Golden Guidance for Female Leaders

Golden Guidance for Female Leaders

Originally posted by NAEM:

Meet Colleen Slaughter, a senior executive coach, top team facilitator, and leadership development advisor. Colleen travels the world using her expertise to help leaders develop the clarity, courage, and confidence they need to uncover and live their highest purpose.

At the upcoming WOMENLEAD24 conference, Colleen is leading the can’t-miss workshop, “Empowering Ourselves and Others to Achieve Balance & Success.” NAEM’s Executive Director Carol Singer Neuvelt recently sat down with Colleen to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities female leaders face.

Carol: Based on your experience, what holds women back from realizing their full potential?

Colleen: What holds women back from realizing their full potential is denying their own natural gifts, such as their intuition, in order to “blend in” more with the guys. It’s only once we grasp the notion that the key is not to become more like them, but to become more and more us, that we become truly powerful in our leadership and lives. It’s like doing a yoga pose: throughout the practice, we remain who we are, yet we stretch to new levels.

Carol: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving women leaders most often?

Purpose Statement

Colleen: The golden guidance I give women leaders is to hone your purpose in this life and stick to it. The rest will fall into place, and you can lead from there.

The trap many people fall into is leading from the outside-in: adjusting our behavior to what we think will be pleasing to others or to what we are told will get us a better performance review or that promotion. But what’s the point of all of that if we are still dissatisfied in the end? Whereas when we lead from inside-out — following our inner navigation system based on values and purpose — we become a lot more focused, productive, and fulfilled, and our work becomes more creative and impactful. That said, uncovering our purpose is not always a straightforward process, so here’s something that can help you get started.

Carol: Why is self-advocacy a critical business skill?

Colleen: Above all, self-advocacy is a leadership skill because it sets the tone for all of our relationships, including the one with ourselves. The narrative against self-advocacy (and in support of supposed humility) can convince us that finding and using our voice is arrogant. But as I mention here, humility is really about right-sizing ourselves. It’s about honoring where we might need to improve and what we are already doing well.

Carol: Why is it important to empower others while advancing your objectives?

Colleen: It all ties back to meaning, which makes our lives and work more fulfilling and impactful. Yes, we could all choose to go about our days mostly thinking of ourselves and all that we need to get done. But at the end of the day, I’m sure most of us would agree that’s a lonely and stressful way to live and think. Not only do we humans need each other, but our work days can also be so much more connective and productive when we get to experience a strong sense of belonging. So, switching our mindsets from “me, me, me, me” to “we, we, we, we” is a powerful move – in more ways than one.

Women's Lead 2024Colleen is the managing partner of Authentic Leadership International. Join her and many other talented and successful female leaders at WOMENLEAD24 in Providence, Rhode Island, July 23-25, 2024.

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Purpose at Work: What it is, Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it

Purpose at Work: What it is, Why it Matters and How to Cultivate it

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

This past week I interviewed a top leader in retail whose company is on the cusp of a revolutionary transformation. “What,” I asked him, “will be the magic potion to this transformation really taking hold?” He didn’t miss a beat when his words tumbled out, “The energy of our people. Our people need to re-find that fire in their bellies that got lost somewhere along the way. Without that energy, this transformation we are planning will never fly.”

What a smart man!

Indeed, no transformation – or long-term strategy or company culture or anything involving humans – can be successful without that initiative having meaning for the people who are involved. And this doesn’t mean telling our people why this should matter to them: it means finding out what matters to them and inviting them to co-create the common purpose together.

Over the years I’ve written about meaning and purpose in the workplace many times, and since then these topics have seemingly only grown in importance.

There are several reasons for this. For one, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent rise of remote work arrangements resulted in a fundamental shift in how we work, which in turn has left people feeling socially isolated and lonely. Additionally, the years of disruption brought on by the pandemic, along with several other social, political, and economic shakeups, have caused people to re-evaluate what they want from work, with many seeking assurances that what we do has some greater value. This is reflected in a number of recent employee trends: according to a recent report from Gartner, 82% of employees say it’s important for their organization to see them as a person, not just an employee, though only 45% of employees believe their organization sees them this way.

