Aspire-CS Mary Jo Asmus Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:15:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Being vulnerable builds work relationships Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:15:19 +0000 I was vying for a position in “corporate” that would round out my experience for something bigger later on. The manager who was interviewing me gave the most grueling interview I’d ever had. His intensity in interviews was the stuff of legends, and I wasn’t given a break.

I got the job, and came to realize this guy was actually a great leader and a joy to work for. In short, he was willing to be vulnerable. I thrived, as did the rest of the team, and it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’d ever had due to this man and the connections that he fostered among us. Beyond his gruff exterior, he had a soft heart, was willing to be wrong and to not know all of the answers. And yes – he still demanded results and got them.

Brene’ Brown, a social scientist, speaker, and best-selling author, describes vulnerability as lying at the heart of great relationships. It is not about being “weak” (which is what most think it means), but a willingness to be genuine and real.

Yet it’s not uncommon for leaders to hold back, showing toughness and foregoing the genuine connection that vulnerability creates in order to avoid being seen as weak. Contrary to popular belief, being vulnerable – showing your real self –  is an act of courage that engages others and forges connections that foster trust.

Leaders who have the courage to be vulnerable are willing to admit they don’t have all the answers, and that sometimes they don’t even know the questions to ask.

The road to being more vulnerable and authentic can begin here:

Noticing your emotions: Beneath your tough exterior, you might be avoiding an acknowledgment that you have an emotional life too. Think about it: how many times have you felt something for a family member who is struggling? Those same emotions that have appeared at home but get buried at work have a place in building strong, trusting relationships.

Sharing your feelings: Opening up to let others know that you too have insecurities. Letting others know that you are happy, sad, or concerned about something or someone is a courageous act that binds others to you. They can see you as human, and that creates a shared experience that almost anyone can connect to.

Admitting when you don’t have the answers: This is a challenge in organizations that reward your knowledge. Admitting that there is something you don’t know is honest and real because nobody can know everything. Rather than making up an answer, “not knowing” creates trust in the shared experiences of travelling the path of the unknown.

Showing compassion: Your employees appreciate it when you show compassion for their situation. This might include expressing your gratitude that you are asking them to put in extra time to meet a deadline, or helping them out in some way when their personal lives are impacted by unfortunate events. Compassion is an act of vulnerability that connects us all to the human condition.

Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness, but rather an act of courage that binds people together into relationships built on trust. Without it, you are just working. With it, you work as a caring and engaged team.

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How to heal a broken work relationship Tue, 31 Oct 2017 12:18:31 +0000 It happens a lot: you have someone in your circle of work relationships that is driving you crazy. This relationship may involve your boss, direct report, peer, client, customer or someone else that you feel is preventing you from being fully effective. You need this person in some way to help you to accomplish your goals and this failed relationship may be keeping you from doing that effectively.

This other person is difficult to work with; they may be disrespectful, passive aggressive, or just not pulling their load. You have tried working with this person, and out of exasperation, you may have addressed the issue with the individual previously to no avail.

So what now? You’ve done everything you can and are at your wit’s end.

When I hear these stories from leaders, I almost always find one of the following things left out. They require great courage and they are just waiting in the wings for you to pull them out and use them:

Take ownership for your part in the failed relationship. Have you communicated poorly with this person, not been fully truthful? Or perhaps you’ve been too indirect so the message of harm that is happening between the two of you isn’t clear to them. In almost every tough relationship situation, blame doesn’t belong in just one place. There is likely something you didn’t do, forgot to do, or avoided doing.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable about your part in the situation. This means that you might have to admit your mistakes to the other person and apologize. This is hard, and not something we want to do, but it opens the door to a conversation you haven’t yet had with this person.

Have empathy for the other person’s situation that may be causing them to act the way they are. This is especially difficult, but try to put yourself in their shoes. Despite what you might think, they most likely aren’t out to get you, but may have something going on in themselves or their life that impacts their less-than-ideal behavior.

