All Posts By

Laurie Maddalena

How Sleep Impacts Leadership

How Sleep Impacts Leadership

As a leadership consultant and success coach, I believe that habits are an important element of leadership success. Our daily practices are what support our focus, results, and growth to be at our best every day so we can effectively serve those who we lead. I believe that sleep is one of the most underrated success habits, and when crunched for time, I often choose sleep over other practices I have instilled like meditation and yoga. I see a significant difference in my performance when I get a great night’s sleep.

But what happens when you slip from your routine and choose comfort over discipline?

My typical nightly routine starts after I put my three young children to bed. I read for almost an hour before I turn off my light at 9:30 p.m. to get a full night’s sleep. An ideal night of sleep for me is about eight and a half hours (sometimes nine). When I follow through on this routine, the next morning (after my cappuccino!) I feel refreshed, energized, and ready to take action on my day.

A few weeks ago, my three kids were on spring break, which changed up our routine. Instead of my kids leaving the house at 8:20 a.m. for school, we were shuffling them to a spring break camp for half the day, then over to my mother-in-law’s for the rest of the day. My husband and I didn’t take time off from work that week, and since our normal work routine was interrupted, we were exhausted at the end of the day. The first night of spring break, I told my husband I was too tired to read, and suggested we watch “Billions” on Netflix (he got me hooked on this show a couple of months ago). We proceeded to stay up every night for seven nights in a row binge-watching “Billions” and went to bed between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. A little mindless TV won’t hurt, right?!

All of last week, I could feel the negative impact of less sleep on my energy and focus. Tasks that are normally easy for me to knock out felt harder to tackle, and I wasn’t nearly as productive as I normally am. My lack of sleep compounded each day, and near the end of the week, I was less patient and more irritable with my kids. My little sleep “experiment” proved that breaking from my routine wasn’t worth it.

Sleep plays a crucial role in our everyday performance, and is necessary for us to perform at our best. In one study, researchers found that managers who lacked sleep were more irritable, impatient, and more hostile toward their employees. Not only does lack of sleep impact decisions and a leader’s personal productivity, but it also has a negative impact on employee engagement, productivity, and decision making. In fact, sleep deprived leaders can actually cause their employees to behave less ethically.

Leaders need sufficient sleep to perform at their best and lead others well. I often hear leaders boast about how little sleep they get, and I’ve even read some books that encourage people to sleep an hour less a day so they can fit other things in. I do believe for many people, getting up a little earlier to exercise or meditate is beneficial, but not at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

In our modern society, we have so many competing demands that can feel overwhelming. Many women bear the brunt of juggling full-time work while also managing children and household duties. As women have grown professionally, they have taken on more and more responsibilities that often feel impossible to manage. Top that off with a global pandemic that, for the better part of a year, has parents managing their children’s virtual school in addition to their work responsibilities. It makes sense that many professionals find it challenging to get adequate sleep. Yet lack of sleep is a perpetual cycle that will only leave managers and professionals more depleted as they try to juggle it all.

A Gallup poll indicated that 40% of Americans report they sleep less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. This poll only measured who gets less than seven hours; the National Sleep Foundation’s actual recommendation is that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. We can assume that even more Americans are sleep deprived if there is a segment of the population who needs more than seven and up to nine hours. For me, seven hours is not sufficient. I need at least eight and a half to feel my best.

In our organizations, we need to recognize that behaviors and habits outside of work —both positive and negative—impact the work itself. Individuals and organizations need to think of sleep as essential, not negotiable. We should also stop convincing ourselves that successful people don’t have time to sleep. Highly successful leaders like Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington, Barak Obama, and Bill Gates all report that they prioritize sleep. Arianna Huffington even created The Sleep Revolution, and her website has some great sleep resources.

Many organizations are still working mostly virtually because of the pandemic, which adds another layer to the temptation of overwork and lack of sleep. Research shows that most employees work more hours when they work from home. The flexibility offered by working virtually can also create more challenges since employees struggle to disconnect. Working from home can have its benefits (no commute), yet can also bring additional challenges and stress like having to manage children’s schedules or a lack of boundaries.

Setting boundaries is an important part of working successfully in a virtual environment. It’s important to manage your energy so you don’t become overworked and burnt-out. Having a specific end time to your day, taking frequent breaks, and getting physical exercise are important for managing your energy and productivity.

Having a productive day and being at your best actually begins the night before. Creating a nightly ritual to adequately unwind from the stresses of the day and getting enough sleep will make a huge difference in the day ahead.

How to Be More Strategic

How to Be More Strategic

A few months after I was promoted to director of human resources, my vice president called me into her office to discuss my new role. She noticed I was still doing some work from my previous position as a human resources generalist, and said that I needed to learn to delegate those things to my team members. Even though my responsibilities had changed, I was still answering benefit questions and fixing payroll issues when employees called me. This was keeping me from focusing on more strategic work like developing training programs for our managers. I was struggling to let go of the technical HR work I was good at, and my old task-oriented work was getting in the way of performing what was necessary in my new position. Employees were used to coming to me with payroll and benefit issues, and since I wanted to be helpful, I would take care of their issues instead of directing them to the HR assistant. While I was being of value to those individual employees, I was not contributing the best value I could for the credit union.

