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Passion needs persistence


The truth is that passion for leadership is only a good start to being the best leader you can be.

Leadership for most of us isn’t easy since there are hurdles to jump over and obstacles in the way to success. There are lots of things you need along with passion in order to be a successful leader, but persistence comes in at a strong second place. Without persistence, you don’t get to express your passion. Without dogged determination your craving to be a great leader lies dormant all clouded over with excuses about the things you “should do” but don’t.

My story of persistence

I was reminded of the importance of persistence over the last couple of weeks when a former U.S. Government client called to let me know he had some people in his organization that he wanted to work with a coach. I discovered that a lot has changed since I worked with him long ago. It’s a lot harder to work for the government than it was back then.

Now I have to compete for the work with an RFQ – a request for quote. It required no less than four days of my time to prepare. All the while the final product was on a timeline, and I was confused about many of the details needed to submit a successful bid.

I experienced government websites that didn’t make any sense and sometimes just didn’t work. They slowed me down as the clock was ticking and knew I had to cross every “T” and dot every “I”. Help desks that were compartmentalized into tiny chunks of responsibility couldn’t help me because they said I needed to talk to someone else, who sent me to someone else who then decided I needed to call another government organization. Government regulations needed to be read. And I had questions, lots of questions.

I was frustrated, but determined. I reminded myself how much I love what I do. Somehow, I muddled through the government requirements and submitted the final paperwork with twenty minutes to spare. I don’t know if I’ll get the work that I put my persistence into bidding for. I was persistent and it felt good to figure it out and get it done.

We need you to be persistent

Sound familiar? If you love being a leader, consider your passion only the beginning of your work. There are obstacles in your way. You must be persistent in everything you do because it can be hard. You’ll never get a chance to use your passion unless you’re tenacious.

So find someone who can help you*, get up and take action. Bust through those barriers when the going gets tough. The world needs great leaders, and you might just be one of them. We’re waiting for you to shine.


*I didn’t do this alone. I had assistance from PTAC: The Procurement Technical Assistance Center, a busy group of wonderful consultants who helped be interpret the “what and how”, checked over my submission, and cheered me on to completing the bid on time.


When you decide to lead


Three years ago the Michigan International Coach Federation chapter needed a Board President. Nobody came forward to fill the slot, and when asked, I said “no”; I was too busy and besides, I preferred to stay on the board, but not to lead the organization. I liked the idea of staying behind the scenes a bit.

A month or two went by without a successor willing to take the spot, and as a founding board member, I had a stake in the matter. So I asked myself, “What would a leader do?”. I made the tough decision to step up to the plate as the Board President. I knew that meant that I also had to step out of the shadows and lead. It required time and a willingness to do some of the hard things that needed to be done. In other words, it required a commitment and a willingness to behave like a leader.

The decision to lead is (or should be) a conscious choice. It isn’t a position on an organization chart. Whether you are an individual contributor, manager, director, or a CEO, you must make a decision about whether you will be a leader. The title leader “leader” isn’t automatically conferred on you because you have a position on the organization chart. It has to show up in your behavior.

When you commit to lead, those who participate in your leadership will expect you to:

Know what it means for you to lead. How will you behave, and what outcomes do you expect from your behavior? What are you expecting from from those who support you? What will be different in you that will express itself outwardly to those around you? How will you change, and where will you get the support you need to make the personal changes required to lead? Spend time reflecting on these questions and be prepared to demonstrate and communicate your commitment to the answers.

Have a vision of how your organization will perform and the legacy you will leave when you move on. One of my favorite vision questions is, “If an alien looked down on your organization three (or two or five) years from now, what do they see you and your team doing?”. What behaviors do you expect of others in regards to the vision? How will you define and communicate it?

Honor their well-being. The well-being of your stakeholders doesn’t just happen after work hours. Webster’s dictionary defines well-being as “a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity”, so if you consider this definition holistically, it applies to how you treat others. What do you want your stakeholders to say to others about how they are treated? What values will you impart in your relationships with them?

In deciding to take the Board President position, I thought about all of these things before actually leading. They helped me to define myself and the way I wanted to be seen. They put boundaries around my expectations for myself and for the team. And they helped me to make a commitment to lead.

When you decided to lead what questions did your commitment require of you?




Giving space and light for others to grow


Last winter, we had an old apple tree in the yard topple from sub-zero freezing temperatures and the weight of more snow than we’ve seen since we’ve lived here. When we lost that tree, we gained a patch of sun that we hadn’t had before. Excitement ensued when we envisioned the possibility of having our first vegetable garden in many years.