This begs the question though: what does it mean to find purpose at work, and how can employers help their team find it?

Understanding Purpose at Work

“An extraordinary business starts with extraordinary people.
Extraordinary people start with purpose.”
– Jesper Lowgren

Put simply, purpose in work is the intrinsic sense of fulfillment that employees gain from doing work that’s meaningful to them. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working, so naturally, many of us want to believe that what they do during those hours has some value beyond earning a paycheck. This sense of value can take various forms: some people just want to know that their work contributes to the overall success of their organization, while others want to believe that what they do has a positive impact on the world. Regardless, finding that unique sense of purpose can be a source of empowerment, motivating people to bring their best selves to their workplace.

This is why we must as leaders take a stand and help our people cultivate a stronger sense of meaning at work. Not only is it the human and right thing to do and therefore the only reason I personally would need, but it’s also essential to bottom-line results. When a team member can find meaning in their daily work tasks, they are more likely to approach those tasks with their full attention and a firm understanding of their organization’s goals. A strong sense of purpose also results in a greater sense of job satisfaction, which builds loyalty and incentivizes employees to work longer hours and take fewer sick days. Team alignment is another positive effect, as when a team member feels a sense of meaning in their work, they are more likely to support their colleagues and help them feel the same.  Finally, with all of these purpose-filled individuals and teams running around, the world becomes a safer place to be – if only in that microcosm.

Purpose at work is therefore a win-win-win-win-win scenario: the individual leaders, teams, the organization, and society at large all benefit.

Cultivating Purpose in the Workplace

“Never has there been a more exciting time for all of us to explore
this next great frontier where the boundaries between work and higher purpose
are merging into one, where doing good really is good for business.”
– Richard Branson

Of course, cultivating a strong sense of purpose can be challenging, as meaning-making is a complex and collaborative process. Purpose is a personal matter, and workers can take steps to find greater meaning in their roles, from practicing mindfulness to investing more in their relationships. Yet it is ultimately up to company leaders to role model and create an environment where their people feel supported and can more easily connect what they do with some wider purpose. This requires a fundamental change in how some leaders view work, as workplace managers are so focused on moving the ball down the field that they rarely take the time to consider how their employees are feeling. Anxious to get to the “results,” some leaders immediately default to offering higher pay or more benefits even when it is obvious that what employees want is to be respected, appreciated, and fundamentally important to their organization’s success.

It’s usually at some point afterward that companies end up calling leadership advisors such as myself to help fix the mess that not prioritizing what employees wanted in the first place can cause: silos, more talking than doing, conflict, and risk-aversion – among others. Such wreckage ends up costing the organization much more in time, money and energy than if they had merely made the space to create more meaning for their people in the first place.

The truth is that leaders often avoid discussing matters of purpose because doing so would involve potentially uncomfortable conversations with employees. It requires a more compassionate, human-centric approach to leadership, one that makes the effort to forge meaningful relationships with employees to help them discover their “why”, connecting the dots to identify how a person’s efforts result in a tangible, positive impact on others, whether it be for their colleagues inside the organization, external stakeholders, or the world at large. This not only serves to empower employees but strengthens one’s ability as a leader, helping them move beyond either/or thinking (i.e., “Either I drive performance at all costs or I take care of my employee’s personal needs”) to instead embrace both/and thinking.

Such a concept is at the heart of the work we at Authentic Leadership International design and roll out for leaders and teams: higher-level “soft” skills are introduced and practiced as a way of getting the “hard” stuff done in a more productive and meaningful way. Even right there in the workshops, which always result in tangible, co-created next steps. Intertwining the hard and soft stuff always results in greater impact.