Have the conversation you need to have with them while taking ownership, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and trying to understand their situation. Be direct and be kind. Listen a lot, and try to understand their side by asking questions. Don’t be defensive even when it’s hard not to be. Follow up if you must later and continue the conversation until you can come to a resolution.

These things just might bust through the barriers of a broken relationship that will be more satisfying in the future.

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How to help people to change themselves Tue, 24 Oct 2017 12:43:40 +0000 You’re frustrated with a  good employee who reports to you because you feel they aren’t working up to their full potential. You’ve worked with them for some time now, and they appear to want to make the changes you’ve agreed to together, but you don’t see them.

You might also be irritated at yourself while you’re working hard to figure out what you should do to be  better coach or mentor to this employee. Maybe it’s time to understand how people change and allow yourself some compassion because you know that you can’t change others – only they can do that.

You’re up against a couple of things:

Conditioning: They’ve been conditioned to behave a certain way by their families, social circles and work environment. Almost unconsciously, they learn to do what works for them, what makes them feel good and rewards them in some way, even if it’s not what is needed now for them to fulfill their potential. These behaviors shape the brain like the grooves in vinyl records, facilitating habitual actions to play over and over without much thought.

Identity: Everyone forms an identity, meaning we all have a self-concept of who believe we are. Your employee’s behavior is shaped by this identity through mostly-unconsciously noticed feedback that reinforces the identity they’ve built for themselves. We all have an “identity” that we’ve shaped over the years. It’s the story we tell ourselves about who we are in the world.

The fact that you’ve been working with that employee with potential means that something in their world has changed where their conditioning and identity may also need to change. This change isn’t an easy job for them, since they are, as we all are, creatures of habit, we don’t particularly like change, and we prefer to convince ourselves that how we show up in our workplace is okay.

Except it isn’t always. It’s those times that the environment requires a personal change. We have to be adaptable or we can’t reach that latent potential we all have.

So, how can you support others to adapt and change in a way that will benefit them and your organization?

Self-observe: Ask them to self-observe themselves in action (or in the specific situations where the behavioral change is needed). This can be done by “splitting themselves in two” in real time – one part, doing what they normally do, the other part observing their physical, mental, and emotional reactions. Ask them what they notice.

Choosing: After enough self-observing and becoming familiar with their automatic behaviors, your employee may come to a point where they realize that they can choose, in the moment, the actions that are right for them and the situation. This is important to the changes they need to make and require you to simply guide them lightly in their choices.

Sustain: Making personal changes takes a lot out of courage, and it takes time. Your job will be to continue to support your employee while encouraging them as they walk down the path to not needing you anymore. At some point, they’ll feel like they can sustain the new behavior.

The truth is that you can’t change them – only they can do that. Having your support, though, as they go through the process of letting go of old habits and taking on new ones is key to their success at realizing their full potential.

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Executive presence is an inside job Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:21:17 +0000 It’s not unusual for an executive to be puzzled that they’ve been told they need to develop “executive presence” in order to move into executive levels in an organization. The question on their mind is “What is executive presence?”

Rightfully so. In scanning articles and information on the topic by bloggers, coaches, writers and executives themselves, you’ll an excess of information about how to look and act the part of an executive. Attire and behaviors (including communication styles, body language, carriage) are top of the list.

Yet none of these things can be pulled off as “presence” without some individual inside work. And the behaviors that are needed for each person to be seen to have executive presence are unique to each individual and organization. Some examples:

  • Listen better
  • Be commanding
  • Speak with clarity
  • Make higher quality or more timely decisions
  • Be more intentional in words and actions
  • Be more confident
  • Be more strategic/visionary
  • Inspire others
  • Influence others
  • Show more empathy

If you consider any leader you know, and ask yourself “what would make this person an even better leader?”, we could add those attributes to the list of items that are encompassed within definitions of executive presence.

The truth is that “doing” isn’t enough because “presence” is a way of being, something that comes from the inside and radiates outward. If you want to pull off any of the behaviors listed you have to work on yourself.

