Thursday, February 28, 2013

Everything I Need to Know About Leadership I Learned in Girl Scouts

You've seen them in front of your grocery stores.  In DC, they even stand at the top of the escalator of the subway after work.  When you are weak.  When just a little chocolate will go a long way to washing away the hassles of the day.  And that price, $4 a box.  Really, it is a good cause, just keep the extra dollar.  (You know you've done it!)  As I sit here eating my Thin Mints I am looking at the side of the box.  It says:

The Girl Scout Cookie Program
Selling Girl Scout Cookies helps girls develop 5 skills that they use throughout their lives:

1.  Goal Setting
2.  Decision Making
3.  Money Management
4.  People Skills
5.  Business Ethics

Now I was a Girl Scout, in 4-H, and in Junior Achievement throughout my youth and I can tell you that they are all excellent organizations with amazing and lifelong leadership lessons.  But as I sit here wondering if I can really open that box of Tagalongs before the box of Thin Mints is empty, I wonder if they realize all that they have missed.

Goal Setting - is critical.  I agree.  My friend's daughter's troop in California has already earned the whole troop the week camping and the trip to Build-A-Bear and they aren't finished yet.  They are learning to aim high, work hard to meet the goals, step out of their comfort zone to solicit people they don't know, and achieve great things together.

Decision Making - important by all means.  Where are we going to target people at their weakest, I mean hungriest?  What goals will we set?  Very important indeed.

Money Management - don't laugh this one off.  Multiply your local girl scout troop's intake by all the troops in the country and you are talking a multi-million dollar industry...being run by girls.  They know their stuff.

People Skills - such an underrated commodity.  The young women at the top of my subway escalator this week were super polite.  They had a crowd of 15-20 people standing around and no one waited more than 30 seconds to get their cookies and their change.  When was the last time you got that kind of service anywhere?  And they said thank you when they gave me my cookies.  Are you serious?  I am the one getting the chocolate that I wait all year for.  THANK YOU!!!!

Business Ethics - do we still remember what that is?  If the above mentioned fact that young girls are in effective control of a multi-million dollar industry that has been self-sustaining for 100 years is not enough for you, I've got nothing.  (Happy Centennial by the way!)

But hey, Girl Scouts of America, you missed something.  It is relatively easy to set individual goals and achieve them (New Year's Resolutions to lose weight aside).  Decision making is taught through case studies at every major business school in the country.  Money management, well there are accounting courses for that, right?  People can go to Disney to learn that.  Business ethics, there are countless articles and books on that now.

But here is what you missed...

Teamwork - these young ladies are setting goals, making decisions, and succeeding as a team!  What I wouldn't give to sit in on one of those meetings.  The negotiating and back room dealing that must go on.  And I truly miss the feeling of attending camp with your team because you earned it.

Engagement - it is all the buzz in the leadership world today.  I don't think there is a Girl Scout out there that does not know, understand, and embrace the mission - "Girl Scouts builds girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place."  And remember that multi-million dollar industry?  I can guarantee you that those camping trips and Build-a-Bear days cost a lot less that the staffing and overhead a company would need to match it.

Marketing - When was the last time you saw a commercial about Girl Scout cookies?  Take a look at what the Presidential Candidates spent on marketing last year and then look at what the Girl Scouts spend in a year.  They are essentially marketing that multi-million dollar industry with posterboard and markers.  Not only that, but they have mastered the concept of social media marketing.  Young Olivia ( is using social media and has already raised over $1,300 in $5 increments to send cookies to the troops like her father overseas.

Supply and Demand - Do you really think we would all drool when we hear "It's Girl Scout Cookie Time" if they were available all year long?  By shortening the window of availability you create the buzz and demand (and reduce the time working).

And maybe the biggest oversight of all - Branding.  These young ladies are learning the power of a simple, clear message backed by a high-quality product.  I never buy cookies in the store.  Seriously, I don't.  But Girl Scout cookies?  I literally cannot pass a troop.  Even if I have a cupboard full at home.

These skills are harder to learn in books and classes.  Real world experience trumps every time.  That is why so many executive development programs are adopting action learning projects as part of the curriculum.  And these young women are learning them all on the job.

