Executive Presence is Being Present

When you look at my resume it appears as if I had a master plan. Each job logically building on the next. A natural progression of skill and opportunity. But of all the things I’ve planned in my life, my career has not been one of them. And it took me until this week to be able to articulate how it all came about and came together.

This past Thursday I spoke on executive presence to the Guidehouse Young Professionals Group. The presentation I reviewed with the group’s leaders on Tuesday was fine, they said so. It was a holistic look at executive presence because I wanted folks to understand that executive presence wasn’t the well-spoken, charismatic white male executive stereotype. Then, the week unfolded and I ended up modifying my presentation the morning of the event.

My first clue to adjust my presentation was the feedback from the event leaders. “Fine.” They said it made sense and they’d heard some of this before. “It would be good for the group.” OK, this moment spoke to my ego. Fine and good are not what I strive for, especially with public speaking. So, I sat with their feedback.

My next clue came the next day. A former teammate reached out and asked me to speak on a panel about “consulting mindset” to small business leaders. He shared some of their struggles and asked if I would share my experiences, techniques, and lessons learned. I thought about the times where consulting seemed easy for me, where I struggled, and my core truths that served me well time and time again. When the panel ended, I came back to “fine” and “good” and sat with it in context of how I felt after the panel a bit hopped up on happy work memories.

My final clue came through a friend’s LinkedIn post. I follow a few leadership coaches for their expertise, insights into my own coaching practice, and motivation, and K.C. is one of them. I met him over a year ago at the Mindful Leader Summit. He posted about the importance of being present as a leader and pointed out the obvious:  presence is in the phrase executive presence. After I read his brief post, I felt an inner oooooohh come over me, and I sat with it.

Each time I noticed, accepted and sat with a clue. I was present, open, and curious. I didn’t try to solve what I sensed, I just kinda swirled it around like wine in a glass. Observing. Savoring. Consuming.

The next day it was all there for me. The “fine” and “good” was gone. The inspiration appeared in its place. I spent about 30 minutes adjusting my presentation and then practiced it a few times. Yes! This was the vibe I wanted. This was the story I sought to share along with the tools to bring it to life so each person could create their own executive presence. And the chat comments, emojis, and post-session emails from the 260+ attendees confirmed the value and impact of my altered presentation.

I shared with the young professions that:

  • Executive presence is about bring present
  • To have presence you need to be clear on who you are and the value you bring… and most importantly what is missing if you’re not in the room
  • To be invited to the table (job, project, team, conversation) you need to articulate your innate talents and acquired skills, so folks know when to call you or how to advocate for you
  • You can define your brand (what you want to be known for) but those who experience your thinking, words, attitude, and work determine your brand, so show up consistently in all ways
  • Every meeting, email, product, or conversation is an opportunity to be present and practice
  • It’s important to be present in your own way, with the hair, attire, and words that gives you confidence … and always remember if you can share information in a way that your mom or grandmother understand, you nailed it
  • We’re all “young” each time we learn a new skill, accept a new opportunity, or work with a new client – the uncertainty is there, the eagerness is there, and the space to start anew and practice is there

I was AUDITORILY PRESENT when I interviewed senior executives and felt the tingle of “the” soundbite to use in national news story. I was CURIOUSLY PRESENT when I stood in an operating room as globally renowned international radiologists walked me through a live procedure answering my questions so that I could translate it all to help patients make more informed decisions. I was EMOTIONALLY PRESENT when I worked with families of the fallen and took in the stories of their loved ones. I was METICIOUSLY PRESENT when I proofread material going out by federal agencies to millions of Americans to connect them to much needed services and support. I was INTERPERSONALLY PRESENT when I got to know various military generals in order to ghost write for them in such a way an employee talked to me about how great a blogger one of them was, then shared my own words back to me written under another’s name.

As I sat with it all this week, I realized that my ability to be present in the moment – with people, with my skills, with confusion, with my gut, with excitement, with my apprehension – is what created the dynamic career I’m so proud of and awe of…. as I never could have envisioned it when I was 25.

