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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



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



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  



CEO Mindset? Permission Granted

CEO of small businessCould you give yourself permission to think like a CEO for your small business? Even if you are a sole proprietor, could you? This may be the single most important action you could do for your small business.

Take a moment to think about what a CEO does for an organization:

1. Sets the vision and tone of what “X Company” is all about

2. Designs and explains the strategy of how the business will develop and grow over time

3. Seeks out the talent to make the above happen

4. Keeps everyone accountable to the stated business goals

5. Makes sure that revenues (and even profits) are healthy

So, why is it so hard to think of oneself as CEO? This comes up a lot in my coaching with small business owners. Perhaps it’s got something to do with our images of CEO’s in large corporations. What comes to mind for you? What if I told you that’s a red herring? Size doesn’t matter. It’s about the mindset. It boils down to giving yourself permission to treat your business seriously. But I am serious, you say? Take a look at your vision for your business. Does it involve you becoming an industry leader, serving a national or even global market, or allowing you to move to your dream home? This can be scary stuff. It scares me sometimes too when I look at what I want to do with my business. We talk ourselves out of even attempting to realize our potential. It brings up stuff we learned as kids about thinking grander thoughts and upsetting the status quo. So, it’s safer to spend our time on the small, everyday tasks serving our current clients and the administrative to-do list. But safer is an illusion.

But really…is it okay to go for what we desire most? You can’t get there from here without giving yourself permission to be the leader.  I asked one of my clients to write down her vision for her small business as coaching homework. As I encouraged her to write down the details of what she wants, even to be ridiculously, over the top in her description, I could hear her laughing nervously. Another client gets fidgety when we talk about how important it is to be more consistent and clear with changing policies to support the new direction of his business. Sure, if you aren’t taking care of the big picture, your small business will lack focus and be less effective.  But there is more at stake here. If you aren’t giving yourself permission to think like a CEO, how will you make your dreams an everyday reality? What would you feel like if nothing changes and you never achieve your goals?

Would it be acceptable to deny yourself permission to have a CEO mindset? Can you live with that?



Hey Small Business Leader, We’re Watching You!

Leadership depends on so much more than technical skill. This theme has been echoing over and over recently in my work with my clients and in my reading. Sure, the small business owner has to act like a CEO. In other words, be able to know the nuts and bolts of how the business operates, use good communication skills, set the vision and mission, facilitate the overall strategy with the executive team, foster the corporate culture, nourish an entrepreneurial mindset, and model good  management skills. But it’s not how skilled you are at taking financial statements and turning them into a strategic plan that people remember most. It’s who you are. It’s the intangible skills that use emotional intelligence that makes your business hum or whimper. It always comes back to your values, your ability to connect, and your behavior. In other words, character.

In a small business, leadership can be a potent combination of petri dish and crucible. It takes a highly confident person to lead a small business, particularly through times of change. Employees see you for the person you are as there are fewer layers in the organizational chart.It can be daunting to make strategic plans that include products or services that have never been done by your company before. Given the recession that Studying your leadershipstarted in 2008 and the current “will it/won’t it” recovery of the economy, some of you have been faced with letting go of people who have been part of your company. If you’re feeling like you are on the hot seat, well…

You are being watched. No, this is not a good time to get paranoid, however tempting. Your team, your board, your employees, and your community are watching you for inspiration and results. They want you to be successful. John C. Maxwell in the tenth edition of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership writes “To build trust, a leader must exhibit competence, connection, and character.”

One bad example-There is a small business leader I know who has an amazing ability to infuriate people. She runs a successful business and her immediate staff speak highly of her. However, in business networking groups and other community organizations, she acts in a way that makes it so hard to volunteer with her. She demands allowances for personal issues, says she will do something but does not follow through, and gossips about other people behind their backs.

One good example-Another small business owner I know goes out of her way to foster positive relationships with her clients and her staff. Somehow she almost always finds time to talk and catch up with someone. There are stories of her sending people home when they are ill or have a family issue to deal with and acting as their substitute. Her postitive attitude and boundless energy are infectious and she is instrumental in mentoring small business owners. She is always on the lookout for new ideas that will improve her skills, enhance what her business offers, and support the growth of other small business owners.

Both of these small business owners appear successful on the surface. Which example is most like you? Aren’t there enough dysfunctional organizations out there? Most leaders don’t take on their roles because they feel it is necessary to denigrate others nor do they aim to seem indecisive and fearful. What about you?

How do you want to be seen?

What are you doing that keeps you consistent with your values and intentions?

What (or who) keeps you honest as you develop your leadership skills?



Flying Time and Hurting Brains

Overwhelmed Small Business LeaderHow often have you said lately that you can’t believe how fast time goes by?

Maybe it was about your children growing up? Or you noticed how mature someone else’s children appeared? Maybe you’re in the throes of end-of-quarter activities and you’re wondering what happened to January? Or perhaps you’re like me and busy with product development. No matter what, time passes and many times we don’t notice it.

This can be rather unsettling. It’s almost as if you were asleep and just woke up. What keep us from staying in our present? It’s no secret that current technology sets the stage for us to be wired into so much information from our businesses, our families, and our favorite social media sites. This constant stream of information is hard for our brains to absorb. Frankly, multi-tasking has taken on the dimension of being Herculean. For example, try checking your email, read a blog, and send IM’s or tweets at the same time. Where’s the dropoff in understanding each message?

There’s a study that came out of Stanford recently demonstrating that people who engage in multi-tasking are actually doing something other than multiple things at the same time. First, they are switchtasking which means they are not really fully present with any one project and they bounce from task to task without devoting complete attention or work at their highest skill level. Secondly, frequent multi-tasking harms people’s ability to concentrate and filter out irrelevant information. It’s like giving yourself an attention deficit disorder. When everything feels important, how do you determine priorities?