So let’s borrow a new definition from Doug Silsbee, in his book “Presence-Based Coaching: Cultivating Self-Generative Leaders Through Mind, Body and Heart”:

“Presence is a state of awareness, in the moment, characterized by the felt experience of timelessness, connectedness, and a larger truth.”

This is your first step. So how do you get THAT? I would argue that you’ve been there whenever you became self-aware enough in the moment to:

  • Be purposeful about what and how you wanted to say something
  • Make a decision based on a belief or value
  • Chose to take the higher ground
  • Do the ethical or moral thing, even if it imperiled you

These experiences mean that you were fully connected to something and noticed an internal voice. It’s in that momentary millisecond of awareness that a choice can be made to continue on a path that you’re on or to choose to do something different.

That momentary presence is an instant of clarity and joy. And you can have more of that with practice by:

Self-observation: Learning to observe yourself in real time as you speak and act. Develop a practice of this by “splitting yourself in two at the same time” with one part of you acting in the world while the part observes. Sounds strange, but intentionality to do this will show you it’s possible.

Reflection: Pausing and/or blocking out time to reflect after an action and consider the motives behind them. This can be accomplished through a series of self-reflective questions to answer or journal: “What did I do?” “How did I do it?” and “Why did I do it”. You can follow with “Does it need to change?”.

Self-correcting in real time: The ultimate gift to you as you practice self-observation and reflection is your ability to be present real-time and change course in the moment to choose the action(s) that will be the most effective and beneficial to you and those you lead.

Some leaders find it helpful to work with a partner, coach or friend to hold themselves accountable to these practices. Eventually, these practices can help you to develop the new habit of executive presence.

Seven overused leadership strengths Tue, 10 Oct 2017 12:54:43 +0000 Knowing your strengths allows you to capitalize on them, and use them to be a better leader. Who wouldn’t want that?

Yet, there are strengths that can be overused. When that happens, they can undermine your best efforts at becoming a great leader.

Through years of interviewing stakeholders and hundreds of leaders, I’ve gathered some information about some of the most common strengths that can be overused.

These are some that you will want to pay attention to, assuring that you don’t cross over the line from a strength to something that will undermine your best intentions:

Intellect: You may have reached a pinnacle in your leadership by being knowledgeable and achieving results because of your brilliance. However, when this strength is overused, it can cause you to become rigid and closed to new learning. You might be able to recognize this as an overused strength when you shut down to other’s ideas and begin to feel like you’re the only one who knows how to do something. Open up and listen to others, and you might learn something new.

Trust: Trusting others fully to do what needs to be done is a great trait. But when this strength is overused, you might notice that people are taking advantage of your trusting nature and not meeting deadlines, or that they are fumbling and making mistakes more than is necessary. This may mean they need more from you: clarification of your expectations or more guidance in the work they are doing will help.

Creativity: Organizations are craving creative leaders, and perhaps you have enjoyed a career and promotions that capitalize on your ingenuity. Yet when this strength is overused, you may always be seeking out the “best new thing” and not finishing what you started. This can throw your teams into disarray when they don’t have a consistent path to follow. Morale can suffer when direction changes too often and nothing seems to be completed. Stop, and think through what you need to complete before starting in a new direction.

Drive: Almost every high-performing and high-potential leader out there is driven, and it’s been a key strength that gets them the next promotion. Nonetheless, when this strength is overused, a leader can set their sights on the goal while leaving attention to people behind. The people doing the work can then feel like they are pressured to achieve the goal without their buy-in. Chaos can result, and turnover may be rampant. Set realistic goals and make sure you leave plenty of time for discussion with your team to adapt and embrace them.

Confidence: Confidence levels in leaders lie along a spectrum, like other strengths. You may not be confident enough (yet) or you may have just enough of it. But if you are overconfident, you may tend to deny your flaws, and you may not listen to others when they push back on your ideas. What can result is poor decision making because you are confident you are right. A whole cascade of these poor decisions can lead to can lead to your failure as a leader. Involve others, listen to them, and be open to the possibility that your decisions might not be the best.