When I tell you that everything I need to know about leadership I learned in the Girl Scouts, I am serious.  So next time you pass one of these young women, make sure you are nice to them even if you don't buy their cookies.  I am pretty sure we will all be working for them someday.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Your Personal Plan - Part 1

Every January 1 there is a rush to make New Year's Resolutions.  I don't know about you, but a list of resolutions never seems to stick for me.  In the training and development area we are constantly talking about Executive and Individual Development Plans.  I will be honest, I can really get into these with a client.  But, I don't have one in the form I recommend.  Is this part of do what I say, not what I do?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

I've been thinking that one plan for what you want to accomplish at work and one for home and one for your volunteer work can be as aggravating (and ultimately useless) as trying to maintain a paper calendar at work, an outlook calendar, a hanging calendar on the fridge at home, and a google calendar for your extracurriculars.

I think what we really need is a one-stop shopping personal plan that merges everything you do now and everything you want to achieve in the next five years (or whatever time period you are using).  Over the next few weeks I will add to this multi-part series on your personal plan.  Today's piece is about starting.

Here's a quick checklist for starting your personal plan.

  • Start with your values - what is most important to you?
  • Consider the approximately 120 non-sleeping hours in a week - how much time do you devote to your current activities?  (Make sure you include Commuting, Facebook, and TV time.  I will tell you the first time I did this I cut out all Facebook games for a year.  Not because they are inherently bad, but because I personally can waste hours on them without noticing.)
  • Note any gaps between your values and your current time usage and any changes you want to make.
  • Consider your job - what do you need to learn to do your current job better?  What do you need to learn to be positioned for the next job? 
  • Consider your family and friends - what do you need to do to spend the quantity and quality of time with them that you desire?
  • Consider your extracurricular/volunteer/exercise/hobby time - do you want to increase this commitment?  Do you want to learn a new skill?  Join a new organization?  What will it give you?  (It is okay to ask this question even in the volunteer arena.  After all, most volunteers do so because it gives them a feeling of personal satisfaction, investment, and or fulfillment.)
  • Consider your finances - if you are going to invest in personal development, travel, or a household move it has to come from somewhere, put it in the plan!
  • Consider time for reflection, plan review, and plan revision - I recommend starting a journal (either electronic or paper).  Put your plan in the beginning and work from there.  Your writing time doesn't need to be everyday as long as it is regular.  Make notations when you accomplish something off your plan!!!!
  • Consider your lofty dreams.  Think big!!!!  What is it that you would like to accomplish and don't even know where to start?  Does it fulfill a value?  Consider making time to start working on it if it does.
At this point, you probably have a list a mile long.  Don't use the New Year's Resolution approach and try to do everything at once.  Remember this is your long-term plan.  Break big goals down and prioritize them.  Break them down again and prioritize them again.

Finally (for this week's work), look at your values and your lofty dreams.  Reflect on what these two things mean to you?  How do they work together?  If they conflict, where is the disconnect?  Write about a paragraph on the two pieces as the first journal entry after your plan.

If you are joining in this process, share something about working through the process in the comments below.  What did you learn?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reactive or Proactive

Quick quiz:

1.  Which would you be more often if you could choose?
2.  Which are you more often?
3.  Is there a difference?  If so, why?

I would love to be more proactive in my life and I am working towards this.  No matter how hard I try, however, I tend to spend more time in the reactive arena than I would prefer.  And it makes me feel stress.  I know the more time I spend in the reactive, the less time I have to move things forward and create new things.  In essence, the less time I have to spend on the things I love.  So, my challenge for this week is to schedule "proactive" time every day.  Will you join me?  What will you do?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dealing with Unexpected Days Off

As a single working mother, when a child is sick and cannot go to daycare, I have no other choices, I must stay home.  My work flexiplace contract requires that I cannot work from home if I do not have daycare so these then become sick days.  Now granted, when I am going back and forth from the doctor everyday like I did last week, I didn't have time to work anyway.  So here's my question for those of you out there who have done it do you "catch up?"