This week reminded me that while setting goals is good, setting intention for how you show up is more powerful. Being present lets you notice more, think more, connect more, and do more. It puts all of you in the moment with others and that, that is true executive presence.

statue of stone face on the ground in grass

I Nearly Broke My Introvert

Whenever I share that I’m an introvert people are shocked. “But you easily talk in meetings.” “But you have such a great network.” “But you facilitate huge offsites.” I typically respond with a smile and share, “I’m an introvert raised by a flaming extroverted mother, so I know how to fake it.”

Many confuse introvert and shy… and I am anything but shy. A common definition of introvert is “a person who prefers calm environments, limits social engagements, or embraces greater than average preference for solitude.” I prefer a comparison definition that an introvert thinks in their head and loses energy in large groups; whereas extroverts think with their mouth and get charged up with each interpersonal interaction.

I can remember growing up and watching my parents after a big church function or wedding reception. Dad would go sit quietly to watch TV or read and might recall a deep conversation with 1-2 people at the event. Mom on the other hand was like Tigger, vibrant and vibrating, recounting chat after chat after chat she had with an endless number of people. Introvert. Extrovert.

I am grateful that in my first managerial role, members of my team took me aside and gave me feedback. They shared they were lost in meetings and couldn’t understand where my answers to the client came from. I was surprised as I thought they were all obvious answers. I explained how I collected things – nuggets of information, ideas, images – and constantly processed them in my head. What I realized from the discussion is that others didn’t do this, they needed to talk it out.

Introverted Leadership

As I moved up the corporate ladder, I also noticed what leader-type got recognized and rewarded: the verbal one. While I think this is an outdated leadership model, it’s the norm none the less. Through experience, I came to believe that if you’re at the table, you better be heard so you’re invited back… verbal participation = engaged participant.

But I’ve learned that working in an extroverted style for sustained periods of time has two big side effects. First, my extroverting and others, pushes out the space for introverts’ ideas that typically require more processing time. Second, I cannot sustain the cultural expectation of the extroverted, gregarious leader without significant recharge time which is nearly impossible with the increased number of online meetings through the pandemic and into a long-term hybrid work model.

Reset Tips

To help re-balance I:

  • Block time after complex meetings and facilitation to quietly process
  • Check with teammates to see if canceling a meeting would help them or share I need some down time
  • Include quite time in strategy or planning sessions to help introverts (and myself) catch our breath and formulate our thoughts
  • Have standing one-on-one meetings with other introverts with whom I have a deep connection and can simply be with, rather than host for
  • Do body scan meditation before a “big” meeting to see what I’m carrying in with me, how tense I am, or how frantic I feel and settle in to a calmer state
  • Seek opportunities for mindfulness such as offer for folks to take a few breaths before a meeting starts or share a joy from the week… or take a mindful walk after a complex week or have a Saturday of silence

So, to all my peer introverts, I feel you.

So, to all my extroverted peers – I feel you.

Here’s to being together in more solitude.

Emily at work desk

Give Mindful Feedback

I must start this piece with a moment of gratitude for Susan Stolov, my first boss out of college and a savvy businesswoman. I still rely on so many of her business tenants 20+ years later:  

  • There is always so much work you never need to talk bad about the competition, let your work quality speak for itself
  • It’s perfectly OK to fire a client
  • How you tell a story changes everything, and it’s the research that gets you to a compelling one
  • Creativity and data can gracefully co-exist, and should
  • Unwavering attention to the details builds results
  • You can have fun at work

While these and many other mentoring moments shaped how I approach work to this day, it was how she approach feedback for which I am most grateful. I’d had jobs in high school and college, but she was the first person to give me a formal end of year review. I am fortunate she set the standard for me.

First, she set the tone. She picked a fancy restaurant in Washington, DC indicating this was a special conversation that warranted a white table cloth. In this environment we were both relaxed and we were free of work distractions in a lovely venue.

Next, she came prepared. She had notes with specifics – examples of positive impact and areas that needed attention. We talked through the feedback in a conversation at the table which made it feel more collaborative. I always felt her feedback was ground in her desire to help me be successful, as well as her business.