So in the spring we tilled and fertilized the soil. We shopped for starter plants. We made sure we kept the hungry vegetable-eating critters at bay. It was a spring of just enough sun and a summer of plenty of rain to foster vegetable plants that look like jungle growth. We have six-foot tomato plants and zucchini leaves that appear to belong along the Amazon River.

The problem is that in this harvesting season, the yields of edible vegetables have been less than ideal. We have more tomatoes than we can use, but they aren’t getting ripe. And if you’ve ever grown zucchini, most of the time you’ll have more than you can possibly eat* – not so in our garden.

Our poor yields are the result of not having enough space and light between the plants.


Your team needs space and light too

When you give your team enough space and light, it’s a win-win situation. They learn and grow while allowing you to ease up on managing them. This letting go of your need to control becomes a virtuous cycle that leaves space and light for you to become a better leader.

In other words, those you lead will be happier and more productive when you give them space and light. And you get to lead at your best.

Help your team to grow by:

Leaving space: Let go of the things that you really can’t control. Establish and communicate a vision for the work so your team has an understanding of what needs to be done to achieve success without your need to manage them with a heavy hand. Let them figure out the how the work can get done while you coach them to success. Set the expectations and stop meddling in their work or giving them constant advice. Have regular dialog where you listen well and ask questions that will guide them to find their own way to complete the work.

Letting in light: Illuminate the things that are important for the team to accomplish. Find ways to communicate the vision, goals and mission of your organization often. This will allow you to step back and count on them to do the work while they learn and develop. And remember to give positive feedback often; let them know that you’ve observed the good things they’re doing to achieve the mission.

Get feedback from your team on how you’re leading. Reflect on what’s working and what isn’t, and adjust to let more space and light into your leadership.


*Give your extra zucchini away this week. Believe it or not, August 8 is national “sneak a zucchini on your neighbor’s porch day”.


How to see others as people


I spent much of the weekend reading a book called The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. It’s been on my reading list for far too long. It continues the story of Lou who was featured in an earlier work by Arbinger called Leadership and Self Deception. Both books dig below the surface to explore the beliefs and mindset (that impact behavior) of a fictional leader.

The Anatomy of Peace book prompted me to think about how we choose in each and every moment how to treat people; even when we believe we don’t have a choice. There is an important distinction for leaders: the difference between seeing people as people or seeing them as an object. This distinction – and the choice that is made – has enormous implications for the way you engage and lead others.

If you’re choosing to see (and treat) others as objects, you perceive them as a means to an end. There is little room for compassion or kindness because you’re only viewing them as instruments to complete the work at hand. They may not follow you willingly, and they won’t give their work everything they have.

If you’re choosing to see (and treat) others as people, you empathize and seek to understand them. They can see that you care and know that you have their best interest in mind. You will influence and inspire them to complete the work while using every bit of their hidden potential to the very best of their ability.

At any moment any of us can choose the way we see others but we must recognize the choice we have in that moment in order to make a conscious decision about our actions and behavior. How will you recognize that moment?

You are treating someone like a person when:

You withhold judgment of them: You aren’t thinking about whether someone is good or bad. You see them only as a person who is complex and messy, knowing that when they act up, they’re being human. In fact, you look beyond the surface flaws to see something more, even as their behaviors may drive you crazy.

You have compassion: You listen for understanding, treating others with kindness and empathy. You relate to them with an emotional connection because it is what you should do, not for any other reason that might serve your purposes. Put simply, you “get them”.

You do the right thing for them: When decisions and judgments must be made (because that is part of what you get paid to do), you do the right thing for them. You are able to set aside what others think and all of the politics that draw you in to treat them as the individual they are.

You see them as an equal: Even though you may be in a position of authority, you see them and treat them as an equal. They feel comfortable and valued in your presence because you don’t see them as something less than yourself.

You see their potential: You know that everyone is brimming with potential and as you listen and watch carefully, the person in front of you is no exception. Rather than seeing them as an object that gets the work done, you see them as full of possibility.

Think about the interactions you have. Are you choosing to treat others as objects or as people?


Your sources of real power


Leadership just isn’t what it used to be. Thank goodness! We’ve all known of organizational cultures where the managers’ use of command and control is a source of power. Because we are now in an age of flattened organizational structures, global broad based knowledge, and speed of light decision making, real leadership power lies in work relationships that are formed and intentionally sustained.

In the next 20 years, we’ll see more change in how managers lead. Although here are still pockets of managers who grasp for power through force and strength, they’ll leave and be replaced with a new type of manager. This manager will be adept at real power. They’ll share influence by being a catalyst to bring out the best in their stakeholders and organizations.

