Aspire-CS Mary Jo Asmus Wed, 19 Jul 2017 12:44:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stretching past your fear Tue, 18 Jul 2017 12:07:30 +0000 Very few leaders will claim that they are fearful of anything. Other words might be used because the word fear in itself is frightful. They might say that they “avoid” something, “mistrust” someone, or have “anxiety” – perhaps more acceptable terms to use.

In the end, if pressed, many good leaders will admit to being fearful of one or more of the following. Which of these resonate with you?

Speaking truth to power

Giving critical feedback

Voicing an opinion that isn’t popular



Making mistakes

Being less than perfect

Asking for feedback

Allowing others to do things their way

Admitting your talents

Admitting your mistakes

Apologizing to others

When you recognize, name, and work to overcome your fear(s), you also become a better leader and role model for others to follow. A side benefit is that you also become a better human being. I like to think of the work of overcoming these fears as “stretching your boundaries” because they will stretch you, and because once you have the determination to overcome them, you can refine your approach and stretch even further.

Once you admit your fear(s), you can start here to stretch yourself:

Let others know what you’re working on. This may be difficult (requiring some vulnerability), but the wonderful thing is that through your willingness to be open about your fear, the people around you will want to help. You may want to let them know how they can help you, because this can be hard work. Try feedforward by letting them know what you are working on and asking them for one or two suggestions to help you.

Get a partner to support you and create a safe space for you to practice overcoming your fears. I can’t overstate how important it is for you to have a trusted confidant to talk to while you experience moving beyond the fear. This might be a coach, therapist, spouse or friend. A “neutral” third party outside of your organization my help you to find unique ways to move ahead.

Take a small step at a time rather than just leap ahead with the biggest, hardest actions to begin with. Jumping in to speaking to your CEO about all the things he’s doing wrong when you don’t have direct contact with that person may not be the best strategy. You can start by speaking your truth to someone you have developed a good relationship with and is likely to welcome your feedback.

Constantly evaluate yourself in your quest to overcome your fears. Are you feeling stronger, more confident and courageous in the actions you’re taking? What other steps might you need to take? Are you noticing progress in your ability to lead by stretching yourself? What’s the next step you need to take?

Celebrate success along the way as you sense that you are becoming a better leader by stretching yourself and overcoming your fears. This “celebration” can be as small as letting someone know of your progress, buying yourself a latte, or as big as taking a “bucket list” vacation. The important thing is to acknowledge the progress you’re making.

When you fully embrace your fear and move ahead to overcome it, you will become a better leader and human being. What frightens you and when will you begin to stretch yourself to move past it?

]]> 0
Six ways of being an approachable leader Tue, 11 Jul 2017 15:40:03 +0000 Never underestimate how important being approachable is to the work that needs to be done in your organization. When you are approachable, people can connect and relate to you. They understand what is needed for success and are willing to roll up their sleeves to get the work done. When others feel that you are open to hearing what they have to say, they will keep you apprised of the things you need to know.

Being approachable doesn’t mean that you have to stop what you’re doing whenever someone needs your attention. It does mean that when you give your attention, you give it fully. Here is what it looks like when you are approachable. You are:

Open to hearing about new and different ways of doing things. You know that the more minds and hearts that are supporting success, the better. You are willing to consider possibilities you hadn’t thought of before no matter who suggests them. You are open to criticism and able to take it in and consider the truth in what you hear.

Inclusive of all those who have a “stake” in the success of your organization. You make sure that everyone, even the “quiet ones” are heard and listened to when big decisions that involve them will be made. You don’t hesitate to approach people that you may not work with every day to get their input into your leadership and the direction of your organization.

A listener who listens carefully, quietly, and without judgement to try to understand others’ viewpoints even when there are signification differences from your own. You know that the understanding you gain from listening deeply helps them, and it helps you to see points of view that are new and sometimes key to your success.

Patient with others who may not get up to speed as quickly as you like. You know that you may have a role to play in helping them to understand the direction to take in the work they do, and you remain patient while they learn. You are willing to give others some time to get to where they need to be, while gently guiding them to get there.