Cultivating a sense of purpose at work is no easy task, however. It takes time to get there. Yet the value of the result is undeniable. When people feel that their work has some greater value, they are encouraged to meet that heightened value in terms of the quality of their work. This is good for the workers, good for their employers, and good for the world.

It is up to each of us to create an environment where everyone can find that special sense of purpose! We all deserve it.

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Building a Strong Executive Presence: A Bolder Leader’s Guide

“Executive presence then is the leadership currency
that creates the conditions for results and long-term success.”
― Clara Conti

As an Executive Coach and someone who has been on a long journey to understand what it means to “own the room” as a speaker, I’ve learned a few things about what true Executive Presence is – and isn’t. Executive presence isn’t about checking boxes, pretending to be something we’re not in the name of putting on a good front. Executive presence isn’t strictly about our unique body language – for congruence between our nonverbal cues and inner worlds are key. Most importantly, executive presence isn’t just a buzzword – it is a vital tool that can make or break a leader’s ability to inspire and support those who follow us.

So, how to get there?

Understanding Executive Presence

“People are felt rather than seen after the first few minutes.”
― John Steinbeck

The first thing to embody (no pun intended) in executive presence is the “presence” part. Without question, those of us who are fully present can draw people in, unlike those of us whose thoughts and actions dart in all directions. Presence is literally where it’s at.

When it comes to being present in an “executive” way, this simply boils down to being as at ease in our skins as possible. Merely maintaining eye contact won’t cut it if our knees are knocking from fear. In a similar vein, having just the “right” words won’t help if our voice is trembling or shouting. Overall, then, executive presence means having a strong sense of presence within ourselves.

Executive Presence

In more specific terms, though, executive presence can be difficult to understand. It isn’t a single leadership trait, but a collection of behaviors that result in our ability to instill confidence in others. This includes both the tangible (the physical) and intangible (the emotional and intellectual) aspects of leadership. Leaders need to demonstrate confidence, poise, and general leadership competency, while also embodying ethical and emotionally intelligent behavior. Of course, appearance also plays an important role here: dressing professionally and appropriately helps us establish and maintain high credibility, which in turn lends itself to stronger executive presence.

The complexity of executive presence has created many misconceptions, but the most common that I’ve encountered is the sense that it is a matter of style over substance. Some of us tend to put a great deal of emphasis on the outward image of confidence and professionalism, usually based on dated and highly prescriptive leadership models. This often results in our trying to emulate other successful leaders, trying to adapt to our image of leadership rather than build one of our own.

Yet true executive presence needs to be built around our own unique personality and level of self-confidence. Otherwise, we can be seen as inauthentic and untrustworthy in our team’s eyes.

What Executive Presence Looks Like Now

While executive presence has always been important for business leaders, it is arguably more valuable than ever since the near-constant disruptions of the past few years. With many workers feeling disconnected from their organizations, the need for us as leaders to renew our efforts to rebuild these relationships is higher than ever. A strong executive presence can go a long way here, helping us serve as an example for our team and inspiring them to commit even more to their own growth, thereby also benefitting the organization. Approaching executive presence in this way requires a major change in mindset, however. While the core concepts of executive presence haven’t necessarily changed since the pandemic began, the specifics of how they are expressed in the modern workplace are still in flux and likely will continue to change.

For instance, as remote and hybrid work increasingly become the norm, we leaders need to adjust our communication approach and online image to build a strong online presence. From investing in a better microphone to making careful decisions based on remote teams’ varied schedules and preferences, there are many steps that we can take to strengthen our executive presence in the face of this new digital work environment. There are also several trends that have taken on heightened importance among workers, particularly diversity and emotional well-being.

Executive Presence in the Post-Pandemic Future 

“…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

A lot has changed in the working world over the past few years and more shifts will probably come, but one thing that remains constant is the importance of strong leadership. Executive presence is just one element that makes up one’s overall leadership style, but it is something that has the most immediate impact on those around us. When cultivated and leveraged effectively, our executive presence will serve as a vital leadership tool, encouraging employee engagement and empowering teams to meet and exceed organizational goals.