They’ll focus on others as a significant investment as opposed to simply checking off items on a “to do” list. The managers who are adept at force and control will not survive, except perhaps in rare cases where safety and security may be necessary.

Up and coming managers: be ready! Your time will come to lead on a bigger scale and change the world! You might as well begin learning about how to have real power now. Your real power is in:

Relationships: Always pay attention to the relationships you need to foster that are mutually beneficial. Develop them, sustain them, and mend them as necessary. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with those you lead; it simply means that you need to be able to work with each other for the common good. You don’t even have to like each other, but you do have to clean out your personal closets of assumptions, judgments and beliefs in order to be able to achieve objectives together. Be honest and foster trust at all times, especially when you disagree.

Collaboration: Gone are the days of competing with internal (and sometimes external) stakeholders in order to foster creativity or to get you want. Collaboration is the new currency of leadership in the sense that it goes miles beyond cooperation (which generally means to “go along” even though you might disagree). When you collaborate, you leave behind your own self-interest to achieve goals for the greater good. Embrace collaboration and model it for others.

Equality: Real trust doesn’t happen without a sense of equality between leaders and stakeholders. Inequality is behind the use of force, fear, coercion or control, and it breaks trust. When that happens, lost revenue or missed opportunities aren’t far behind. Don’t put yourself “above” others by judging them to be something less than yourself. Everyone has a stake in organizational success, and when you lead in the spirit of equality, trust and success will follow.

Conversation: All ideas, progress, relationships and success are built on a foundation of conversation. Yet when you are so focused on getting things done you may forget that the people doing the work need dialog to do it at their best. Stop and think often about the conversations you need to have and then have them! You can’t lead alone, and powerful two-way conversations are crucial to making the right decisions.

Coaching: Consider what our organizations will become when every leader believes that coaching others is an imperative instead of a time-waster. Coaching grows people, and when people grow, organizational performance thrives. One of your real powers is knowing how and when to coach others. When you coach, you are able to watch the expansiveness for thought, creativity, and innovation that occurs in others. You can then revel in the great impact this has on your organization.

We’re at the precipice of a new time that calls for new kinds of power. Embrace these new sources of power and watch your organization flourish!

This post was originally published on Smartblog on Leadership.




Leading through uncertain times


The announcement last week that Microsoft would be laying off 18,000 employees washed over me. Emotions emerged of a time several years ago when I was working in a company that had made several major mergers over the course of a decade while trying to survive in a marketplace that was relentless.

The final blow culminated in massive layoffs. Many employees who would lose their jobs had spent a lifetime working for “the only employer in a small town” known for good pay, benefits, and treating employees with respect and dignity.

While many employees certainly experienced the empathy and support from their managers needed to stay well-balanced throughout those uncertain times, some also experienced its opposite. Many managers were vying to be “named” into a new position or just trying to hang on – sometimes resulting in less-than-stellar behavior.

During these uncertain times, I noticed that the best leaders were able to instill a sense of calm in their teams despite the ambiguity and threats to their own sense of stability. Here is what I observed the best of the best doing:

Respecting: The best leaders understood that each employee dealt with uncertainty in their own way. They respected them as human beings, through the anger, tears, and outbursts. These leaders didn’t judge harshly, but would calmly address the behaviors that were disruptive as needed. They made it clear that they expected employees to respect others while personally modelling what that means.

Listening: Listening is a fine way to show empathy and a sense of understanding others. The best leaders did a lot of listening during those uncertain times. Instead of speculating and prognosticating their opinions about what the future holds, they allowed others to feel heard.

Providing perspective: Sometimes people get so wrapped up in uncertainty that they can’t be rational. The best leaders helped others through the uncertainty by providing perspective as well as being transparent in their communication. They were also able to put their own situation into perspective as a way of staying calm and rational.

Taking care of themselves: While they were helping others to move through this transition, these wonderful leaders knew it was important to make sure they took care of their own needs too. They knew they needed to show up at their best by doing regular self-checks on their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health – and taking action in any of these areas that needed it.

Carrying on: Their ability to carry on with work and continue to set expectations for their organizations provided a sense of normalcy and stability. They set an example with their unruffled demeanor for others. In this way, they displayed strength in the face of uncertainty.

Your behavior in uncertain times will define your leadership; more so than when things are running smoothly. Be intentional about how you want to show up in order to model the behaviors you expect of others.


Don’t make them cry


If you’ve been in the corporate or business arena for any period of time, chances are that someone has done something to you that was unthinking or insensitive, making you feel like you didn’t matter. This can be particularly upsetting if that someone is your boss. I shed a lot of (silent) tears because of some of the insensitive ways I was treated by some managers:


  • The first day I returned from maternity leave, I walked into my office and found someone else sitting at my desk. My manager had forgotten to let me know that an office had opened up across town where my client base was, and my stuff was packed into boxes and shipped to that spot in my absence.