If you’ve ever had a manager tell you that you need to be more strategic, and struggled to understand what that meant, you are not alone. In my experience as a leadership consultant and coach, this is one of the biggest challenges that keeps managers and executives from being successful in a leadership role. The more senior the leadership position, the more strategic thinking and focus is required for success. Strategic work is typically not as activity based as the tasks we are used to in more technical positions. In a leadership role, “being strategic” could include coaching and developing employees, influencing others toward results, planning, developing ideas and strategies, communicating goals to your employees, and researching industry trends, to name a few. In my position as HR director, being strategic meant analyzing our employee talent, assessing the skills and competencies managers needed to be successful, and developing training programs to elevate the leadership skills of our managers and executives. This was an ongoing, long-term focus, and often felt harder to accomplish than my previous position which focused on daily technical tasks.

While strategic thinking is a skill that can be developed, many leaders still struggle to do it successfully. That’s because being strategic is a practice, not just way of thinking. To be more strategic, leaders need to develop practices and structures that support higher level thinking and execution.

Below are six ways to be more strategic:

  1. Identify your annual goals. While the executive team often creates the strategic goals for the credit union, many departmental directors and managers don’t take the time to develop their own strategic goals for their functional area that support the credit union strategic goals. A one-page document that creates clarity on what your department should be focusing on for the year can be a highly effective structure for directing your team meetings and daily employee tasks.
  1. Think long-term. Many professionals thrive on completing activities and handling organizational emergencies, and they fill up their days with tasks that don’t contribute much to overall results. In fact, my love of checking things off my list often got in my way as a new HR director since my new responsibilities were often longer-term goals rather than daily activities. To develop your long-term thinking skills, make a list of the outcomes and results you need for a particular project. Here are some questions to prompt long-term thinking:
    1. If this project were to be successful, what would the result look like?
    2. What are the success criteria for this project (what specifically needs to be accomplished for this project to be successful)?
    3. If I were to break this project into three phases, what would they be?
    4. What are the steps that go into each phase?
    5. Who needs to be involved? What resources do I need to make this project successful?
    6. What is our timeline for each phase of this project?
    7. What blocks of time do I need to schedule in my calendar (and in my employees’ calendars) to work on this project?
    8. What team meetings do I need to schedule upfront to ensure this project stays on task?

These are not the only questions that can help leaders be more strategic, but they can prompt more long-term thinking. An important skill leaders need to be successful is the ability to “Zoom Out” to see the bigger picture of what you and your team need to accomplish (long-term projects, strategic initiatives) and then “Zoom In” to focus on the part of the project that needs to be done in the short term. Many leaders struggle because they are too focused on the short-term tasks and issues right in front of them.

  1. Schedule retreat days. Some managers and executives have developed the ability to think strategically, but they struggle with follow-through. Being strategic is not just a thinking skill, it’s a practice. To get results, leaders need to create structures to support strategic implementation. For example, in my own business, I can become so focused on facilitating workshops and working with clients, that other long-term projects I would like to accomplish in my business get put off, like creating new programs or writing a leadership book (my current project!). I have to be deliberate in scheduling time to focus on strategic projects. Several years ago, I started scheduling three to four retreats a year where I get away from the day-to-day work for two or three days and focus on strategic projects. This time away from my daily work is extremely beneficial because it allows me to focus and make progress on important strategic projects outside my daily work. I recommend leaders set aside at least one day a month to focus completely on a strategic project or area. For example, perhaps you want to research industry trends so you can make a recommendation on how to approach an issue your credit union is facing. Unless you are purposeful and make time for this type of research, it may never get done.
  1. Block time. This strategy almost seems too simple to be so powerful, yet it is one of the most effective practices for improving focus and productivity. As leaders, one of our important responsibilities is to develop our team. This requires strategically thinking through the unique development needs of each employee and coaching them toward their best performance. Scheduling time in your calendar at the beginning of the year for important meetings that support your strategic focus, like coaching sessions, planning sessions, and teambuilding activities will ensure they are a priority.
  1. Team strategy meetings. While it’s important for you as a leader to find time to focus, you also need to make sure your team is focused on the important goals. Scheduling monthly strategy meetings can ensure you and your employees are making progress on your important goals. A strategy meeting is different than a regular team meeting that typically focuses on projects and sharing information. Strategy meetings are completely focused on future thinking and aligned with your long-term goals. These meetings are not the time for status updates; the time is best used discussing industry trends and recommendations, overcoming obstacles, and ensuring the team is aligned around high-level goals.
  1. Delegate. In order to be more strategic, you need to have the time to focus on higher level ideas and projects. As a leader, one of the most important elements of success is the ability to delegate. Our jobs as leaders is to facilitate, not fix. Many of us were taught that managers should fix problems and issues. However, the best managers and executives understand that facilitating others to take ownership and get results not only frees up our time, but develops our team. As you go through your week, keep a list of tasks you are currently doing that can be accomplished by someone on your team. Start delegating these items to your employees so you deliver the maximum value you bring to your organization—your leadership talent, and your ability to be strategic.
    Smart, successful leaders know that it’s not enough to think strategically. You must be purposeful in developing practices that support you in delivering your strategic best every day.

Banish this Phrase From Your Organizational Policies

Banish this Phrase From Your Organizational Policies

You know the saying, “Out with the old, in with the new.” When a new year begins, many people take the time to assess their life and create goals or intentions for having a successful year. Perhaps they attempt to purge old habits that don’t serve them and adopt better habits that will help them reach their goals. They declutter their home, their office and their closets to make room for the new.