Then, she was vulnerable. She revealed personal experiences in her career that helped me understand that we all learn and grow along the way … that no one starts out an award-winning TV producer, sought after expert, and business owner on day one. Her vulnerability made it easier to accept the feedback with a lens of growth rather than a sense of failure.  

She moved on to the businesses. Because of how I contributed to the company’s and client’s success – my raise would be X and my bonus (based on a pre-agreed to structure) would be Z. It was all broken out on paper along with my benefits for an itemized view and grand total. The connection to the bottom line was transparent.

Finally, she ended with encouragement. Each year it varied. From a trip to the New Orleans for a news producer’s conference for training to the incentive of a spa day if I could produce 1 video without a typo. Closing with her thanks for me and a toast to our future together.

She laid out a model of mindful feedback that helped me grow in my career, but also gave me a positive connection to feedback and annual reviews. A true gift.

A few months ago, I attended a Mindful Leader Summit. One session focused on “compassionate performance reviews” – how to be more mindful when you give feedback. The session brought back memories of my past reviews, those I received and those I gave. A few of the presenter’s tips stuck with me:

  • Check your own relationship with feedback before you give it – is your body tense just thinking about a review, and if so, take action to “unwind” or process the energy such as with a walk, meditation, several deep breaths, or listen/dance to a favorite song
  • Prepare yourself to give mindful feedback by examining your motivations, recognizing the other person’s humanity, assuming positive intent, and feeling compassion
  • Be mindful of when you give feedback, so you come prepared, aren’t rushed, and are fully present with the recipient
  • Choose a setting that gives you both balance, and move from behind the big desk to be more connected with the other person

Finally, remember to “gift the other person with your attention.”

Leading From Within book on lap

Books – January 2023

The Long Game: How to be a Long-term Thinker in a Short-term World by Dorie Clark

It was great to read a book by fellow Mary Baldwin University “sister squirrel,” Dorie Clark. While a hard copy to mark up and come back to would be nice … listening to Dorie read it was like being in an extended coaching session or masterclass with her. Within Dorie’s advice and real stories was a clear strategic plan. One that she herself applied to become a national best seller, top 50 business thinker in the world, grammy winner, and Broadway investor – all after a career in political campaigns. She offers a dual system to reach your goals: deliberate actions now for immediate returns augmented by secondary actions for the next wave of success.

Her approach helps you understand what you want to accomplish and how to create clear steps to accomplish it in a way that is meaningful for you. The book also helps you avoid getting stuck in the hamster wheel of corporate America’s expectations. She takes on busyness, saying no, and goal setting. She offers a long-term perspective by thinking in “waves.” She explores patience and rethinks failure. She showcases how networking should (and shouldn’t) be done, and its value over time–and in a way that is also appealing to introverts like myself. Dorie does all this in practical ways that are not cost prohibitive for even the young professional. But what was most exciting about “The Long Game,” is that it offers courage to carve your own career path.

This is not the frantic go, go, go approach that many executive coaches offer in their “do it and do it now” models, but a more methodical way to move toward your dreams in a way that enables you to enjoy life along the way. To me, a refreshing approach that supports more balance in your life.

Leading From Within:  Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Ki Steidle

As a life-long volunteer from a non-profit family, mindfulness newbie, and change management practitioner, this book captured my attention. The opening sentence of this book’s promotion summary quickly drew me in: “A roadmap for integrating mindfulness into every aspect of social change: how to lead transformation with compassion for the needs and perspectives of all people.” I started this book at the beach on a porch rocking chair and finished it several months later next to my lit Christmas tree. Where I had – both physically and mentally – changed a lot in the time frame; especially as I personally went through a large work transformation at work and am talking more with clients about “what is next” for their organizations and as a person.

The book’s content on conscious (intentional) change in combination with mindfulness is spot on and very relevant. It covers why and how to take a breath to look at the current state as it presently is rather than with a lens of expectation – no easy task. Gretchen offers a framework for change, mindful practices (including my favorite “loving kindness”), culture considerations, tips on how to be a better listener, and the science and case studies to bring it to life. She also lays out how to develop a self-care plan as the demands of being a change agents can be physically, mentally, and soulfully draining. What I found most helpful is a refreshing way to look at planning with 3 poignant questions:  What is happening? What is true? And “What is needed?” Plus, a creative way to visually map a current situation with the elements of a tree:  root causes (roots); problem (tree trunk) and effects (leaves), plus a complementary approach to a brainstorming session and stakeholder analysis. A lot to process in one small book, but worth it to help bring about meaningful, personal, and lasting change in the world.