Present without distractions when others approach you. You physically turn to face them, look them in the eye, and stay focused on what they have to say. When you feel distracted by something, you recognize the negative impact that may have on your relationship, and you return to focusing on them. Your full attention, when needed, is freely given.

Thankful that you have others to support you and to give you information you may not like hearing, but needs to be heard. You let them know when that you are grateful for any information they provide that might impact you, how you lead, and the success of your organization. When you thank them, you say it with meaning and heart.

Leaders who are approachable get things done because they create the kind of relationships that support them and the organizations they lead.

]]> 0
Nurturing freedom Mon, 03 Jul 2017 16:49:23 +0000 I know many of you are enjoying a long holiday weekend, so I promise this will be short. Be prepared to engage your senses.

Close your eyes and imagine one of the following:

  • Your first dorm room or apartment
  • Walking on a beach on a warm sunny day
  • Riding on a motorcycle or in a convertible with top down on a beautiful road
  • A stroll on a forest path with light shining through the trees and the sounds of birds singing
  • Or, travel anywhere (in your mind) that makes you happy.

Stay quiet, breathe deeply, and notice what you feel, smell, see, and hear.


So…. what does this have to do with leadership?

You can nurture a sense of freedom in those who count on your leadership by:

  • Listening even when you really want to talk
  • Letting go of your need to be right
  • Being inclusive in the decisions that impact them
  • Letting them take risks and make mistakes for the sake of learning
  • Stretching them beyond what they think they can do
  • Believing in their potential
  • Telling them what they did well more often
  • Being critical of what they did only when it really matters
  • Being willing to let them do things their way
  • Celebrating success with them

While you are doing these things, notice what happens. Freedom magically stimulates creativity, engagement and productivity. And that impacts you and your organization in a very positive way!

]]> 0
Becoming a great leader takes intention and mindfulness Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:12:29 +0000 Leading others can look easy. In reality, most leaders aren’t naturals at leading people; they have to learn by trial and error. Think of all the professions that people go into that require years of honing their craft: musician, doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, scientist….the list goes on. Although leadership has yet to acquire the title of “profession” (even if it should), it similarly requires continual awareness, learning, and fine tuning in the craft of leading others. In other words, it takes hard work to get better at it.

Yet many leaders don’t intentionally and mindfully work to get better at what they do. The best will set personal development goals and do the difficult work to become the best that they can be.

You will have a good chance of becoming a great leader if you are:

Intentional: Setting an intention for making a new behavior a habit is key to beginning the journey of great leadership. Behavioral goals that are specific (“I want to be an inspirational leader whose communication moves and motivates others”), practiced, and measured have the best chances of becoming habits. Practicing the new behavior is important because it creates new neural pathways in the brain that become “hard wired” over time. Measuring the impact of your behaviors will tell you if you are making progress; this can be done through self-observation and by asking for feedback from others around you. When the new habit becomes hard wired, it takes less energy for your brain to do it; it becomes instinctive.

Mindful: In order for you to identify and work on your behavioral goals, you will need to be mindful. This means that you are self-aware of your behaviors and able to stay on the path of practicing and measuring them, day in and day out. As your behavior changes for the better, you can simultaneously notice the impact your new habits have on those around you, as you are also aware when you revert to old habits. When that happens, you become able to self-correct in the moment to the behaviors you prefer. Breaking down your goals into small actionable behaviors that add up over time will help you to eventually make the biggest impact.

Whew. It’s not that easy is it? The only thing that’s easy is to make a commitment and not follow through. So find yourself a friend, colleague, mentor or coach that you trust to help you to stay accountable. You can do this! The world needs more great leaders!

]]> 1
When solving problems can get you killed Tue, 20 Jun 2017 13:32:23 +0000 Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with local non-profit leaders, teaching them to incorporate real coaching into their management/leadership tool kit.  Within a couple of hours, the group was well grounded in the pillars of “real coaching” – listening, asking powerful questions, and moving the coachee to action.

Once we moved beyond those pillars, there was some regret expressed by the leaders that they would have to let go of solving other’s problems for them. Yet they stated that they did not want someone solving THEIR problems. I pointed out this disconnect by jokingly stating “My husband knows if he tries to solve my problems that I’ll kill him (figuratively of course)”. (When I told my husband this story later, he nodded that he understood).