Organizations can benefit from this practice as well. There is a specific area in organizations where purging and updating is typically long overdue: Old-school policies and practices.

There is one phrase used in countless organizations that is so outdated that it should be deleted from every one of your organizational policies immediately… “disciplinary action.”

Why do I detest this phrase so much? Because it conjures up images of traditional, old-school, ineffective managers who do a lot of directing and telling, and not a lot of inspiring and coaching. Because it sounds like a phrase that would be invoked in third grade if you talked back to the teacher or pulled down your pants in front of the class (as one of my childhood friends did in the third grade). Because it is condescending and demeaning.

If we want to create engaging, productive cultures where people enjoy working, we need to have policies and practices that support a more modern workplace. Alternative phrases might be “coaching” or “counseling”.

I remember the first time I became a manager in a credit union, and I was handed a huge policy manual to review. As I flipped through the book, I came upon the travel policy. This is the policy that told you how much you could spend on meals, lodging, flights, and anything else travel related to business travel. And it was 40 pages! Yes, 40 pages of great bedtime reading that made no one want to travel for work…EVER.

What kind of impression do you feel that policy left on employees of the organization? I can tell you how I felt—micromanaged and distrusted. It certainly didn’t instill a sense of ownership and empowerment. I suspect that one time, maybe ten years before, one person didn’t follow common sense and spent too much on dinner, so the leadership team called a three-hour meeting to enact a policy to ensure that never happened again, instead of addressing the issue directly with that employee.

How many times have you received an email that was sent to “All Staff” because one person broke a policy or rule? I remember receiving emails with an “updated” policy and a stern warning to all staff that included how long a skirt needed to be, what shoes were appropriate at work, and that visible tattoos were not allowed.

I am not suggesting we throw away guidelines and policies. They can be helpful and necessary. What I am suggesting is that we don’t insult the very people we are trying to engage. Instead of including every situation under the sun, or detailed minutiae of what will happen if someone breaks a policy, let’s start having conversations. If you notice a pattern of lateness, or declining performance, sit down and have an adult conversation with your employee. Don’t send an email to your whole team “reminding” them of the attendance policy.

There are things that are never out of date:

  • Hand-written cards
  • Holding the door for someone behind you
  • 80s music
  • Reading physical books
  • Saying “thank you”
  • Karaoke
  • Roller skates
  • Treating people as human beings with needs, goals, and emotions

And things that are very outdated:

  • Aqua Net
  • “Disciplinary action”
  • Micromanaging
  • Believing a paycheck is enough to motivate your staff
  • Thinking Millennials are the problem
  • 80s hair
  • Old-school policies with robotic rhetoric
  • Knowing all the answers

As leaders, if we want to create cultures of ownership, accountability, and empowerment, we need to make sure our policies align with our desired goal. The organization I worked for actually had a very good culture, but outdated policies and practices were undermining the great culture the leadership team was working to create.

Here are some things to consider when assessing your policies and practices:

  • Is there any outdated language that needs to be updated? (examples: disciplinary action, personnel)
  • Is our language inclusive to all individuals?
  • Are any of our policies exhaustive and too detailed, sending the message we don’t trust our employee’s judgment?
  • What kind of tone do our policies suggest—an employee-centric tone of a great place to work, or an employer-centric tone about rules and regulations?

Perhaps asking different segments of your employee population to review the policies and give their impressions can be helpful to ensure you are striking the tone you intend when updating policies, procedures, and employee handbooks. While legal language is often necessary in some policies, you still have the opportunity to portray a welcoming and approachable tone in all of your organizational communications.

The small things matter. You can have a great culture and have great employees, but if all your practices don’t align with the culture you aspire to create each day, it will leave your employees feeling unsupported and disengaged.

6 Inspiring Resources to Start the New Year

6 Inspiring Resources to Start the New Year

Doesn’t it feel good to turn the page to 2021? Perhaps not much has changed, but having a fresh start to the new year brings hope of better things to come.

In January, many of us set goals, intentions, or resolutions. While those practices are helpful and can set our path for a successful year, they can also create a sense of disappointment and failure if we don’t start the year perfectly and stick to our intentions. I personally set goals and intentions for the year, yet I know that I am human and will have setbacks and challenges. I have learned to shift from perfection and focus more on getting better every year.

For example—I planned a two-day juice detox on Monday, January 4th to start the new year. I completed a three-day juice fast in November that I completely stuck to and felt great. For this round, I stuck to the plan most of Monday until dinner. I gave in and had some *delicious* macaroni and cheese I made for my kids (homemade!). As I was dishing the mac-and-cheese onto my plate, I knew it was going against my goal. But my kids were unexpectedly home all day with virtual learning…and, well, I just needed some comfort.

You can say I failed at my first goal of the year, which I technically did. Since I am focused on the long game, I got right back up the next day and completed the fast. This past year, I have focused more on my health than the year before, so I am moving in the right direction. My goal is to improve every year, knowing that I will never reach perfection.

As the saying goes, progress over perfection.

This past month, there are several things that have had a positive impact on me and that are helping me to become better every day. There are many books, videos and practices that can support us in getting better and better.