Permission to Glow:  A Spiritual Guide to Epic Leadership by Kristoffer Carter

I met “K.C.” at a Mindful Leader conference in the fall of 2022 where he presented on the “permissions” outlined in this book. His presentation style and book voice is that of Tigger who meditates – vivacious energy with an undercurrent of intentional calm. You can’t help but get caught up in his vibe. The book offers up 4 permissions to bring about more intentional, meaningful leadership – and outcomes.  Chill. Feel. Glow in the dark. Glow in the light. As well as their counter, limiting sides which he named speedy rabbit, game face, phantom pest, and darkstar. While the language might sound odd, the permissions themselves and the icons provided to represent them are well explained and offer new words to use to combat old leadership issues to create a more authentic approach.

The book offers an approach, self-reflection tools, meditations, and some case studies. A few phrases that caught my attention in the book include:

  • “We silent the noise with intuition”
  • The importance of discernment with the simple question, “Does this serve me?”
  • “Boredom is often a sign of an issue with your calendar. Board leaders are either over- or under-scheduled. They haven’t committed to enough activities that make them glow.”
  • “The permission to glow lies just beyond the safety of our comfort zone—and safely beneath our ejection seat of upper limiting beliefs.”
  • “…that heavily guarded border between the edge of our safety and the edge of our dream.”
  • “Radiance draws others who’ve grown bored with conformity and competition”
  • “Be more like the determined, happy toddler figuring out how to walk, and less like the jaded bureaucrat.”

How to be an Inclusive Leader by Jennifer Brown

I read this book over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend as a way to reinvigorate my desire to build more belonging in the groups of which I was a part. Jennifer offers a 4-part “inclusive leader continuum” with unaware, aware, active, and advocate. I liked that this is a fluid (rather than linear) model, where we move back and forth within each area as we learn, relearn, and find more of our ignorance to understand.

This book is about action, “It’s incumbent on those of us who identities make us insiders in a system to go first. The only choice we have is to step up and show up, however imperfectly—to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” The book addresses the awkward moments of stepping into action, and starts with the fundamental question about privilege: “How much of my world was built with me in mind?”

Her “diversity dimensions” and “iceberg model” tools are a great way to take a look at and better understand your network. I recommend this book be used within a larger learning context – such as firm-wide, division, or team book club as it offers practical information, discussion guide, and conversation starters. Jennifer leaves leaders with the charge, “Change is about action. And if you aren’t taking action, your silence is a passive acceptance of the status quo, which further perpetuates the problem.”

Happy reading.

Mask statue in a garden

Forget Imposter Syndrome and Shine

In the past few years, the focus on and conversation around imposter syndrome has grown in my network. And it’s a phrase I only hear from women. It’s gotten to a point where last Friday, over drinks with another female executive, I claimed: “I hate imposter syndrome.” And she agreed.

While at times it’s good to name the demon so you can talk about it and take it on…. it feels likes imposter syndrome keeps women stagnant. As if they can’t move forward if they don’t address it. As if there is a permanent cure for it. That at some point this feeling of not quite enough just magically goes away.

Well, if you’re learning and trying new things this sensation of not knowing “enough” will never end — and that’s a good thing! The flip side to imposter syndrome is the comfort zone, where dynamic people stay and wither.