The lesson is that most people want – and need – to solve their own problems. You may be one of those yourself. And, you might notice that when someone steps in and gives you direction or advice, you can feel your blood boil with a desire to do anything but what they have suggested.

So, when does it make sense to use your coaching toolkit instead of your problem-solving toolkit?

The time to coach: Coaching requires reflection and time. You can coach best when there isn’t an emergent or urgent situation that requires immediate attention (if the building is on fire, asking “What would you like to do about this?” is not a good idea). Or, when the person you are coaching is impossibly unable to find a solution (although I would argue that sending them away to think about alternatives and picking the conversation up after they’ve reflected is often a fine alternative strategy). Also, when they are learning something new, you may find that problem solving with them (at least initially) or teaching is the best approach. Wait until they get better grounded in their work, at which point you can switch into coaching them.

The people to coach: I would propose that people who want to learn, develop, and discover on their own without your direct problem-solving skills are the best ones to “really coach”. They tend to be fully engaged in their work, curious, and eager. There are more of them out there than you might think. Even the most seemingly intractable of employees may want to learn. They may ask you to solve something for them, but in reality, if you listen, ask, and move them to action without solving their problem, you’ll find that they can be good thinkers who really want to figure things out with your coaching assistance.

Try listening, asking insightful questions, and moving others to action rather than getting yourself all tied up in solving other’s problems. Coaching others is a form of human development that will help them to learn and become less dependent on your advice. And that’s good for them and it helps you to avoid getting killed.

Work relationships need more than a nod across the table Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:24:07 +0000 Workplaces are a microcosm of connection, conversation, and conflict. In other words, they are a place where relationships happen. Yet many leaders don’t intentionally develop the relationships that are key to their success. If you peek behind the curtain of leaders who fail, you might find that breakdowns happen because they haven’t deliberately established healthy, productive relationships with their stakeholders.

Leadership is, after all, about influence. And influencing others requires you to have a relationship with them so that trust is built.

Establishing key stakeholder relationships takes more than just a nod across the table at a meeting. It requires you to:

Put their needs first before your own. You might feel the need to push back against this idea, and with some justification and a nod to the times when you put someone else first and felt you were taken advantage of. That’s really a rare occurrence. When you meet with those you need to have in your circle, ask them what you can do for them, listen thoughtfully and decide if you can help (and follow through) or explain why you can’t. Most people will reciprocate and ask you what you need. People want to collaborate, and building relationships with them in mind will go a long way toward your success.

Get to know them in a personal way by listening and asking questions. Ask them questions about what they do, what they enjoy doing at work and their successes and challenges.  It’s okay to learn a little about them personally, to remember what you learned and to ask more about it later (they’ll like it that you remembered). You can keep it light and still learn a little about their life outside of work; their hobbies, their family, and what they value. Getting to know people can be interesting for you and most people will appreciate your interest in them.

Manage the relationship as you would any other relationship. When there is conflict, step into it with respect and empathy for their point of view. Let them know you are grateful for their support, and lend them a helping hand spontaneously when you can. Although your workplace is complicated by a hierarchy that you may not experience in other relationships you have, treat everyone as an equal, no matter where you or they stand in the hierarchy.

Put effort into developing key stakeholder relationships that go beyond passing people in the hallway or nodding at them across the table in a meeting, and you’ll reap the benefits – both professionally and personally.

The day you won’t need a 360 Tue, 06 Jun 2017 12:41:57 +0000 I once had a manager who talked behind my back. Although I was a good (or even better than good) employee, she wasn’t willing to give me feedback directly. Even when I asked for it!  I knew (and told her I knew) that she was talking to others about her dissatisfaction with something I did. So I set up a meeting with her. Boy, did she ever avoid that “feedback” conversation, and I came away from the meeting with a decision to leave my job if I couldn’t have a conversation with her about what she was telling others.