  1. Hello, Fears: I saw the author of this book, Michelle Poler, speak (virtually) at the National Speakers Association in July and her talk was inspiring and empowering. Michelle set out to conquer 100 fears in 100 days and documented the process. I am almost finished with her book, and I can’t put it down—her lessons and strategies are fantastic, and just what most of us need to hear to get out of our comfort zone and create the best version of ourselves.
  2. Soul: If you haven’t seen Disney Pixar’s new movie, Soul, I highly recommend it! There are so many layers to this movie, including finding meaning in our lives. This touching story follows a jazz musician who thinks he has found his passion. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but if you’ve ever been told the key to happiness is finding your “purpose” or your “passion,” you may find this movie meaningful in more ways than one. Bring tissues.
  3. The Miracle Morning: I first read Hal Elrod’s book several years ago, and last month I read the Millionaire edition—The Miracle Morning Millionaire: What the Wealthy Do Before 8 AM. I’ve studied success for over 25 years, and one of the common habits of successful, productive people is that they have a morning routine that sets them up for the day. Truthfully, I love my sleep. Getting up early is not something I love to do. I won’t be joining The 5 AM Club (also a great book) anytime soon, however, I’ve been getting up 20 minutes earlier each day to meditate and read inspirational material (my favorites are Wayne Dyer’s You are What You Think, and John Maxwell’s Daily Reader).
  4. Disconnecting from Email: I love my work, and I strive to be responsive to my clients. There are often times when I am on vacation that I won’t actively be working, but I regularly check my emails. Can you relate? The challenge is that even if I’m in a tropical setting, when I’m checking emails, I feel a low-grade anxiety about what needs to get done. I find myself thinking about answering a quick email, or checking my calendar to see if I am free for a possible speaking engagement. Even though I’m technically on vacation, on some level I’m still working, so I am not fully resting and rejuvenating. In December, I took one week off and completely disconnected from email. The difference was amazing—after a couple of days, I didn’t have the nervous energy or anxiety about what I needed to do. I could actually be present and enjoy my vacation more. This isn’t the first time I have completely disconnected on a vacation, but truthfully, more times than not I still passively check emails. I’m now committed to completely disconnecting on my vacations going forward.

    This strategy is not new or earth shattering, yet my experience is that most leaders are consistently tied to their work in some way, even on vacation. Even small requests can leave us feeling there are loose ends that need to be tied. If you are skeptical, just try it. And if you lead a team, encourage your employees to disconnect when they are on vacation so they can come back fully recharged. I felt so calm during my vacation that I started turning off my work emails at 6:00 during the week. This way, I am completely focused on my family and kids and my mental energy is not being pulled toward work.

  5. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: Have you ever had a day full of meetings, interruptions, issues, and emergencies and felt like you didn’t get any real work done? Me too. Most of us struggle to find time to focus on important work rather than urgent work. Cal Newport shares a better way to be productive and get great results. We all know we need to focus on high value work, yet it’s one of the top challenges most leaders struggle with. While I regularly schedule blocks of time to work on projects, this book inspired me to take it to a new level and prioritize more uninterrupted time so I can get more done in less time.
  6. Finally, I’m not typically one for sharing stories from Yahoo!, but this story describing answers a life coach received when she asked people to share how they knew their company workplace was toxic captured my attention. As leaders, we can all learn what NOT to do from many of these examples. Make sure you read all the way to the end—the last one is my favorite.

I’d love for you to share on the blog what has inspired you over the past few months to become better.

Here’s to a joyful, healthy, and successful 2021!

Three Planning Exercises to Start 2021 Strong

Three Planning Exercises to Start 2021 Strong

I had big goals for 2020. In February, I started writing my leadership book, which was going to be my main project of the year. Then COVID happened in March, and I found myself at home with three kids struggling to balance pivoting my workshops to online sessions and getting my kids through virtual learning. It took me a few months to work through the difficult disruption and shift to a more positive mindset.

I bet you had goals and plans this year too. We all did the best we could under the circumstances, and this is a year to give ourselves grace around goals, plans, and intentions. I have to remind myself regularly that I am a human being having a human experience. We may have plans, goals, and dreams, but life isn’t always easy. There are twists and turns along the way.

We can’t change the past; we can only move forward. No matter where you are now, start there. Maybe you’ve gained a few “COVID pounds” this year, or you didn’t make progress on some work projects as you planned.

While beginning a new year won’t magically make things easier or better, there are a few exercises you can do to transition into the new year with a more positive mindset.

I recommend doing these exercises using pen and paper (rather than typing), but do what feels best for you.

Release Exercise: set a timer for 10 minutes and write down everything you want to release about this year. You are not judging your responses, just writing them down. A few of my examples:

  • Virtual school was really hard. I had no breaks to myself and felt overwhelmed and exhausted the first three months of COVID. Assignments weren’t being completed, and the kids struggled to stay engaged online.
  • I stopped exercising during that time and lacked energy to do anything but get through the day.
  • I was disappointed that I couldn’t find time to write my leadership book. I thought I would have it almost completed by now.
  • I miss traveling and speaking in person. Several of the conferences I was contracted to speak at were canceled.

Once you have a completed list, either crumble it up and throw it away, or throw it in a fire. The point is to release these events, situations, and challenges to make way for a positive 2021.

Positive Focus Exercise: Set a timer for 15 minutes and write down everything positive that has happened this year. Don’t edit your thinking, just brainstorm. A few of my examples:

  • My family is healthy and safe
  • I started a daily walking habit of at least two miles
  • I successfully pivoted all my workshops to virtual and completed over 45 engaging workshops.
  • I worked with a parenting coach and have shifted how I approach my daughter. I have seen a big improvement in our relationship.
  • I wrote a chapter for a book of stories that will be published this month.