In my career I was not “ready” to…

– Get a video news package across town and up on the satellite for national distribution … because I did not know how to hail a cab but I accepted the mission and flung up my arm like in the movies and I was off to an award-winning career as a TV news producer

– Produce a video for Coca-Cola of an event at the State Department on then Philippines’ President Corazon Aquino … but I accepted the authority my CEO put in me and duked it out with the flag protocol manager to get the best camera shot

– Discuss the accuracy of new medical illustrations with a physician specialist, especially the size and shape of the penis drawing … but I practiced the presentation (a lot) which resulted in information that helped patients learn about a new non-surgical treatment for male infertility

– Help the Army rebrand its program for severely wounded combat soldiers as I had no military connection … so I read a lot of books, got a soldier mentor, and leaned on my compassion which enabled me to have complex conversations on someone’s worst day — creating an approach and products that increased brand recognition by 35% in one year

– Design and build a communications division … but I applied what I liked and didn’t like from past personal experiences, best practices, and a dash of creativity to ultimately create 6 award-winning federal and commercial communication divisions

From all of these and other experiences I learned I was ready. I was ready “enough.” I was ready to offer something different through collaboration. I was ready to learn what happened at the “next level.” I was ready based on my knowledge, experience, creativity, passion, and grit. I was ready to move beyond fear and claim a new opportunity to apply my gifts.

Squelching imposter syndrome is about taking the pieces from various experiences and applying them together in a way that feels authentic and meets the needs of the situation. It’s about pausing to acknowledge that fear and action can co-exist. It’s about quieting down the white noise, finding the soft voice within (AKA your intuition), and boldly listening to it. It’s about saying “yes, and…” to agree with needed support or resources. It’s about accepting you are more than you think or have done — and step into an opportunity to grow.

So, to all of you wrestling with imposter syndrome, I say, put down the excuse that holds you back. Be proud of what you’ve done and seek to add to your experiences. Embrace the opportunities others think you’re ready for. Learn, leave your mark, and build your legacy as a new kind of leader.

To support your boldness, I offer up Danielle Doby’s words as it’s important to have the right kind of network to support you on your journey…

“Be around the light bringers, the magic makers, the world shifters, the game shakers.

They challenge you, break you open, uplift and expand you.

They don’t let you play small with your life.

These heartbeats are your people.

These people are your tribe.”

holding dad's hand

December 2022 Quote: “Astonish a Mean World with Your Acts of Kindness”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For December 2022 the quote was, “My wish for you is that you continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

Kindness found me in 2022 thanks to Cole Baker-Bagwell. Before her, I have to admit kindness was a bit of a throw away word, like nice. It didn’t seem to say much. Then, she shared her definition for the word, “kindness is a commitment in thought, word, and action to leave everyone and everything better.” Then, I listened to her and saw how she lived the word. Then, I tried it out and kindness took shape. Here are quotes that caught my attention in December:

  • Look at the behaviors you tolerate
  • Leadership is stark. It is terrifying. In some ways, it’s the ultimate act of creativity
  • Ignite good in others
  • Keep the fire burning
  • Time under tension
  • We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are
  • God lurks in the gaps
  • It’s your story honey. Feel free to hit ‘em with a plot twist whenever you want.
  • Our soul lives in a joyous peace. We just need to get through the layers of mind and body static to find it.
  • We are responsible for our talents
  • Just start
  • Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer
  • This is my natural baseline: being at ease, spacious, and open…none of us is built to be a sprinter continuously. I am a sitter, an explorer, a guide.
  • When you cut into the present, the future leaks out
  • Inhale, “I am free to feel.” Exhale, “I will stay whole.”
  • We are all made of stardust and stories
  • Sign your name upon my heart
  • I will gather all the dusty sorrows from the attic of memory and cast them into the fires of oblivion
  • Magical wishes for your journey ahead 

Cole connected me to Magnus Wood, founder of the Kindness Corporation. Yep, it’s a thing! And how can you not get behind a movement with the tagline, “We help work suck less and business thrive more”? Especially when the average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work, or 1/3 of their life.

In October, I joined Magnus’ group of international leaders who meet weekly to learn about how kindness takes shape, what influences it, what diminishes it, and how to practice it – as well as share stories and tools. It’s a refreshing weekly treat that bolsters not just how I want to be as a person but how I can generate kindness in my professional and personal community.

I found that a key byproduct of kindness is connection, something I feel so many of us not just need, but crave. COVID, politics, loss, war, injustice, religion, and more place us in an “us/them,” “for or against” dynamic. Kindness on the other hand is not about an issue, but rather a person. How you as a person can be kind to another. It’s connectional.

