could be downright inappropriate for some countries!  There are 28 sovereign countries in the EU, most of them with distinct cultures between them.

Selling in the EU

 Broadly, Ireland and the UK and maybe even the Benelux countries don’t differ too much in the way business operates and products are accepted.  In any case, wherever you’re intending to sell in the EU, it’s almost certain you will come across this issue at some time so these facts need checking out very carefully before selling starts.

  •  Different ways of doing business in different countries can impact on various business processes.  For example – impacting on debtor days, how your goods are sold such as needing field trials beforehand, and the extent of shared responsibilities with in-country partners such as resellers and who pays for certain marketing outlays.
  • Be cautious about proliferating the number of countries you try to sell to when you start exporting.  This especially applies to the small business with limited external sales resource – who is often the owner/manager in any case.
  • Are you personally geared up for exporting?  Often, unsociable travel times and lugging suit cases around required a certain level of fitness.  Spending time away regularly can also impact on family relationships.  All this needs taking into account time because different people react to this in different ways.  Do you need to carefully schedule time away or should you consider recruiting a sales person – even part time if you can afford it?
  • Last but not least, with all this focused activity going on to get your overseas sales off the ground, be careful not to take your eye off the ball with your established home customer base.  There’s no sense in losing lucrative home market customers through poor service because you’re focusing all your efforts on getting sales in export markets.

 Happy exporting!

About the author: Stuart Allcock  is a business consultant and entrepreneur.  He’s a Brit who’s made Ireland his home and base for his work.  Stuart has a passion for growing businesses and developing international markets.  He’s been running export-oriented companies for over 20 years and before that, virtually lived out of a suitcase for many years to care to remember, selling European products and services on a global basis.  His company Applied Business Support Ltd helps businesses internationalise their activities, removes barriers to business growth, and works with universities to commercialise their technologies.

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6 Ways SME Leader’s Role Changes When Growing Internationally

SME owner, leader, growing internationally, changeRemember what it was like when you first opened your business? You had a plan and goals. There was excitement and uncertainty. Your role then was probably very hands-on with everything. And here you are today. Maybe you have always had your eye on expanding internationally. Quite a few SME owners and executives of Irish based businesses tell me about the challenge of growing within Ireland and seeing the limits of strictly focusing on this national market. Thus, they look for markets in Europe, the UK or the US. But there is more than finding your target client in a new market. There are some ways that a leader’s role changes that may be unexpected, even when expanding internationally was the plan all along.

Most common role change for small to mid-sized leaders

  • Adventure4- Before any growth, there is some predictability to leading your company in its current size. Notice the thrill when you’re planning and implementing steps to grow your small to mid-sized business in another country
  • Delegator- This is essential to being able to focus on all the details needed to grow in a new market. It includes knowing what you are best at, the person(s) on your team with specific skills and developing trust in letting your team members do their jobs.
  • Communicator- With all the travel and meetings involved in growing your business in another country, it is important to clearly set your expectations for both the home office and the foreign office. Plus, regular check ins support your availability for our team’s questions, timely decisions and general relationship maintenance.
  • Newbie (Exposed to different ways to do business)- Meetings, schedules, meals, entertainment and communicating via email or phone can have minor to major differences. This is an opportunity to learn something that makes you better as leader and manager of your organization.
  • Start up status (2nd time around)- Go from being established with a reputation, credit and stability to start up status could make you feel off balance or frustrated.
  • Missing the familiar- Being in a different country can be both exciting and foreign. There are different smells, flavors, sights, sounds and behaviors.  It is not uncommon to feel homesick at times. Learn where to find food and expatriates to bridge the new with the familiar.

Good time to use the CEO Mindset

With the CEO Mindset, there is an awareness encompasses both you and your new environment. It is important to know how much you can handle in terms of going from one meeting to another, spending time at networking events and being away from home. There is also the part where you need to know any skills gaps regarding communication and delegation that you might have. There are a lot of details to keep track of and using the CEO Mindset allows you to be patient with yourself while you are exploring and learning. Your role will change. Others will treat you differently. You will see yourself differently. Be confident, do your preparation and enjoy the experience!

 Related post: 8 Tips for Expanding in the US For Irish Small Business  

 

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What Stories Do You Tell Yourself While Growing Your Business?