2021 Planning Exercise. Answer the following questions:

  1. What do I want to stop doing in 2021?

One of my examples:

    • I will stop watching TV at night during the week
  1. What do I want to start doing in 2021?

Some of my examples:

    • I will start getting up at 6:00 a.m. for my morning ritual
    • I will start meditating regularly again
    • I will block out two full days on my calendar a month to work on my book
  1. If 2021 were a successful year, I would…

Some of my examples:

    • The manuscript for my leadership book will be completed by December 31, 2021
    • I will continue to walk at least 5 days a week for 45 minutes
    • I will launch a successful online leadership course
    • I will write in each of my children’s journals at least every six weeks

In addition to doing this as a personal exercise, you can also facilitate it with your team at work. This is a great way to release any challenges and negative energy at work and regroup and set goals for the coming year.

We can’t control all the events in our lives, but we can control how we plan and respond. No matter what 2021 brings, taking the time to release any negative energy from this year and honor the positives will set you up for a more positive and productive year ahead.

How to Get Employees to Handle Problems Themselves

How to Get Employees to Handle Problems Themselves

When I first became a manager, I thought my job was to give instructions and answer questions. No one sat down with me and set expectations on how to effectively lead a team. I wasn’t provided with any leadership training. One day I was just given the responsibility to supervise someone.

I became a fixer. She had a problem; I would fix it. After all, that was my job, right? Over time, my employee would interrupt me more and more to get her immediate questions answered. Sometimes she just wanted to “run things by me” to make sure she was making the right decision. Looking back now, I realize that I perpetuated this issue by always having the answers to her questions. I would quickly take care of the problem for her and then try to get back to my other tasks so I could get valuable work done. By quickly answering her questions, I was teaching her to upward delegate all problems to me.

Upward delegation is a challenge that can keep you from focusing on more strategic or important work as a leader. Upward delegation is when your employee relies on you to solve problems and fix issues for them. They shift the ownership to you, their manager, instead of solving the problem on their own. And it’s not always their fault. As managers, most of us were taught that our job is to do just that—fix problems and handle issues.

The challenge is, if your time is spent on constant interruptions and “fixing,” you will rarely find the time to work on your most important key result areas and priorities for your role. Your day will be filled with a barrage of issues, interruptions and emergencies. The more employees you manage, the more challenging it will become to be successful in your role.

If you consistently have employees who upward delegate to you, there is a simple fix that can make all the difference in getting them to take ownership and think for themselves. How we handle these interruptions and issues makes all the difference in how employees respond.

As leaders, we need to shift from being fixers to facilitators.

Fixers handle problems, emergencies and issues themselves. Facilitators facilitate others to take ownership and solve their own problems.

Let’s say your team member, Jake, approaches you with a problem. Instead of telling him how to handle the problem (fixing), you ask him, “What do you think?” or “What options have you thought of?”

This takes the ownership of the problem off of you, and puts it back onto Jake. Now Jake has to come up with an approach to solving the problem. You are teaching Jake to think through the problem himself so he can become independent and self-sufficient instead of relying on you (often the easier way to get his problem handled—you solve it for him!).

If Jake truly doesn’t know how to solve the problem, that’s where you as the leader can facilitate by coaching him through the issue. Some possible follow up questions might be:

  • Where do you think you can find the answer to this question?
  • What is one option you could try?

There are times that you as the leader may need to offer guidance or perspective to help him learn how to think critically through these issues. The point is to not be so quick to just solve the problem for your employee, which perpetuates a cycle of you fixing, and them not having to think for themselves.

This doesn’t mean that you as the manager don’t ever need to step in or provide an answer or guidance. But most often there are opportunities to build confidence, critical thinking skills, and knowledge by taking a few minutes to facilitate rather than fix. This is how we develop future leaders and stronger teams—by taking a different approach than being the keeper of all the knowledge and answers.

As leaders, we do not need to know all the answers. Our job is to influence and facilitate others to find the answers to solve their problems. I guarantee that if you try this approach, you will cut down on interruptions, develop more independent employees, and finally have time to focus on the priorities that will truly help you to become more successful and make a bigger impact at work.

Leadership Lessons for Working Remotely While Managing Your Kids

Leadership Lessons for Working Remotely While Managing Your Kids

I write a monthly blog for the Credit Union Executive Society (CUES) and when they asked if I would write a blog on advice for working remotely during back-to-school season, I struggled at first to think of what I could contribute. I want to preface my column with a caveat—I don’t know all the answers. I don’t have a magic wand to make things go back to normal. Every situation is unique. But there is one thing we all have in common; things are different. How we work and how we lead has significantly changed over the past six months. My intent is by sharing a few things that worked for me that you might glean an idea or two, or at the very least, know you are not alone.

I have publicly shared my challenges when this pandemic hit last spring.  I still struggle in many ways—having my three kids home for the past six (!) months has taught me that I am definitely not stay-at-home or homeschooling mom material. I’ve never been the mom who loves crafts (in one weak moment in a Michael’s craft store last Christmas I thought it would be a good idea to buy build-your-own gingerbread houses. Disaster). I dislike Halloween—it’s just one more thing on my list of things to do. And at the holidays I’ve been known to send my kids’ teachers gift cards and wine in lieu of the homemade gifts that show you put time and effort in (who doesn’t need wine and Amazon?).