Each act of kindness you demonstrate gives others options. Options on how to think about and treat those who are different. Options on how to make decisions at work that are supportive. Options on how to show up in a controversial situation. Options on how to create a new solution. Options on how to stand up for a better process. Options on how to be with others. Options on how to foster community.

While I think we start life from a state or lens of kindness, we somehow loose this as our default setting through our experiences. We second guess our innate response to be kind. It takes effort, and a bit of boldness, to rebuild your kindness muscle. But when demonstrated, kindness can feel radical for both the giver and receiver, and it’s a powerful sensation. A force for good.

I have to admit though that I like that acts of kindness feel a bit rogue in the current climate. I like that my kind-centered thinking, solutions, conversations, and actions rub against the norm. I enjoy disrupting the “mean world,” the status quo routine, and the old guard. I like the subversive change I’m generating at all levels of various organizations. I like that kindness breaks power-holds and emboldens others to be kind. I like that kindness brings about a kindness. I also like how I feel when kindness is the norm.

Here’s to the rampant spread of kindness in 2023.

journal with columns and copy to show intention tracking

Quiet Intention

I enjoy the quiet time between Christmas and the new year. Quiet from work. Quiet by the tree. Quiet in me. The quiet often starts on Christmas Eve with a candlelight service at church and the departing hymn “Joy to the World.” A final exclamation for the year before I settle into comfy clothes and cookies for a few days of personal reflection.

During this time, I often hear myself more – or more clearly. I do less and “be” more by soaking in traditions, being more present with loved ones, and savoring a slower gear with time. I also put thought into the new year.

While I’m less about setting SMART goals (though I know they are useful), I do focus on my intention. How I want to be in the new year. What I want to put my attention to bringing about. What I want to reinforce in my sphere of influence and community. I always think about this from a positive perspective, more X rather than less Y.

I picked up this annual habit on intention setting from a former government Under Secretary and 1 star general I used to support. She would pick a word for the year, share it with her community, track what happened throughout the year related to it, and then share the outcomes the following December in a letter. It was always amazing to read what manifested in her year related to her word. Her approach for the new year was both personal and publicly accountable.

What I saw through her year-in-review intention emails, and experienced first-hand, is that intention is wildly simple but incredibly powerful. Intention typically brings more meaningful outcomes and unimaginable experiences that are bigger than what I could imagine in a SMART goal. The abundance of intention is incredible.

One year my intention was empower. Empower my team, my loved ones, my professional network, my self, my community. It was great to see how many opportunities arose each week for me to make a decision and take an action to empower, or savor when someone empowered me. The same went for my year centered on joy. For the past few years, I focused on 3 things:  create, empower, joy. Each month I setup columns with each word at the top and tracked all the things I experienced related to one of those words. I never failed to fill up a page each month of wonderous experiences, thoughtful interactions, and heart-warming memories.

While I made the decision to change my intention(s) this year, I am not sure yet if it will be to one word or a few. Maybe I’ll pick a word for different areas of my life, a professional word, a community word, and a personal word. I have a new notebook picked out to start fresh as the other one is crammed full of intentional nuggets from the past few years. Perhaps the word will be…

  • Rest (to not get over-extended)
  • Laughter (to be more playful or spontaneous)
  • Generous (to be more giving of resources—time, brain, heart, money)
  • Boundaries (to protect self, time, energy, emotions, goals)
  • Faith (to be bold in beliefs)
  • Grow (to focus on learning)
  • Health (to support physical and mental wellbeing)
  • Care (to help build connections and deeper relationships) 
  • Family (to be more present with loved ones)
  • Write (to fulfill a call)
  • Wonder (to be more open to the Universe)

I look forward to what calls to me in the quiet moments in the days ahead.

If you want to join me with intention in 2023… Write your word(s) at the top of your calendar each month so you see it each day. Make it your computer password. Say it each night before you fall asleep and before you start your day. Track anything that occurs related to your word. Celebrate meaningful occurrences. 

Then, watch it come to life!

finger points to a Snickers candy bar

Workplace Kindness with a Snickers

Well, there I was in my weekly “workplace kindness” online session shoveling in lunch during an on camera global zoom call. It was all well and good… folks sharing unkind work examples, realizations, and tips and then moderator Magnus Wood lobbed out the question about experiences with unkind managers. I took myself off mute … and shared it was me.