  • Another manager reorganized his responsibilities while I was on Christmas break. While at a Christmas party, I learned from a friend that I would be reporting to someone new when I got back to work. Similar to the situation above, the manager “forgot” to let me know that I would be coming back to a big change.


  • A new boss made it perfectly clear that he wasn’t interested in the work I was responsible for. When we had meetings it was obvious he wasn’t listening by picking up the phone (and often talking at length to caller while I sat waiting for our meeting to resume) or interrupting our meetings for someone else who came to the office.


I’m sure you get the idea; there are other examples, but I’ll spare you. These incidents were all wake-up calls that it was time to move on, and I did just that. In each case, a sincere and heartfelt apology would have made me feel better but all I heard were excuses.


I never felt that these managers were horrible people; they were just insensitive. They were unaware of the impact of their actions on myself and others.


Stop. Think. You are a leader, and leaders make others feel like they matter by:


Communicating more than you think you need to: You may not communicate things that seem insignificant to you but they might be important to others. Even if those you lead matter to you, your actions can make them believe otherwise. Err on the side of over-communicating to the people who are impacted by your actions.


Listening: Do you remember a time that you felt you weren’t listened to? If so, you know how important it is. Turn and face the person you are listening to, look them in the eyes, and get rid of distractions. Listening to them is one of the most important things you can do.


Appreciating: Make sure that you consistently tell those you lead that you appreciate the work they are doing and you appreciate them too. The next time you do something insensitive, your gratefulness will help to smooth things over.


Pay attention to actions and decisions you make that might matter to others. When you make people feel like they are important by communicating, listening and appreciating them, they become invested in your leadership and your organization. That’s what leaders do.


How to be a leader without faking it


What makes it important to understand and stay connected with the core of who you are as a human being? How do you become an authentic leader? How do you know when your actions are less than genuine?

These are some intriguing and deep questions that you may not have thought about. I have – for the simple reason that I believe the answers are important for leaders to be able to sustain the energy and dedication that are necessary for them to continue to inspire themselves and the people they lead.

Inspiring others is part of what you must do, because it keeps people engaged and interested in the work at hand. You can’t fake it. You have to feel it. Recent studies in human interaction and brain science have shown us that emotions are contagious, and this goes both ways; any dissonance you have gets picked up by others no matter how hard you might “try” to be genuine.

This is why it makes sense to know yourself well, and it may be some of the hardest work you do. Learning about who you are is also a good way to develop self-confidence, stay resilient in difficult times and to develop the kind of relationships with those around you that will support the health of your organization.

Self-knowledge is a journey, not a destination. Too often I see executives in the C-suite avoiding the kind of development that will help them remain true to themselves and continue to show up as honest and genuine to their stakeholders. That’s where trouble begins. So no matter whether you are the CEO or the project leader for a small initiative, it pays to:

Learn about yourself: Much of your self-knowledge will come from observing your behaviors and reflecting on them. Since we learn by accumulating a variety of experiences this learning takes time. Being present enough in your interactions and decisions to observe yourself is a great start. Taking well-vetted self-assessments (Myers-Briggs, DiSC) to learn about your strengths and foibles are helpful if you notice and observe how your results on these assessments play out in your behaviors.

Know what you value: It’s important for you to have a short list of your top values to refer to when making decisions, interacting, and influencing others. A list of your top 3-5 values are like the foundation to a building. If they aren’t there, the building won’t stand. Likewise, if you don’t know what you value, your actions may not be consistent and anchored, causing others confusion and doubting your motives. Trust can erode, undermining your leadership. Make your values explicit and keep them accessible.

Be aware of others’ perceptions about you: One of the most honest ways to understand how others perceive you is through 360 instruments where those who respond to the questionnaire remain anonymous. If your organization doesn’t have one they use, find an external consultant or coach who does. Alternatively, asking for feedback directly from your stakeholders is another way to get this information, although it may be less than honest. This can give you information about what others observe in your behaviors which sometimes may not sync up with your own perceptions.

Reflect: For many action-oriented leaders, taking time to reflect is the hardest part of getting to know themselves, but think of it as the beginning of becoming a better leader (an action in itself!). A few minutes each day to reflect back on whether you showed up in harmony with who you and what you value will serve your intentions to be authentic. Ask yourself: What did I do today that was a genuine outward expression of who I am? Did I make decisions and act with my values in mind? Where did I stray?

It’s important to know who you in order to lead others with inspiration. Where will you begin to learn more about you?