Humility: Almost everyone loves a humble leader; they are considered the personification of servant leadership and are always willing to give credit to others. But when humility is overused, you can become invisible. You may also feel like you don’t get credit for your success, and that promotions are passing you by. It’s possible to find ways to tout your successes without appearing egotistical; find someone who can give you some ideas on how to do that.

Interpersonal skills: Who would have thought that a leader with great people skills could actually overuse them? Leaders who do so may be spending too much time and effort building networks and kissing babies. When overused, there can be so much focus on interaction that the actual work that needs to get done lies fallow because enough attention isn’t paid to it. Make sure you balance your network building with assuring that work actually gets done.

You should be aware of, and use your strengths. The caution here is to not overuse them and cross the line to becoming less effective.

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How to make feedback a developmental opportunity Tue, 03 Oct 2017 12:41:29 +0000 Many employees cringe at the thought of getting feedback from their manager. Who wouldn’t blame them? It tends to be overly critical, given with haste and without care, and confusing. So often, the feedback given is often useless to the receiver.

Wouldn’t it be great if your feedback could have the potential to help others grow and develop?

There are some simple steps you can take to make sure the feedback message has been received and will be put to good use as a learning tool.

Be direct: Say what you need to say in a direct, brief way. Don’t beat around the bush, and don’t embellish. Simply state what you’ve observed in a way that will be understood by the receiver. Speak from the first person “I noticed…..” or “I was told…..” rather than “You did not…..” or “You were wrong when….”, which may decrease defensiveness.

Give it non-judgmentally: While you’re being direct and to the point, avoid stating judgments about the feedback you’re giving. Being non-judgmental and neutral in your feedback may help the person you’re giving it to be more open and less defensive.

Listen without interrupting: Once you give the feedback, let the receiver say what they need to say without your interruption. This is hard when emotions can be high, but your listening ear can de-escalate the situation and help the receiver to think through the feedback they’ve been given as they speak.

Show some empathy: It’s easy to assume an evil intent of the person you’re giving feedback to, but realistically, we never know what’s inside someone’s mind that motivates them to do something. Do your best to put yourself in their shoes and see their errors from their standpoint; validate their experience if you can. This doesn’t mean you agree, it simply means you understand them.

Ask them what they will do: A big part of their learning is for them to figure out what to do with the feedback they’ve received. You can help them to think through the situation going forward by asking them how they will deal with it if it happens again. Do your part by letting them know you will support them.

Follow up: Revisit the situation with them at an agreed-upon time and date. Encourage them in every way you can to help them to stay on top of the situation without personally meddling in problem solving yourself. Show them that you trust them and ask them if they need your help.

Feedback can be the beginning of development for many people. Do your part to help them learn from the information you provide by being direct, non-judgmental, listening well, showing empathy, helping them to think through next steps, and following up with them.

Become a generative listener Tue, 26 Sep 2017 14:43:40 +0000







There is a kind of non-listening that goes on in our society and organizations that is distracted and disjointed, and often marked by interruptions. This non-listening doesn’t focus on the person speaking. Rather, the listeners try their hardest to get their ideas into the conversation.

If you’ve experienced this, you know how frustrated you can be both as someone trying to be heard, as well as the listener who is trying to stay focused. Many of us don’t know how to listen, or don’t care.

This disjointed listening doesn’t work well for completely understanding and being present to the person who is speaking. It cuts off creativity and hijack’s people’s brains with their frustration at not feeling heard. I’ve heard leaders state that their employees aren’t creative when in reality, they simply haven’t been fully listened to.

Generating new ideas calls for a level of listening that forgoes frustration, and it is completely possible to achieve it with discipline and practice. Let’s call this “generative listening” (a term coined by Nancy Kline in her book, “More Time to Think”).

Generative listening can open up latent creativity. It isn’t easy, and it requires you to:

Slow down. The hyper speed of our organizations makes slowing down difficult, but not impossible. Be intentional about creating the space needed to slow the conversation down. Consider the surroundings you might need for a listening environment: as best you can, eliminate disruptions (including the electronic kind – phones, computers, as well has the human kind). Create a safe space without barriers when you can, even when you are listening virtually.