So I’m pretty sure the biggest lesson I have learned through all of this is that I like my life to be compartmentalized into neat sections—kids in the morning, work during the day, a little bit of kids at night, and clock out of all parenting responsibilities by 8:30.

I always thought I was resilient, but I’ve found that I’m most resilient when things go my way.

But here’s the reality: my kids fight, all the time. They don’t listen. I think my nine-year-old daughter handed in exactly two assignments out of 20 last spring. My seven-year-old son whined for a half hour every day before his daily one-hour recorded math lessons. They watched way more TV then I ever thought I would allow. I bribed them with ice cream more times than I can count. My daughter has refused to go to bed before 10:30 for the past 62 days (yes, I’m counting) which has led to nightly tears (me and her) and meltdowns. All the parenting strategies I learned in the books has gone down the drain.

This is hard. *Sigh*

I’ve heard the struggles from my clients—particularly my women clients—who have young children. How will they balance working full time with managing Zoom calls, assignments, and interruptions? How can they get through their own workload and Zoom calls each day?

You can see what a dilemma this is. The hours just don’t add up. It’s not possible to do it all. And if we try, we will break.

As leaders, the two skills we need the most right now are empathy and flexibility. To get the best from our employees during this time, we need to support them and understand the impact this challenge is having on each of them individually. And as much as possible, we should work to be flexible with how our employees get their work done. Now, in some cases, you may not be able to be flexible for some positions. You may need some front-line employees in the branch. However, some management or exempt positions may allow for some flexibility.

One shift that leaders need to make is moving from hours-focused to results-focused. It may be impossible for many of your employees to work a straight eight-hour day right now. I know in my public-school district, the virtual school hours will be from 8:30 to 3:30 with a ninety-minute break for lunch. Many parents will need to support their children in getting setup for video calls and completing homework (this is a full-time job). If you are focused on the hours your employee works, it’s a lose-lose situation. No one can be successful. Instead, focus on outcomes. What are the outcomes you would like each employee to complete each week? Focusing on results or outcomes allows each person to manage their schedule the best way possible to get results at work and keep the peace (more or less) at home.

Here’s the thing—your employees will take care of your members if you take care of them. If you want member loyalty, you should build employee loyalty. You do that by treating your team members as human beings who need flexibility, support, and empathy from everyone in their life right now—including their managers.

If you are a parent struggling to make it all work, below are some strategies as you navigate balancing remote work with kids at home:

Communicate with your child’s teacher. When my daughter struggled to complete online assignments, I reached out to her teacher for support. I was able to negotiate my daughter hand-writing a report each week instead of completing paragraphs for online assignments. I also shared that I was struggling to keep up with her assignment while I worked full time. Her teacher was more than willing to help and created a plan with me that suited our family schedule better. The lesson—often teachers are more than willing to adjust to help you and your child be more successful. Keep the lines of communication open.

Be proactive with your manager. This will be particularly important if you have a traditional manager who is not as flexible or shows less tolerance for the reality of your situation (kids interrupting your Zoom calls). Traditional managers tend to focus on tangibles like hours worked. Be proactive by approaching your manager about your personal situation. If you need to help your kids with school during the day, propose a schedule that would allow you to get certain outcomes done during the week. I have several clients who were able to adjust their schedule to work an hour before the kids are up, limited hours during the day, and more at night. Suggest a schedule that is realistic for your situation and propose the results or outcomes that you can complete each week. Set up a weekly meeting to update your manager on what you have accomplished, and ask her how she would prefer you communicate results (weekly check-in call? Weekly email update?).

Create self-care rituals. I know, you probably are tired of hearing this. I often roll my eyes when I read this suggestion in an article. But what I know from the first three months of the pandemic, is that I almost cracked trying to juggle it all. At that point, there was nowhere to go, and self-care was a challenge for most of us. What I’ve learned is that I need to be creative. This might be having a friend watch your kids and trading off together so you can each have some time to yourself. If you have family support, having your kids sleep over at a family member’s house on a Friday night. We let our kids watch a movie so we can exercise or have some quiet time. One of my friends created a small “learning pod” where four families rotate hosting the kids (socially distanced) one day a week for lessons and that parent manages the Zoom calls and assignments. Be creative and be resourceful. The only way to get through this time is to have periods where you can recharge.

Give yourself grace. Above all, don’t be hard on yourself. I know things are all over the place right now, and you are probably feeling overworked, exhausted, and underappreciated. I have moments where I think I may have a mental breakdown (no kidding) and moments where I am so grateful my family is healthy. All the emotions we are feeling are valid and real. Don’t get down on yourself for not being able to be your best at all times. Take a breath. You are a human being having a human experience. Give yourself grace.

There are things we can control, and things we can’t. We can’t control the school system. We can’t control all of the precautions we have to take in our world right now. We can’t control the fact that our kids are learning in a less-than-ideal environment. But we can control how we show up as leaders to support our team. We can control our leadership actions—reaching out to touch base with each of our employees, showing empathy when someone is feeling challenged, and being flexible with schedules as much as possible. Our employees will not forget how we treat them during this time. Doing our best to support our team will pay dividends in loyalty and productivity long term.