The role I was in was ambiguous, with multiple “dotted line” relationships that I had to manage. And I really felt I needed her feedback because ultimately, she had my fate in her hands. She pretty much ignored or avoided me most of the time, and despite my efforts, feedback didn’t come from her directly. I eventually left the position I was in, because being in a job with a manager who wouldn’t give feedback even when asked wasn’t a place I cared to dwell in any longer.

Most leaders need feedback, and many get it in an anonymous way; through a coaching relationship where the coach may interview colleagues, as part of their company’s performance review process, or with the assistance of a 360 degree electronic instrument. I often dream of the day when leaders don’t need this kind of anonymous feedback.

When the day comes that you won’t need a 360, you will have:

Entered the world of the people around you. You do this by listening deeply, beyond the words, asking questions to help you understand their point of view. You know a little about then as a person, and they know about you too. You’ve developed a rapport with each other as equals; even with those that you are tentative with.

Developed trust though the commitments and follow through on them that you make and by appropriately delegating to others. It goes without saying that you have to follow through in order for others to trust you. But who knew that delegation would make others feel trusted and that trust would be returned to you?

Asked for feedback on a fairly regular basis. Although this also builds trust, it simultaneously builds relationships by letting others know that you are earnest in wanting to be the best leader you can be. When that feedback is given, you must listen to it (not make excuses about it or blame others for it), and then act on it when possible.

Given feedback successfully to others in a way that is respectful and non-judgmental. This creates trust in relationships, through a feedback dialog that helps the receiver of the feedback understand what they need to do to be successful through that thoughtful conversation. When this trust is built, others will be more willing to give you feedback.

Maybe you’ve had a 360, and that’s a good thing. Wouldn’t it be even better if you developed the kind of relationships where you didn’t actually need one?

How to avoid starring in your own drama Tue, 30 May 2017 14:04:36 +0000 As human beings, we swim in daily drama. As leaders, any drama we’re involved in gets played out publicly. And there are lots of people out there who can’t wait to tell others about it, whether they get the background story right or not. It can be embarrassing, shameful, and can even result in a leader’s downfall.

Yet so much of the drama is self-induced and a blind spot for the leader experiencing it. They stir up trouble, and get caught in their own production, sometimes making it worse with the help of the supporting cast who are gossiping about the story.

There are ways to avoid writing your own script, not allowing yourself to star in it, and extricating yourself from the stage with grace. It takes a great deal of courage to do so. Some thoughts:

Encourage continual feedback loops of trusted advisors who will actively observe you and are willing to tip you off to anything you are doing to create drama. You might be surprised at how subtle behaviors are being watched and if left unchecked, can create a lot of drama at work. For instance, leaders who raise their voice just a touch can be labelled volatile if they’re working with particularly sensitive individuals. Leaders who express impatience can often get ahead of their followers, creating a confused set of dynamics within their team and beyond. Encourage and listen to this small group of individuals you trust to give you feedback so you aren’t blind sighted by your own untoward behaviors.

Be honest and transparent – with caution. You’ve heard this: in the absence of information, people make stuff up. That’s where drama begins. As much as possible, push yourself to be honest and transparent about who you are, what matters to you, how you lead, and what you expect of others (and stay in integrity on all of those). Letting people know a little about your private life (and getting to know a little about theirs) forges bonds, but over-sharing delicate personal information can create drama if what you’ve shared isn’t in sync with the social order around you. Some amount of transparency about you is great; but sometimes too much information can create an equally damaging drama.

Accept responsibility for your role in a drama. Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what role you might have in any new drama that is unfolding in your organization. It’s amazing how often leaders create the scene and then deny (to themselves and others) that they were responsible for any part of it. When you accept responsibility for what’s going on as well as have a willingness to turn it around in your second act, you have a chance at redeeming your humanity and other’s trust if you move ahead and take action to mend the situation. There is great learning there for you to become an even better leader if you accept your role and learn something that can transform you.

Leaders can create their own drama sometimes. Having a system for feedback, and being honest and transparent (with caution) can keep drama from unfolding. If it does, recognize your role in it and take action to regain the trust of your organization.