Forego interrupting. The impulse to interrupt, especially when you disagree with the speaker, is strong and real. Consider yourself a partner in the conversation, and realize that your time will come to get your thoughts out there. If you are slowing down, this makes the waiting for your turn easier. And when it’s your turn to speak, don’t hog the limelight. Make sure everyone has their turn and that your time on the stage is limited.

Have genuine interest. Cultivate genuine interest in the speaker through curiosity and fascination with what they have to say. Be open to being pleasantly surprised at their brilliance, and when your turn comes, ask open-ended questions that will help them to clarify their thoughts and help you to understand them more thoroughly.

Be still and allow silence. This listening practice also requires stillness, a settling within yourself so that you can be fully present and available to the person who is speaking. The amazing thing about stillness and silence is that they work together to help us be fully present and ready to ask those open-ended questions that will provide clarity.

Generative listening is important, if for no other reason than you and your team deserve it. It also has the added advantage of generating respect for each other’s ideas. Be watching for times to listen deeply as a generative listener, and you might find yourself and your team brimming with newfound creativity.

Finding meaning and purpose Tue, 19 Sep 2017 11:09:51 +0000 You may go about your days quite happily, leading others in the work that needs to be done. You move from this to that, get things done, interact and connect. And things are pretty good, but you sense there is more.

There is nothing like the deep personal satisfaction you get when you know exactly what you are on earth for. I live this satisfaction daily and I want you to have that too.

Fifteen years ago, I had the glorious and frightening opportunity of being “laid off” after an acquisition of the company I worked at for a long time. Glorious, because I chose to see it as an opportunity to do something that mattered to me and to others. Frightening because I had no idea where I would find that in the relatively small town I live in. And after all, I still needed to make a living.

I don’t know exactly what the forces were that brought me this calling, but my longing to make a difference in the lives of others, combined with an extensive background in the corporate environment helped me to choose the right thing. And it’s allowed me to make a difference every day of my life in my work for 15 years.

Yes, I was pushed into the situation of redefining what I was meant to do. But you don’t have to be in a similar situation in order to figure out what you’re here for. You can still find meaning and purpose in the work you’re currently doing if you spend some time in reflection thinking about these questions:

When have I been in the flow? You’ve likely experienced times when you are so absorbed in your work that time passes, phones ring, and people coming by your office startle you, you’ve been in the flow. That experience may offer you some clues about what you are here for. What were you doing when that happened? Is that something that you would like more of in your life and work?

What meaning does that flow experience have for you? That flow experience most likely means something to you. This isn’t easy, but if you spend some time reflecting, you might find that it’s important and that it has something special to tell you. This can be the beginning of reorganizing your life and work around something that is more pleasurable than what you’ve experienced in the past – and it may not necessarily mean leaving your current situation behind.

Now what? Whatever that meaningful experience is, you may want to spend some time thinking about how you can get more of it. This may require small actions to make room, or larger ones to reorganize your life. If you are enthusiastic and inspired by it, you will follow through. Taking on whatever resources you need to make it happen can put you back in the flow, with things feeling easier than they ever have.

You may now be able to create a personal, one-sentence statement of what you are here for. That makes it easy to remember anytime, but especially when things get tough (and they will at some point). I wish you joy in your new discovery.

Are you making a difference? Tue, 12 Sep 2017 12:32:16 +0000 Although leaders may get great personal satisfaction from leading a team that accomplishes greatness, it’s in giving to others that creates conditions for the work to be exceptional. That means that leaders who want to make a difference must put an effort into satisfying the needs of those who are on the ground doing the work.

A couple of anecdotal contrasting illustrations might be in order:

Henry talked a great game about being the person who thinks big and sets the vision for his team. Yet when it came down to it, he just couldn’t keep his fingers out of the daily work. He controlled, cajoled, and demanded that things be done his way, without listening to the ideas of the smart people responsible for the work. His way or the highway became a disaster. Within a year, his team was defeated and failed to meet any of the goals he’d committed to. He was dismissed from his position shortly thereafter.