This post was originally published in Smartblog on Leadership.



Are we there yet? Managing your impatience


Do you remember those childhood family trips to a vacation spot, a parade, or Grandma’s house? A sense of excitement seemed to slow time down and we continually asked our parents, “Are we there yet?” from the back seat of the car. Those parents who were patient knew how to deal with that question by playing a game (“how many out of state license plates can you count?”) or otherwise focusing the attention of impatient children elsewhere.

As an adult leader, you may have been promoted to a position of authority because you were able to get things done quickly. Your pace and impatience to achieve results may have served you well; there may still be times when a sense of urgency is called for.

However, when your impatience manifests itself in your own inappropriate behavior, it can work against you. Interrupting others, lack of full attention, sighing, being dismissive, or even walking away when someone is in mid-sentence may actually result in others avoiding you, gossiping behind your back, or not being completely honest to you because they think you don’t care. Ultimately your impatience can be damaging to your leadership and to the mission of your organization.

If you’re receiving feedback that you: lack empathy, take over a conversation, have all the answers, or that people just can’t seem to keep up with you, consider what leadership means. Are others willingly following you?

Some strategies that might help you to show more patience:

Notice triggers: The things that trigger impatience aren’t always about getting things done. You may want to be acknowledged (thus interrupting or speaking out of turn) or you may not care about socializing and small talk. It helps to know what sparks your impatience so you can manage it. You might also want to notice where the sensation of impatience begins in your body and what behaviors you manifest when you feel it.

Breathe deeply: Deep breaths can be wonderfully relaxing and can serve to slow you down when you feel that sensation of impatience. Different from a sigh, a deep, quiet, full breath that goes all the way into your belly may allow the exasperation you feel to reach the logical part of your brain where you can make a decision about more appropriate behavior.

Focus on the present: Return your focus to what’s in front of you. Listen, observe, and enjoy it. If that impatience trigger goes off in you again, you can go back to taking some deep breaths. Know that by focusing and listening, you are forming relationships and showing empathy in a way that you haven’t before; these things will help you to lead at your best.

Match others’ pace: As you pay attention, you’ll likely notice that not everyone has the same pace as you do. Some are faster, but the ones who likely frustrate you are those who are slower. When in conversation, try to match their pace. You’ll find that when you match the other’s pace, the relationship will deepen and flourish.

Don’t let your outward manifestations of impatience spoil your otherwise good leadership. Learn to notice and manage the sensations you feel to lead at your best.




What’s behind the passion of great leaders?


I’m a big fan of really great leaders. There are more of them out there than you might believe because the press seems to want to capitalize on the worst of them. Perhaps I’m biased by the work I do, but consider that I’ve been in the business world, a leader myself, and an observer and student of other leaders for a very long time (I’ll keep my secret about how long!). I’ve been around the bend and I’ve seen a lot of very good leaders.

Those great leaders love to lead even if they can still get tired, frustrated, and angry at how hard it can be. Yet even in the face of professional and personal adversity they will pick themselves up, reinvigorated and ready to make a difference in the lives of the people and organizations they lead.

I’ve noticed that it’s what’s behind the passion for their work that keeps them going:

The people: People are at the top of the great leader’s list of reasons being passionate for what they do because they know they can’t lead alone. Exceptional leaders love people even with all of their messiness, confusion, and difficulty because they get joy from guiding them to perform at levels that they didn’t know were possible. These leaders forge strong bonds with the people they lead, helping them to reach or exceed their potential through mentoring, coaching, and being a great example.

The learning: The best leaders have a curious attitude and a beginner’s mind. Their world is changing quickly and they can swiftly adapt to every new situation that comes along. They never seem to tire of asking the questions needed to understand what’s happening and to figure out solutions with their teams that work. They learn from their mistakes, live full lives inside and outside of work, and they reflect regularly on the impact they make and how they can get even better at it.

The challenges: The great leaders not only love the challenge of leading their organizations and getting people to work together, they also meet the challenge of saying “no” to doing things that aren’t mission critical. They continually prioritize work opportunities with their vision in mind. They are willing to trust others to get the work done without their interference even when it’s tempting to do it themselves because they understand the double win of helping others to grow through challenging work while lifting themselves up to higher ground to lead at their best.

The best leaders are grounded in a passion for what they do and the people who help them to do it; they love to learn and they enjoy the challenges of leading.

Have you reflected about what makes you passionate in your leadership? What gets you out of bed in the morning?



Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo
A former executive in a Fortune 100 company, I own and operate a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. I am married, have two daughters, and a dog named Edgar the Leadership Pug who exemplifies the importance of relationships to great leadership.
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