What We Can Learn About Leadership from Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen

Ellen DeGeneres has had a tough month. Multiple news outlets have been circulating employee and celebrity stories accusing Ellen of not living up to her declaration of “be kind to one another”. I don’t know if these stories are true, but they are certainly compelling given various instances shared of Ellen being more mean-spirited than kind-hearted.

Ellen’s current predicament is a great leadership lesson for all of us. It’s not the words you say that matter, it’s the actions you take. Behind everything great is a quality that brings it to life—action.

This reminds me of an interaction I experienced several years ago at a chapter meeting for the National Speaker’s Association. A well-known speaker was presenting to the group the importance of building rapport with an audience when he happened to mention the town he grew up in. Immediately, I felt a connection to this speaker; he grew up in a small town in upstate New York just ten minutes from my hometown.

“What are the chances?!” I thought.

Right after he finished speaking, I excitedly approached him to share our mutual connection of small upstate New York towns when he totally blew me off. He was so concerned with getting his books ready for the audience to purchase, that he missed an opportunity to really make a connection with someone right there in front of him. It was ironic since his speech was about building rapport. Yet the minute he walked off the stage, it was like he got out of character and stopped playing the part.

Interestingly, last year I re-met this speaker at a national conference, and he was friendly and engaging. So perhaps the previous year, I caught him in a moment of stress, and he wasn’t his best self. But as leaders, we need to be mindful of how we show up. People are always watching, and every interaction we experience has the opportunity to reinforce our positive message, or, completely negate the message we just professed. These interactions matter, and although we all have bad days, these negative exchanges can have a long-term impact on our relationships.

People don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do.

To be exceptional leaders, we need to put action behind the messages we convey. We need to walk our talk, not just declare it. It’s in the moments of action (or inaction) that we build trust and cohesion with our employees or chip away at trust and our integrity. Our words matter, but our actions are what bring them to life and demonstrate our message.

Everything great intention needs action to bring it to life:

  • It’s not enough to tell someone you love them; you need to demonstrate it.
  • It’s not enough to say you’re building a great place to work; you need to create a great place to work.
  • It’s not enough to say you value your employees, you need to show them.
  • It’s not enough to say you value respect, you must be respectful.
  • It’s not enough to say you are open to others’ opinions, you must listen.

People trust you when you do what you say you will do. This is how great cultures are created and how leaders become truly influential.

Effective leadership is less about doing, and more about being. It’s not a role you play, it’s a practice you cultivate. It’s the everyday actions you put behind your leadership that makes all the difference.

And you know what, Ellen is right about one thing—kindness matters. But don’t just say it, do it.

Five Self-Care Practices that Improve Leadership

Five Self-Care Practices that Improve Leadership

The past few months have been one of the most challenging times I’ve faced in my adult life. Back in March when our school system announced that schools would be closed for two weeks, I remember panicking about what I would do with my kids for two weeks while I worked. Little did I know, that almost four months later they would still be home!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. I love spending time with them, but on my schedule. Suddenly becoming a full time stay-at-home mom and teacher in addition to working full time was a recipe for disaster. And that’s pretty much how it played out. My husband and I struggled to balance our three kids’ different Zoom calls and assignments with our businesses. There were no breaks. When I would take a short break from work to get some lunch or more green tea, I would have three kids hanging on me asking for snacks or complaining about their siblings.

We were exhausted. My well-planned, organized, compartmentalized life was suddenly turned upside down. Of course, I was grateful that we are all healthy and well during the pandemic. But the everyday reality of the struggles and challenges was really taking its toll. About three months in, I remember saying to my husband that if I didn’t have a break, I think I might have a breakdown.

You get the picture. And perhaps you can relate. It’s times like these that I remember why it is so important to take care of myself and give myself a break. But that was hard during the pandemic when you can’t go anywhere or meet up with anyone. I was exhausted and struggling to show up as my best self.

As we came out of the self-isolation, my husband gave me a gift on my birthday at the end of June—a complete day to myself. He took our kids to his parents’ beach house and I had a full day all to myself. It was glorious. I relaxed, read, exercised, practiced yoga, rejuvenated, and felt like a completely different person by the end of the day. I felt more positive and resilient. I could handle the pressures and challenges of life in a healthier and more rational way.

How does this impact leadership? In all the big and small ways. Our energy is the one thing that we can control that impacts our everyday actions, behaviors, and mindset. These past few months have highlighted for me how important my energy is to show up as my best self at home and at work. When I am depleted, tired, and stressed, I lose the mental capacity to handle challenges in a productive and healthy way. I struggle to lead my life and my team effectively. Things feel hard and grueling.

When I am rested and refreshed, I have the energy to bring my best to work. I am focused, composed and present. I am more resilient and productive. Our habits are impacted by the mental and physical reserves we have available to get through our day.