On the other hand, Gail also set a vision that stretched her large team. She communicated often to them in as many ways that she could to help them understand the vision and make sense of their role in it. She counted on her managers to make sure that all employees were on track. Trust was high, and consensus-building was expected. She coached those who wanted it, and helped to guide the activities without getting involved in the daily work. Within a year, the team’s goals were met and their spirits, felt great about them, and were on track for more successes. Gail continued to lead this organization well for another year, when she received a promotion.

The difference

Henry was a taker; his way of leading entailed his selfish belief that he was the only one who knew how to get things done. He wore himself and his team out with his controlling style.

Gail gave of herself freely, was in frequent communication, coaching her direct reports, and assuring that expectations were clear. She energized her team with her trusting style.

Henry failed, and Gail prevailed.

But there was more than meets the eye. Gail had:

A sense of purpose that allowed her to communicate in a way that inspired employees and showed them the way forward. Although she was solid in her communication ability, it was this sense of purpose that drove her to act in a way that won the hearts and minds of those in her organization. She knew exactly what her organization was there for and communicated her passion for it to the employees.

Trust in her team that was reciprocated back in high quality work, done on time and without a need for her to get involved in the minutia. She developed relationships that were strong, +mutual, and led to results. She coached those who wanted it, allowing them to come up with their own ways of getting to the end results. And when they messed up, she invited them to debrief what went wrong without judgment.

Gail made a difference in the lives of those around her by giving her thoughts, time, and her trust. These are gifts that drive great leadership and make a difference in organizations. What are you giving to others that will make a difference?

We work with leaders who want to make a difference. Contact us to find out more!

Coaching is more than asking questions Tue, 05 Sep 2017 11:48:08 +0000 I’ve seen a lot written and said about how important it is for people managers to coach the people around them. Often, the enthusiasm about coaching is anchored in leaders asking more questions rather than telling others what to do.

Asking, not telling, is an admirable way to lead others, and is an important skill for coaching. Yet as someone who teaches leaders to coach others, just asking questions isn’t enough to really coach people. You want them to set a goal and take ownership of their actions and results; simply asking questions isn’t enough for that.

What else is there? Start here:

Goals are at the heart of coaching. When the person you’re coaching declares a goal, there is something to shoot for, and a direction to your coaching conversation. Ask them what their goal is and if they don’t know, ask questions that will help them to define it.

Ask  questions that are wide open, and you’ll spark good thinking in those you’re coaching. When you ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”, the conversation ends. When you ask “leading questions” – those that have the answer YOU want embedded in them – you’ve led people down your path, not theirs. Questions like “What would you like to see happen?” are focused on their thinking and solutions.

Listen to people more than you talk when you’re coaching. Together with asking those great open- ended questions, you’ll find creative solutions busting out all over the place. Silence is okay, since it often means someone is thinking – don’t interrupt their thought processes by interjecting another question or (worse yet) your answers. You certainly want a 2-way conversation in coaching, and you should be doing significantly less talking and a lot more listening than the other person.

And now for the hard parts:

Your mindset must be on them. Seems simple, but your mind can stray when you’re listening and it’s all too easy to interject your thoughts and solutions into the conversation. Those aren’t really helpful to the other person’s ability to continue thinking. When you notice your mind straying, bring yourself back to listening. Remember that this is about them, not you.

Your heart should be in a place of inner knowing that the person you’re coaching is completely capable of coming up with their own ideas. You must trust the coaching process and know that when you give someone your full presence, ask open-ended questions, and listen intently, magic can happen. Even if it doesn’t happen in that conversation at that moment, you’ve sparked something in the person you’re coaching that will bring them the wisdom they need at a later point.

A coaching conversation is a special kind of dialog that requires more of you than asking questions. When those open-ended questions are combined with deep listening, your unconditional presence, and an inner sense that they know the way forward, you will be coaching at your best. And the people you coach will have a shot at reaching their full potential.

Do you want to learn how to coach people? Is your team ready to learn? Contact us at .