I shared that a teammate taught me a valuable lesson. He’d come by my office cube, papers in hand, and sheepishly ask, “Have you eaten?” Another time he asked, “Do you need a Snickers?”  After a few of these, I finally realized he was checking my state. Hungry and bitey or good to go. But this wasn’t just a lunch time question but more of a quick litmus test any time of day.

He helped me realize the impact of my mood — state of mind, energy level, presence — had on others. I was all good… until I wasn’t. I used his clue to change. Change my calendar. Change my awareness. Change how I handle “drive by” interruptions. Change my commitment to lunch.

I now offer up the code word “Snickers” to my teams, especially my deputies, to use to not so subtly get my attention about my bad manager or leader behavior. It gives them a simple tool to hold me accountable when there’s a power imbalance … and it usually ends in a laugh. As soon as they say the word, I know and can reset.

While I strive to be a thoughtful, kind manager, I’ve had my less than stellar moments. I know my knee jerk reactions get the best of me. I know my crowded schedule pushes me to plow ahead when I should pause. I know I need to talk less and listen more. I know my confident tone can diminish others from speaking up.

Because of this, I use a few tools to create a more kind work environment that include:

  • I come into virtual meetings on camera to chat pre-meeting and demonstrate my active presence
  • A project launch slide on “what you can expect from me” commitment (part warning of what sets me off because it’s a high-value item to me and part promise of what I do for them)… and I ask what each person needs to succeed
  • Standing 1:1 monthly meeting with each person on my team to talk about their agenda topics, work or personal items
  • Encourage the use of cat memes to share good or problematic news
  • Stress the use their Outlook calendar to block time for every key activity, from meetings and research to training and lunch as this helps them understand how much effort it takes to complete work and everyone understands their availability
  • I don’t schedule meetings from Noon-1 and support Friday afternoon quite hours so teams have common times with which to recharge
  • Use “???” when editing so folks can separate necessary changes from food for thought … and demonstrate I don’t have all the answers
  • Apologize when wrong… not to long ago I shared with a 25 person team how I was wrong and shared the email I wrote to the client accepting responsibility
  • I ask for feedback, and also offer that if anyone feels uncomfortable giving it to me, they should share it with my deputy who’ll aggregate it and bring it to me

With experience I’m able to fend off some of my flair ups. I constantly integrate new techniques to see what helps the team enjoy work more and connect as a team. I try to pause more and provide support that helps levels things out – such as coaching a new graduate on corporate introductions or talking budget and corporate finance who someone who doesn’t fit the majority demographic.

But I know I am, and always will be, a work in progress who on occasion needs a Snickers to settle down.

monster blows out candles on birthday cake and icing covers other person

Birthday Wish

I love birthdays. A day where each person is celebrated simply for arriving in life. Aging has not diminished this joy. In fact, it’s illuminated the blessing of a birthday and another year. Another year with those I love. Another year growing. Another year laughing. Another year witness to heartbreak. Another year contributing. Another year of wonders. Another year part of community. Another year of gratitude.

I view my birthday as my own January 1st. New Year’s Day… Emily style. I fill both the day – and actually the month – with people and things that feed my soul and put me in the best state to start my new year. This year included time with my parents eating birthday cake (my grandmother’s fruit cocktail cake recipe to be exact), a two-day mindful leader summit with a best friend, a spa pedicure, a mindful walk soaking up the colors of my season on tree leaves, Orange Theory Fitness‘ “Hell Week,” a few more long calls with far away friends, a little more reflective quiet time, a stack of Halloween cards sent to loved ones, a haircut, new yarn for the next knitted baby blanket gift, time reading, and a favorite dinner with ice cream to follow. Nothing fancy but fulfilling.  