Two recent conversations with clients illuminated how incredibly powerful belief can be. Business owners and executives  with growing companies are faced with a myriad of details to review, problems to manage and decisions to make. And while it is easier to anticipate how much capital you might need or staffing changes, it often comes a surprise when uncomfortable emotions are triggered during the process.

fear, belief, CEO MindsetGrowth is change and change triggers emotional responses in all of us

It isn’t the passion or eagerness for the new direction that are at issue. It isn’t even that you are doing something wrong. It is the uncharted waters of growing your business that triggers the emotional response. Yes, other companies have grown successfully and you are putting the right pieces in order. The uncomfortable emotions may be

  • Doubt -Is this the best way to grow? Am I the right one to lead?
  • Confusion – Why are my partners expressing negativity? Why is my staff reluctant to adopt our new policies?
  • Apprehension – What’s going to happen next? Will we find the right customers?

This is not some sort of emotional collapse and you are a basket case. It is simply the process of adapting to a new way of doing business.

But let’s focus on you, the leader

Doubt and fear aren’t bad things or even to be avoided. They are simply emotional responses to the ambiguity present in the growth plan your business is following. You don’t know what the outcome will be. The deciding factor is what beliefs emerge with the emotions. For insecure leaders, it is common to start questioning your abilities (do I have what it takes? Can I inspire and lead my team?) or have old stories come up about how you are lacking in some way. Secure leaders (those who use the CEO Mindset) have learned their stories and exhibit more self-trust, tolerance of ambiguity and adept access to their emotional intelligence.

Key thing to remember

Doubt and fear are simply emotions and not reality. Take a moment to consider what you fear? Then ask yourself, “

  1. Why do I fear this?
  2. What am I expecting?
  3. Why am I expecting that outcome?

And keep asking yourself these three questions until you have the story clear in your head.

The story of fear and belief

It is not a question of fearlessness. (That might be a story you need to throw out because it creates an impossibility for many of us.) We cope with our experiences from childhood through adulthood by telling ourselves stories about who we are, how we ought to act and who we could be. In the intersection of fear and belief is the choice to tell the same story or change it in some way. I have had more than one client get an “a-ha” moment when they realized that their alcoholic parent or playground bully doesn’t get the last word on their ability to grow their business. Another client found he couldn’t create the culture he imagined when his company experienced a major financial crisis. Still another client had to leave a toxic business partnership to realize her potential. These moments were all based on old stories that had to be retold for my clients to embrace the CEO Mindset.

Go ahead

Feel the fear and the doubt. Ask yourself what is fueling these emotions. Then determine the truth or reality of your concerns. Are you fearing financial ruin? Well, if there isn’t enough capital, then that is real. If you fear that you are not up to leading your company as it grows, check to see if there is a skills gap or a confidence gap. Learn what you need to know and then practice. As someone once told  me, “With practice comes mastery…With mastery, comes the ability to do more.”

Fear can lead you to believe a lot of things. Clarify your stories and let go of what isn’t serving you well while you grow your business.

 *iStockphoto by Anson Lu

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Why Transparency Supports Healthy Organizational Culture

transparency, organizational culture, small to mid-sized business, business owner, CEOSome of you may know that I host the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz every Friday (you can read about our more recent conversations here) and often there are interesting lessons or insights that come from the live chat. As someone who coaches business owners and executives to become better leaders, a healthy organizational culture is often a topic or very near the surface.

But what is organizational culture?

For the small to mid-sized companies I work with, culture is often the expression of the business leader. Since small to mid-sized companies are more compact and connected than larger corporations,  it is easier for the business owner/ CEO to express to everyone how he/she wants things to be and, in growth organizations, to become. That means values and behaviours are obvious and the meanings and purposes of these values and behaviours is idiosyncratic to that company. As an example, one of my clients makes it a point to be available for face to face conversations, ask questions  and share a lunch with everyone once a month. Another client in a bigger organization believes in hiring smart people  and he lets them know his expectations and then gets out of the way for the day-to-day execution of these expectations. He is doing what he is good at and, consequently, so are his employees.

Transparency and culture

You may have heard a lot of discussion about transparency in various places. According to the Business Dictionary, transparency is

“Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation and collective decision-making. [Also as definition] Minimum degree of disclosure to which agreements, dealings, practices, and transactions are open to all for verificaton.”

One would think that smaller organizations would have less machinations and hidden agendas than their larger counterparts but politics are everywhere.

What could possibly go wrong?