Just remember that for our executive presence to truly shine through, it must be authentic and built upon our own unique leadership style. After all, there are many leaders with a strong executive presence, but only you can be you. And thank goodness, because the world needs all of our unique personalities and takes on leadership to help make this a better place.

Stepping Up to Ownership: Why It Goes Hand-in-Hand with Bolder Leadership

Stepping Up to Ownership: Why It Goes Hand-in-Hand with Bolder Leadership

A sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”
– Pat Summitt

  • He made a mistake, but he didn’t think it was his fault. He points the finger at someone else.
  • Months after being assigned the lead on a major project…results are lacking. Why? She wasn’t given a clear enough vision.
  • That challenge retaining employees for any length of time? “Nothing much we can do…it’s a sign of the times.”

Any number of us may have encountered any of the above scenarios at any given time throughout our careers. And while I’m surely not naming any names here (although I am pointing a finger at myself), we may have even been “guilty” of dropping the ball in our own ways at one time or another.

What’s wrong with that? You might ask. Well, nothing…if we are ok with not creating much impact in our companies, with not making much of a difference in the world, or with less-than-productive relationships.

But if impact, making a difference, and collaborative relationships are important to us as leaders (and, big hint here, they should be!), then we need to take a stronger step toward ownership of what it is we want to create.

Leaders, Make the Choice to Take Ownership

To ring in 2023, I wrote about the Power of Choice in Bolder Leadership.

This year, let’s take the concept of choice a bit deeper.

Let’s talk Ownership.

“Ownership is the essence of leadership.
When you are ridiculously in charge, then you own whatever happens in a company.”
– Henry Cloud

It’s said that ownership is leadership. After all, in leadership, we are owning our power to create our visions and to inspire others to do the same. Each of us has the power of choice. This means we must fully choose our outcomes – owning every step of the process.

The Dilemma of Ownership in Leadership

The biggest recurring intended outcome for the Top Team workshops I orchestrate is drumming up greater ownership of the results.

Identifying ownership as an important outcome is all fine and well, but how do we get there?

Perhaps the easiest way to describe what ownership looks like is to define what it isn’t:

Ownership is not about:

  • falling into the “It’s not my job” or “That isn’t my responsibility”
  • passing the buck to someone else to avoid being accountable.
  • talking the talk, but not walking it.
  • Waiting for someone else to rescue us. (This one has been my personal favorite – lol.)

Ownership as a concept is not complicated.

This statement from Infoglen via LinkedIn sums it up:

“Ownership … means being accountable, taking responsibility, being decisive, solving problems, delegating, not playing the blame game and basically, taking charge.

There are core concepts that make up ownership – and any of us can benefit from incorporating them throughout our lives and leadership.

The 3 Basics of Taking Ownership

Let’s start with 3 basics that can help us – or anyone we lead – become a master of taking ownership.

“The success of a vision is determined by its ownership by both the leader and the people.”
– John C. Maxwell

  1. Clarity. It’s impossible to truly take ownership of anything if a clear vision is lacking. Whether we have a strategic vision we’re working on or we’re focused on amping up our leadership, we’ve got to have a purpose and to know what it is.

As Stephen Covey suggests, “Start with the end in mind.”

And while we may have heard this before too, it bears mentioning again:

What’s our WHY?

Developing a clear purpose benefits us in so many ways. It can help:

  • Inspire us to stay focused on what’s important
  • Jump back on track when we’ve fallen off course
  • Set intentions that help support accountability
  • Empower smart, mindful choice-making
  • Save time and energy by avoiding pitfalls

The deeper we can get down on the “why” scale, the better. For example, if we have a mindset focused on “getting ahead,” we’re far less likely to take true ownership in our leadership. Why? (No pun intended here!) Because in that case our “why” lacks meaning. The more meaning for us – and our teams – the greater the ownership. In this case, then, making a difference or being of service are far more likely to engender ownership than merely wanting to get promoted ever could.