Does your brain hurt yet?

  • As a leader of a small business, it is easy to succumb to the belief that you have to do everything and be everything. You don’t and you can’t.
  • Perhaps you’re leery of delegating more responsibilities because you think it will take too much time or energy to train someone? Maybe it will take a lot of time and energy at first but imagine how it would feel if you got to spend time on the responsibilities that will make your organization stellar.
  • Given the economy, there may not be resources to hire someone. Okay, that just stinks! Remember you’re still human. Stop setting yourself up to fail.
  • Most of us have smartphones so we’re easily found at any time of day. It’s not a mortal sin to shut off your devices every now and then.

So, if we’re all multi-tasking or switchtasking, what happens to our creativity and enthusiasm?

Are we busy with business-building activities or are we just filling time?

How do we give ourselves permission to really focus on one task at a time?



Lenny Kravitz’s Guide to Leadership

Visionary leader“Are you gonna go my way?”

Challenge or invitation? As a leader of a small organization, how do you expect your team to go along with you? This isn’t about you becoming a tyrant or the boss from hell! That smacks a little too much of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. Great leaders understand how use their desire and authority to create a positive culture which makes people want to work for them and grow the business.

Founders believe their idea is something that will “engage and rearrange and turn the world back to one.” There is a level of passion you possess and there are people in your organization that believe in who you are or in the idea. It can be intimidating to step up and become more than just the chief technologist. You are the one who advocates for how your vision is going to make your business an industry leader (even the industry leader) and make a decent profit. The most powerful way to get your message across is to make it part of your everyday actions. In fact, you have to testify, witness, to its power and wonder.

Lenny Kravitz has a consistent message in his music. He sings about love in almost every song and has done this throughout his career. Just listen to his greatest hits album to hear this theme. This is a manifestation of his vision. He knows the power and wonder of his message. What is he doing that you can use for yourself?

  • Choose to inhabit who you are. Lenny Kravitz has a reputation for not getting caught up in the whole rockstar thing. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t turn it on when he has to or wants to. You are the leader of your organization. This doesn’t mean that to be effective you have to be highly charismatic. Be yourself and step it up when you have to. Shying away from this responsibility leaves your team without a pilot. They need your confidence and assurance that this a great idea worth commercializing along with your willingness to stretch your skills to include the unsexy parts of managment.
  • Have fun. It’s amazing how inspiring it is to have lunch together or simply asking, “how’s it going?” with your full attention. People desire a work environment that encourages them and allows them to work without fear or stress. You will get so much information about what parts of your business are functioning smoothly and what parts need your direct attention.

When you step beyond the role of the chief technologist/architect/worker bee to become CEO, you are choosing roles such as visionary, manager, and strategist. Getting people used to your new and very different role is tough. A current client is now going through the process of identifying which jobs he can delegate. One thing that makes this tough is that he is redefining what his role will entail. Another thing that makes this tough is the business is not quite big enough for him to completely inhabit his role as CEO. His organization needs his faith and determination.

Keeping the faith is crucial to going forward. This is where you witness to the desire, belief, and joy you get out of your Big Idea and vision. It isn’t when things are going well or even poorly that your team needs your enthusiasm or stability. It’s during the mundane of the days and weeks as you work on projects. The slog of the regular workday can be deflating because there isn’t anything to fight against or push against. This is the easy way to inspire people to action. The harder way is that the message that every small step brings you closer to accomplishing the goal.

While Lenny Kravitz may not be the first person you think of as an inspiration as a business guru but he’s got the question you need to ask your team: “Are you gonna go my way because I got to know.”


What are you doing to inspire your team already?

Are you issuing a challenge or an invitation to go your way?



Playing the Drums Can Help Your Business

DrummerI started learning to play the drums recently for fun. I have a long love affair with music since I sing and play a couple of instruments and come from a musical family but I never really picked up the drums before. It is an interesting experience going back to square one and learning the basics of keeping a beat, counting, and coordination! I am faced with the challenge of seeing what I could be doing and I just cannot produce that sound…yet.

Drums and business? I was coaching a client yesterday about how he is transitioning his business to a different model than he has followed for over 10 years. He is an amazing conceptual thinker! One thing that I marvel at is his ability to project out 20+ years to how he wants his company to look and act! Talk about being a visionary!

The catch for him is that his talent at conceptual thinking is getting in the way of implementing the plan that will lead his business to become a profitable and human-centered organization. Like many of us, he plays it safe by focusing on his well-honed skill set. When you have a stable business and a rocky economy, playing it safe could be a smart move. Except one thing…he is an entrepreneur by nature and he knows his business could be more interesting.

It is time for him to learn to play the drums! No, not literally. He is learning how to shift from being a part of the team that produces the products and services to becoming the leader of his organization. It can be a humbling experience to go from seasoned, competent professional to novice, uncertain but talented professional, even in your own business and by choice.

But this is the daring part! By taking on the open mind of a learner, using your curiosity, you open yourself for self-discovery and untapped abilities. You willingly take on the frustration and slow pace of not knowing the right answers. Mistakes will be made. Every time I sit at the drums, I miss beats or my feet and arms just will not move gracefully around the drum kit. My client is noticing some anxiety as he considers which products are worth taking to market and he searches for people who will potentially be on his leadership team. There is a lot of not knowing.  There is a great need for patience. There is also room for faith because you have tried new things before.

How are you daring to learn something new?

What impact will it have on your business?