Most small companies operate in a clear and legal manner. But there can be some pitfalls or unforeseen consequences when corporate culture stems from the leader as alleged actions by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his administration are being reported. Now the temptation is to say that politicians are corrupt anyway but I remember working for a doctor who would lose his temper in such a dramatic fashion and belittle others that people were literally afraid to speak up in meetings. Consequently, this small organization had high turnover, backbiting amongst colleagues and absolutely no faith that your immediate boss would ever back you if you needed it.

But there are other things to consider:

  • Lack of common definition of privacy and discretion: (thank you to Lois Martin for highlighting this) With multiple generations in the workplace, privacy and discretion have morphed over time and it is up to the leader(s) to clearly state what clients and the public can know about the company. This can be also seen as professionalism.
  • We live and work online: There are risks and responsibilities as this McKinsey report discusses. Cybersecurity is an issue for all businesses, regardless of size.
  • People may bring a negative perspective from their previous employer: As you grow, you hire new people and they bring all of their experiences, good and bad, with them. Their stories may color how they share information, show intiative or handle disappointment in your organization.
  • Euphemisms: Transparency depends on people saying what they mean. If you are “demising” jobs, let people know to expect their job may be eliminated.
  • Consistent ethical code: Transparency is really an encapsulation of certain values — respect, integrity, honesty — and if you are cutting corners, your employees will cut corners and this, ultimately,  affects attracting and retaining your customers

When you stop to think about it, it brings up all sorts of questions about organizational culture, individual behaviour choices and the validity of an ethical professional code.

What could go right?

Of course, there is always another side. Part of the most recent discussion about transparency are the advantages it gives to businesses. Small to mid-sized businesses may have been onto this for some time. Quite often you know your customers by name and understand how important that “know, trust and like” factor can be.

  •  Differentiation is clear: While you have much in common with your competitors regarding customer service or even type of product or service you offer, your words and actions, source of materials, vendors and clear wording on policies (without the super fine print) and procedures invites trust.
  • Happier employees: If you have ever worked for a boss who was tough and fair, you worked for a leader who was transparent in his/her expectations.  A 2013 TINYpulse employee satisfaction survey reported that transparent managers had a “correlation coefficient 0.94 with employee happiness.” Good management fosters better morale and productivity.
  • More accurate information about what customers like/dislike: Open, two-way communication with your customers enables better data gathering on what your customers buy from you and what sorts of improvements are most desired.
  • Clear internal communications: When the business owner/CEO takes the time to listen and interact, it becomes clear that the whole organization is supposed to listen and interact.
  • Supports accountability: When the decision-making process engages both the leaders and those assigned to executing the business goals, it is easier to know why a goal was chosen, who will do the work and when it is scheduled to be completed.

Transparency helps you develop a healthier organizational culture

It does take some work and maybe even retraining on your part to become more transparent. On the  other hand, having the ability to know who works for and with you simply provides an excellent foundation for transparency. On that you can build out how the values of honesty, respect, integrity and professionalism will be expressed in your culture.

What reasons do  you believe that transparency is important in a small to mid-sized business?

When could transparency harm your small to mid-sized business?

How much transparency is needed to develop a healthy organizational culture?

 

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Leadership, Mindfulness and Practical Enlightment

leadership, mindfulness, meditation, CEO MindsetThis post is from this month’s newsletter and since this topic has been cropping up in my writing, in the Twitter chat,  KaizenBiz and in my newsletter, I thought I would share it with you as well. In a conversation over the last few days on Twitter, it seems that many people are wondering just how to deepen themselves as leaders as well as cope with the stress of leading a business in a quick change environment. What if we took Peter Bregman’s suggestion in this HBR Blog Network post and treated laughter as a business metric? Is there an ROI for meditating or simply being in the moment?

Where is the stillness?

For many of us, it is the start of winter and it’s easy to become more like a hibernating bear with the longer hours of darkness. Perhaps that’s why I get a kick out of the Christmas lights and public holiday displays. These shiny, twinkly and even gaudy lights are moments of child-like fun. Standing in the morning or evening darkness in the still, quiet (yes, even in a city) air is an invitation to look around and up. Perhaps you notice the stars or the stark branches against a dark sky? This moment of stillness is mindfulness. There is nothing else but this moment…and you are here.