As I get still and listen, here is what my heart speaks…

  • Find the people in this world who care for, accept, inspire, and support you – hold them tight and connect them with others in your circle to build a meaningful community
  • Make space for you in your life – be purposeful in how you spend time on things that recharge you, you’re worth it
  • Build a relationship with the universe – for me this is Sunday morning in the church chapel, walks in nature, meditation, and written prayers; the connection to something bigger gives much needed perspective
  • Stretch yourself – through books, classes, conversations, music, and differing ideas, as we should not remain contained within the same limited beliefs year over year and decade over decade of our life
  • Bring joy into your life and those of others – dance in your kitchen as you make dinner, be silly with a young child, share your gratitude, hold a hug 10 seconds longer, sing at the top of your lungs with the windows down on a sunny day, send flowers to a loved one, text “you’re on my mind and I love you,” or drop off a pie
  • Give what you can to those in need – we all need help

My birthday wish is to embrace more of all of these things in my new year… and am grateful for the time to do so.

A Mindful Leadership Reset

I take leadership seriously. I think leadership is tied to the person not the title. I see leadership as both a joy-filled opportunity and lonely responsibility. I believe in servant leadership, and as such don’t have much tolerance for inauthentic leaders. I think some elements of leadership are innate in a person and others require cultivation. I think leaders seek to grow and help others find their path to leadership.

Following the chaos of the COVID lockdown, I began a leadership reset. The all-consuming work model of sleep where you work, all-day iPhone access, wall of online meetings, and increased corporate metrics took a toll. What I once referred to as the feeling like I was working in “sludge” shifted over time into burnout and right on to “crispiness.”

I worked hard to keep my leadership façade in place…. show up for my team perky on camera, check-ins with my deputies, ask for feedback, add on hours to hit the metrics, mentor my network, and talk with my work sponsor. I hoped that if I just stuck with it, I’d emerge on the other side. But, as I’ve stated in a few client planning sessions, “hope is not a solid strategy.”

I got intentional about my needs as a leader. I got intentional on my boundaries. I got intentional about learning. My journey led me to mindfulness: to be fully present; aware of your senses, state of mind, body, emotions – rather than reactive to what is going on around us; or as Janice Marturano wrote, “you are present to life and your experience just as it is – not as you hoped it would be, not as you expected it to be, not seeing more or less than what is here, not with judgements that can lead you to a conditioned reaction… meeting each moment with equanimity.”

I learned about and applied mindfulness through an exploration of my left big toe in MBSR (which warrants its own blog), a communal experience exploring a raisin with 60 classmates from around the world, the jarring experience of just how long a 3 minute meditation can be, a kind mentor, a happier app, a day-long silent retreat, nightly meditation that improved my sleep, “mico-practices” in work meetings, conversations that led me to a new community, and practice, practice, practice.

This past week, my leadership reset culminated in attendance of the Mindful Leadership Summit. The presenters at the Summit shared:

  • 98% of what we do in conditioned … and mindfulness helps us move beyond that status quo comfort into a state of growth by helping us be more present by asking:  How is my response (thought, feeling, action) serving me? Not serving me? Limiting my growth?
  • The importance of breath to break the auto-response cycle through a simple 3 breath exercise … (1) breathe in to collect your attention, (2) breathe in to relax, and (3) breathe in and ask, “what is important now?” – then step back into the habitual moment with a fresh lens.
  • The value of “gifting another person on your team with your full attention.”
  • The belief that “I am not my idea” and to share yours with others to make it better.
  • That it’s a dis-service to bring diverse groups together and then focus solely on what they have in common … but rather embrace the diversity and be empathetic.
  • The importance of a “check in” with your team members as a group.
  • Examples of mindful leadership, mindful meetings, mindful performance reviews, mindful governance, and mindful boards.
  • That the “command and control work model is dead” and a new community centered model is replacing it… put another way: “a shareholder model vs. a stakeholder model.”
  • It’s all about the invitation to co-create and feel included.
  • You’re always practicing something with every action, feeling, and thought – what is it?
  • Space to be creative through the combination of meditation, music, and art.
  • How you feel in contagious … so what’s your strategy to deal with your feelings?
  • “Be the first to _____________” as a role model of mindful leader.

I also discovered the joy of integrating music and art into my mindfulness practice through an emotionally captivating session with Najeeb Sabour.

With 2 days of information and inspiration, my mind is full as I set out to be a more mindful leader.