That’s one reason why so many of my Top Team workshops and leadership develop programs emphasize meaning: when we feel emotionally tied to the outcome, most of us will move mountains to make it happen.

  1. Accountability‘s definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Sounds simple enough, right? A Forbes article adds to that definition, “…regardless of the situation or how fair it seems.

Unfairness – or my perception of it – is certainly a value which can set off my hot buttons in a heartbeat. And, if you’re like me, then you might also be tempted to use this occurrence as an excuse to deflect accountability. That’s when the seemingly modest definition above can seem anything but.

To that end, here are some helpful pointers to cultivate accountability in the workplace:

  • First, ask what does accountability look like for us personally? And to those on our team?
  • Second, consider how we can role model accountability to others around us.
  • Third, once we’ve defined what we want accountability to look like, encourage honest feedback from the team. Part of that includes facing those times when we ourselves fall short of our own ideals.

Lastly, it seems important to outline here the points that demonstrate to others that we fully own what we’re doing and are committed to accountability.

BOLDER Tip: We can leverage our network to deepen our practice of accountability. Doing so is the infusion of support and inspiration helpful to all of us. It’s one of the 8 steps to expand our leadership development (read more about that here).

Taking Ownership is a BOLDER Leadership Move

  1. BOLDNESS! Yep, there’s that word again.

Boldness doesn’t necessarily mean “fearless.” Fear pops up for all of us much of the time. That’s part of our human journey.  So, when we can accept our fears as part of being humans, thank them for wanting to protect us (they have their positive intention, after all!), and invite them to step to the side because this time around, we are trying a different approach, they tend to subside.

In fact, if our fear is of making mistakes, we can be comforted in knowing that mistakes are an important part of learning. Without our blunders along the way, we would likely not be as wise as we are today.

Moreover, ownership is what gives our leadership ship a stronger gust of wind so that we not only learn from our missteps, but we also get to our destination faster and more effectively.

When we can look at it in this way, we can also see Ownership as where it’s at.

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Power of One

The Power of One: One Powerful Way to Influence the Organization

Is one really the loneliest number? Harry Nilsson may have gotten it right when it comes to writing a sad love song, but not when it comes to boldly influencing the organization. Power

What’s that? Are we saying that one person has the power to inspire the entire organization?  

Yes, we are. Here’s how. 

Leadership is the power of one harnessing the power of many.”
— John C. Maxwell 

In an HBR article aptly called, “How One Person Can Change the Conscience of an Organization,” authors Nicholas W. Eyrich, Robert E. Quinn, and David P. Fessell assert that on the deepest level, we humans need to contribute to the greater good.  

And yes, obviously, one doesn’t need to read a top business journal to know that. After all this “every person for themself” business is exactly what has gotten this world into the mess it currently is.  

Thing is, though, not everyone sees that. Calling it out therefore seems important. 

Eyrich, Quinn and Fessell go on, “When a leader [at any level], skillfully brings a voice and a vision, others will follow and surprising things can happen—even culture change on a large scale.” 

The Far-Reaching Effects of “Just” One Leader Power

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.
When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

—Jack Welch 

The impact that “just” a single leader can have on others is staggering. It’s this focus on the good of the collective over that of the individual, in fact, that makes Bolder leaders so inspirational. It’s also why we’ve written so often on the importance of emphasizing the “we” – not the “me.”  

When we focus on self-seeking ends (like, unfortunately, some modern-day “leaders” (quotes here because we are generous by even naming them as such lol)), the results – as we all have experienced – are often tragic. Millions of displaced people, families torn apart, basic human rights stripped are among some of the disastrous consequences of large-scale self-will-run-riot. And the list of consequences to these consequences – chain reactions as it were – goes on and on. Self-centeredness thereby becomes a (poisonous) gift that keeps on giving. 