More than just the latest leadership craze 

Meditation and mindfulness are very popular right now in leadership circles.You may have heard of people like Bill Clinton, Bill Ford, Rupert Murdoch or Marc Benioff are active meditators. Nelson Mandela who recently died has talked about how meditating changed and supported how he was able to lead South Africa as it started its transition away from apartheid. And there is good reason for this. While it is easy to dismiss it as some woo-hoo or fluffy stuff, there is ample research pointing out how even 15 minutes can ease chronic pain, stress and inflammation. For leaders, there are additional benefits increased focus, creativity, composure, memory and agility of response) that you would use multiple times during a typical day.

Doesn’t have to be transcendental either

There are many reasons why people do not develop the habit of meditation. For some, it is difficult to sit still or maybe a particular style isn’t quite “right.” If you can breathe, you can meditate. It is that simple. Try an experiment, breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth for 5 minutes  What do you notice about your body? Your mood? Many people report feeling quieter and energized at the same time. And that’s just 5 minutes. Others find that eating something and really paying attention to the color(s), smell, appearance and feel of the food provides a similar response. I’ve even had clients describe walking or running as the way they quiet their minds and return to the office ready for whatever is on their desk.

Enlightenment can be practical

Leadership is largely an art and based on our mindsets. There are plenty of posts telling us how to identify a bad boss and none of us want to be that person. If you’ve read my other writings about the CEO MIndset, you know that there is an emotional life to running your business. Try an experiment…every day for 1 week, simply breathe deeply in and out for 5 minutes while sitting comfortably with your feet on the floor. Put a timer on, if it helps. Notice how you feel immediately afterwards and then also notice how you feel later in the day. If, after a week, you notice a positive difference, maybe it’s time to make it a regular part of your day.

While leadership fads come and go, meditation and mindfulness are practices that stand the test of time.  It might even enhance your executive presence and inspire your staff. At the very least, it will support you as you develop the CEO Mindset and grow your business.

If this is an area of interest and  you would like to see a webinar, in-person event or an individual consultation regarding meditation, mindfulness and the CEO Mindset, please let me know. Plus, if this post piqued your curiosity (there are other goodies as well) and you would like to subscribe to the Key Notes newsletter, please fill in the form on the upper left of this page.

I wish everyone a lovely and relaxing holiday season and may you have the best year yet in 2014!
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Giving Thanks Is a Hidden Leadership Tool

Thanks, gratitude, emotional intelligence, leadershipWith all of the recent interest in emotional intelligence and leadership, it is easy to wonder just what the fuss is about. When you break down mindfulness, you discover that it is simply focusing your attention to where you are and what you are doing at this moment. Break it down even further and couple that with this week’s  US holiday of Thanksgiving and you discover that one of the elements of emotional intelligence, gratitude,  can deepen your ability to lead more effectively.

Gratitude is a “chosen attitude”

With the human tendency to pay more attention to the negative, it can be hard to see positives. However, recent research has made some interesting discoveries about gratitude.

  • Better ability to ride out negative events
  • Energizing
  • Able to help others or access compassion more easily
  • Exemplifies emotional maturity
  • Helps access mindfulness more easily
  • Promotes physical health

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Richard Emmons, researcher and author of Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, gratitude is both a cognitive and emotional process. Indeed, gratitude doesn’t work unless both are activated. Gratitude gets its power to influence our behavior when we choose to use it.

The intersection with leadership

Recent leadership research keeps coming back to the best leaders being the most emotionally intelligent. Gratitude reinforces the most basic pieces of emotional intelligence by combining both internal awareness of your emotional life with the external awareness of how we interact and experience other people. Appreciation of what is in your life is a way of opening yourself is certainly an aspect of the CEO Mindset. But there is a transformational piece that is a direct link to your leadership.

  • Saying thank you to particular people for their performance encourages loyalty and good will
  • The  positive attitude demonstrates resilience and the ability to tolerate positive and negative events competently
  • Helps remove the “white noise” of our lives and work so you can think clearly about how you want to lead and where you want your organization to go
  • Keeps you open to listening to positive and negative feedback so you continually learn how to lead better

 What will you give thanks for?

See for yourself how gratitude can be transforming. Keep a gratitude journal everyday by writing down three things you are grateful for. They can be anything from thanking someone for telling you how you are doing a lousy job to acknowledging the beautiful sunset you saw on your commute home. Find out how you aren’t as stressed by negative events. Make someone’s day by thanking them for his/her hard work on a specific task. Increased loyalty, positivity and productivity are pretty good outcomes if you are willing to cultivate gratitude into your daily schedule.

 How will this add to your leadership?

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