The work relationships you need to pay more attention to Tue, 23 May 2017 12:14:35 +0000 Through years of interviewing leader’s stakeholders, I’ve noticed a tendency for leaders to put a lot of effort into developing relationships with their boss and their direct reports. But they may neglect a group of important stakeholders: their peers. This can result in these peers misunderstanding or having conflict with the leader in question.

So, when I bring that feedback to the leader, they give a metaphorical yawn and shrug, unconcerned with the fact that their peers don’t have a high regard for them. They are getting results, so what’s the big deal?

Beware any indifference you may feel when your peers aren’t in your corner! They’re more important to your ongoing success than you might think, because:

Your manager is noticing and listening to what’s going on. He or she may be forming their opinion based on what they see and what others tell them. If your manager is forming opinions that you aren’t a team player or that you might be ignoring or experiencing ongoing, unresolved conflict with peers that doesn’t get resolved, your future may not be what you want it to be.

Your peer could be your manager at some point. Some of the best advice that you can take to hear is to treat everyone with respect, because you never know who your next boss might be. It happens often that a peer can become a boss in a reorganization. So developing relationships with your peers makes sense. Because honestly, you can’t predict the future, and they deserve your respect as human beings no matter what.

They talk to each other about things, including you. If one of your peers has a conflict with you and is talking about it, that can leak into the relationships you have with others. It becomes easy for your others to see you through a lens that isn’t what you might prefer (and may not be entirely true) because it’s be colored by what someone else is saying about you.

You need them more than you think. Even if your peers aren’t tightly tied together in the work you do, they can be a great source of support. Because you are all at the same level in the organization, you may experience some of the same things. You don’t have to struggle alone when you  have great relationships with your peers, and they can be a great coaches and a sounding board for you.

You may need to pay more attention to developing your peer relationships. They are there to help you or harm you, depending on how you treat them, and they can have a bigger impact on your career than you think.

Leadership IS personal Tue, 16 May 2017 12:42:10 +0000 Robert was well known as an executive who would go ballistic for the smallest of transgressions by others. He seemed to take everything personally, and often blamed the messenger who reluctantly carried any bad news into his office. I often heard him yelling and swearing so loudly at someone that you could hear every word he said from across the large building we both worked in.

People feared him.

Until – for no reason that he revealed, he changed, and we all grew to love him because he no longer reacted as if everything required his angry, boisterous response. It didn’t matter how it happened, but it mattered that it did. When his obituary was recently published, I could remember him not as the stridently berating individual he had been in the past, but as the kind, caring, giving person he had become.

I know that something happened inside of him that caused him to change on the outside. He went from living in personal crisis to discovering what was more important to him – and whatever the personal crisis, it was no longer personal.

We’ve all experienced personal troubles, but rarely do we consider how those might impact how we show up at work. We live in denial, believing that we can be authentic while ignoring the parts of our life outside of work that keep us from being the leader we’re meant to be.

Is it time for you to consider that your inner life, who you are, what you value, and the whole of your life as contributors to your ability to be the best leader you can be? This is important because when something isn’t quite aligned in your life, it impacts how you show up at work, for better or for worse.  Leadership is personal, after all.

You can’t be a different person outside of work than you are at work – at least not sustainably. Be mindful of the biggest things that can impact how you show up at work:

Relationships: Are the relationships you have with partners, family, friends, and acquaintances what you want them to be? Where are the gaps? What personal responsibility are your willing to take on in order to change the relationships that don’t serve you any longer?

Values: Are your personal values aligned with your personal life? Are you being the person you need to be that exemplifies those values? What needs to change, and how will you gather the courage to do so?

Health: Do you pay attention to those things that are within your power (diet, exercise, regular medical checkups) to assist you in having vibrant health? If something is amiss, how will you address it? What new habits are needed for you to support a healthy body?

Spirit: How are you nourishing your spirit? Are there things you need to explore or do that you’ve longed for in your life? What would it take for you to step into them, and how might they impact your leadership if you embrace them?

You can’t separate your ability to lead at your best from your personal life. Leadership IS personal. What’s missing in your personal life will show up in some way in your work life. What do you need to change in order for you to be the leader you want to be and others deserve you to be?

]]> 1