Yet there is another path we can take. When we leverage our role and practice conscious leadership by consciously choosing to live higher-level values and to inspire others to do the same, our positive influence ripples out, touching people in meaningful ways. Take, for example, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. Less than one month after the country’s worst peacetime shooting, she introduced swift and sweeping gun law reforms, likely saving countless lives and the broken hearts of many others. The chain reaction her choice induced is incomparable to the one described above. 

And while, yes, both examples cited here may not be directly relevant to the average reader of this article, they nonetheless show how our role-modeling as individual leaders creates a chain reaction which can either help the world – or hinder it.  

The choice of how we show up, what we focus on and what we put out in the world is always ours. 

So, how can we effectively transform our leadership to inspire our teams, our organizations? It’s quite simple: start with conscious leadership. Think of this as a deep, continual process that ultimately brings the best of our inner selves out into the world of form, so that we can create the greatest impact as we inspire those around us. 

Sounds ideal, right? But how in the world do we go about implementing it?  

Below are some practical strategies.  

5 Strategies for Any Single Leader to Have a Lasting Impact: Power

1)  Put self-care first. Having grown up in a church which taught me that thinking of myself first was selfish, that old version of me may not even have included this particular tip here. However, several bouts of burnout and of pushing good people and opportunities away all because I wasn’t grounded in my best self have shown me otherwise: the better I take care of myself, the better I can be there for others.   

We can’t give what (as we say in parts of my home state Kentucky) we ain’t got. It really is as simple as that. True transformation starts within. We can only cultivate the mental soil needed to lead transformation by stepping away to take care of ourselves. This isn’t just a luxury – it is a requirement for every BOLDER leader. 

2) Use your privilege of being a leader wisely. This means supporting and lifting up those who may have less clout or visibility. While starting with Top Teams is most often our recommendation, transformation isn’t always a singular, “top down” process. Indeed, leaders at all levels can make a conscious choice to influence positive change. When we use our position of privilege to lift others up, we inspire an entire culture of inclusivity and growth.  

3) Infuse empathy into everyday interactions. Not only is it just the right thing to do, but more than ever, our world NEEDS empathy. In an age where the “new normal” feels anything but, we need to be patient and compassionate– with ourselves and others. When we approach others authentically to help them feel valued and understood, the organization as a whole benefits with improved teamwork, greater productivity, and a boost in morale. Moreover, by doing so, we also get to bring more meaning to our own lives and leadership.  With all the upheaval of today’s world, who wants to live without that? 

4) Be the executive…of your own brain. So often, we think of leadership as something external. Not so. By monitoring the impulses of our own minds, with practice we can get better at regulating our limiting reactions and choosing responses that will be more helpful to ourselves and others. Again, though, patience and compassion with ourselves are called for here: working through our triggers won’t happen overnight. But luckily, we’ll have lots of opportunities to practice as the inevitable, numerous challenges life throws our way 😉. After all, as we’ve said before, Bolder leadership is the perfect mix of art and science, of technique and practice. 

5) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Yup, the unavoidable discomfort which comes with the constant change our world continually throws at us in one form or another. If the last few years have taught us anything (and if there is one thing we can all agree on…imagine that!) – it’s that change is everywhere nearly all the time 

Bolder, impactful leaders know that change is continual – and they welcome it as an opportunity for growth…even when it seems uncomfortable, frustrating, or downright painful. Embrace a change mindset – and watch how getting comfortable with discomfort can transform your leadership and life. And likely those of the people you influence as well. 

Finally, know this: no matter what things look like at this moment, we each have the power of choice. Be BOLDER today. Bolder choices lead to greater levels of impact and fulfillment through the rewards such moves promise. 

“Rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. ‘Here, open it, it’s perfect. You’ll love it.’ Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.”
 —Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube 

How about upping your own conscious leadership through thought-provoking leadership moves that can inspire you to lead with greater impact? Sign up for my FREE weekly Bolder Moves messages here. They’re practical, always free, and delivered fresh to your inbox each week.