While it may be more challenging for some of us to practice good sleep, exercise, and self-care habits while in quarantine, as we begin to transition to a new normal, there are several practices that can support self-care, maintain our energy and show up as our best as a leader and human:

  • Work Rituals: creating a practice for the beginning and end of your workday can help you harness your energy and increase your productivity. A productive day begins the night before. This means taking 10-15 minutes to review your projects and tasks and prioritize the top two actions you will focus on the next day. Doing this the night before allows you to jump into your most important task in the morning without procrastinating. In the morning, set aside 10 minutes to review your plan for the day and prepare any materials (files, phone numbers, etc.) you need to successfully execute your projects.
  • Schedule Productivity Sprints. We each have a peak time of day when our energy is highest. For most of us, that is in the morning hours. During that time, schedule a block of time where you focus on one—and only one—task and block out all interruptions. I call these productivity sprints because you can get more done in this focused time than most people get done in a week. Instituting productivity sprints can transform your productivity and utilize your peak energy times. The ideal length of a productivity sprint is one to two hours.
  • Meditate. I never thought I would be a meditator. I’ve always been very action oriented, and didn’t think it was possible to quiet my mind and sit in silence for any amount of time. Five years ago I took a transcendental meditation course that proved otherwise. When I stick to my meditation practice, I feel calmer and more resilient. It feels like my brain took a nap. The feeling is addictive—when you really fall into a deep meditative state (which doesn’t always happen, but gets easier with practice), you crave that silence. Even a few minutes of meditation can help calm your mind and help you to be less reactive.
  • Sleep. Most people don’t get the sleep they need to function properly. I know when I lose even an hour of sleep at night, I can feel the negative impact the next day. It feels harder to make decisions and stay focused. Writer Keith Jones wrote an article for Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global on Why Sleep is so Important.
  • Schedule a personal work retreat. I started this practice about three years ago, and it has been a gamechanger for my productivity, energy, and results. About three times a year, I schedule a personal offsite at a small bed and breakfast for two to three days. During this time, I focus on one major project (right now that is writing my book) and sequester myself to get into deep focus while also relaxing. I might also get a massage, take a walk, and read to rejuvenate. This is a time to focus on a strategic goal in my business that is challenging to accomplish during a normal workday.

I believe all leaders would benefit from even a day each quarter to reflect, reset and plan. Whether it’s a solo retreat to reflect and adjust the goals for your team, or a team retreat where you take the team offsite for a day to refocus and plan, a quarterly retreat can boost your productivity, energy, and focus, while at the same time giving you the quiet and space you need to make your best decisions and plans.

If I’ve learned anything during this pandemic it’s that we all need time to ourselves to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate. I’ve seen the negative effects when I don’t make this a priority, which is why I am committed to finding ways to preserve my energy and mindset, even in the most difficult of times.

Instilling Ownership and Accountability in a Virtual Environment

Instilling Ownership and Accountability in a Virtual Environment

Working from home can have its perks—no commute, more family time, and less distractions. But it can also be challenging to lead a team that you don’t see in the office every day. Several leaders have expressed frustration that some team members aren’t as responsive, or they lack follow through since they have been working from home. The lack of personal interaction can make it more challenging to check-in with team members who aren’t pulling their weight.

So how do you instill a sense of ownership and accountability in a virtual environment?

1. Establish goals and outcomes.

Although there may be less distractions when employees are working from home, it also can be challenging to focus. As a leader, it is important to set clear goals, outcomes, and deadlines for projects and tasks so that each of your team members know exactly what your expectations are. Focusing on outcomes allows an employee to take ownership of a task or project, and alleviates you from having to micromanage the process. When creating an outcome, think about what the end result would look like and communicate that to the employee. At the beginning of the week, communicate exactly what you are expecting for each employee to complete, the deadline for completion, and how they should submit their work.

2. Create Structures.

This is not the time for a completely hands-off approach. As a leader, it is important to create structures that will support the achievement of tasks to move projects forward. You want the right balance between giving your team members some freedom to come up with their own solutions and manage their own time, while providing guidance and support when needed. For employees who are self-starters and manage their time well, a weekly check-in may be sufficient for communicating progress. For employees who need more direction or guidance, a daily call may be necessary. Another structure could be weekly “office hours” you make available for employees to schedule time with you to ask questions or get support.

3. Adjust your leadership style.

You may have one team member who only needs a clear goal and can work independently and autonomously. Another employee may need more specific direction and instructions. It’s important to know the working style of each of your employees, and how you can support them best. Daily check-ins may make one employee feel micromanaged, yet may be necessary to keep another employee on track. Don’t frustrate your employees who are naturally accountable and take initiative by micromanaging their daily work. Create structures that work to support how your employee works best. A good practice is to ask each employee in your next one-on-one call. Here are some examples of what you might ask:

      • How is this check-in structure working for you? Would you prefer to meet more often? Less often?
      • After working virtually the past two months, what have you noticed works best for you to accomplish your tasks?
      • Is there anything you would change about how we are communicating?

If you notice a drop in production or missed deadlines, use your next one-on-one call to coach the employee. Don’t avoid the discussion, approach the employee in a non-confrontational way so you can support him to get back on track.

Examples of questions might be:

      • “I’ve noticed the past two weeks that you have missed three deadlines. What can you do differently going forward to ensure you are meeting your deadlines?”
      • “What got it the way of finishing the project?”
      • “What will you do to make sure this is completed today?”

4. Institute collaboration software.

Collaboration software such as MS Teams or Asana can help to manage projects and deadlines, particularly if you have multiple employees working on a project,. I know several virtual teams that use collaboration software on a regular basis to track projects. Having a public forum like a software program to list who owns a task and important deadlines can provide the necessary peer accountability for an employee to take action.

It does take some effort to keep projects and tasks on track. As a leader, your job is to facilitate the best performance from your employees by adjusting your leadership style to coach them through challenges and obstacles, and supporting them to meet objectives.