Let me say, I was on the phone and e-mail via blackberry for emergencies so at least I knew those were covered.  When I could go back to work on Friday, I started with prioritizing (yes, we should all be doing that all the time).  But seriously, when you have a day to do a week's worth of work, you do the most important things seems so easy in that moment.  I tried to schedule babysitter time to go in on the weekend and work, but I was only able to get a few hours (including commute time) so I ended up spending the time prioritizing the tasks that await me tomorrow.

I still don't know when I'll be caught up and that bothers me because I have tasks to do before I can start a few projects I really want to work on.  But in my heart, I know that I did what I had to do last week.  I guess for me, balance is not feeling guilty when one thing has to trump another.  I know there are times when I volunteer, work late, or travel for work when something trumps my family time so when family time trumps that is okay, too.

What do you do when you don't have daycare unexpectedly?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Extraversion and Introversion: Know Your Preference and Know How to Rebuild Your Energy

My earliest memories of my son (now 15 months old) are taking him to the grocery store whenever he got fussy. He would stop crying and focus on the people in the store. When he turned 11 months old he went to daycare for the first time. That was when I realized with a certainty that he has a preference for extra version. On the weekends I make sure that we have a play date or go somewhere he can be around people (even if it is just walking around a store). If we haven't been out because it is too cold...he gets fussy. If I suck it up and bundle us up and go somewhere...he is happy. 

As adults, even though we don't cry when we are operating outside of our preference it does cause us added stress.  I always advise people to know what their preference is, when they are operating outside of it, and what they can do inside their preference to renew their energy. 

From a Leadership perspective, when you give your employees "stretch" assignments outside of their preference, make sure they have time inside their preference afterwards to rebuild their energy.

What is your Extraversion/Introversion preference?   What do you do to rebuild your energy when you are drained?  How do you use your knowledge of your preference and your team members' preferences to balance individual development and productivity?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How Do You Renew?

I spent this week in three days of intense coach training, sounds stressful, right?  On the contrary, I feel renewed.  Like most of you, I go and go and go and rarely have time to renew myself.  I know the importance of renewal - you can't give 100% to others if you aren't giving 100% to yourself, but sometimes finding the time is next to impossible.

I thought of some of the other things that renew me and realized they are generally peppered throughout the week.  Things like:

  • Walking my son to daycare in the morning and home in the evening.
  • Spending time with my son at Barnes and Noble.
  • Reading for pleasure.
  • Taking a shower or bath for leisure (not just a quick get ready for work one).
  • Getting my tea from Starbuck's before work.
  • Sitting in the small office I made for myself (whether I am doing something "productive" or not.
Throughout the next week I am going to really focus on renewal when I am doing these simple, ordinary things.  Want to join me?

How will you renew?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Courage to Pursue Your Life Purpose

I am in training this week instead of teaching and it is always such a renewal for me.  Today we spent a lot of time talking about our life purpose.  For me, I am getting grounded in what I want to do (more to come over the next few months) and as I do I am building my courage to pursue it.

Over the last year, I have found an inner strength I didn't know I had.  I have also prioritized my values and become really clear about what I want.  My dreams today are not really that much different than they were four years ago when I first started considering my purpose.  But I am a completely different person today.  I have more education, experience, and belief in my capabilities.  I now know that I can dedicate my energy to my life purpose and I will be successful.

What is your life purpose?

Are you pursuing it?  Tell us how that feels!

Are you considering a move to bring your life and your purpose into alignment?  What is holding you back?

What one thing could you do today to bring you closer to that goal?  Will you step out of your comfort zone and do it?  Share your experience with us!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Can competition and teamwork coexist?

Many supervisors use competition to motivate employees either obviously (through bonuses and promotions) or subtlety (through assigning the "good" work).  Most also advocate that their group is a team and should work together.  Putting aside the issue of what is a team and what is a group of people who work together for another post, can competition and teamwork truly coexist?

I don't know the answer to this one and would love to hear your thoughts.  Personally I tend to shy away from competition and teamwork, preferring to work on a project independently.  Over the past 22 months I have had the privilege of working on two volunteer committees that both functioned as highly-performing and personally enjoyable teams.  The team was packed full of type A leaders and yet everyone left that at the door and worked together to make tough decisions and produce consistently and on-time.  These two committees (each led by a different leader) have been my best experiences with teamwork in my entire life.  Ironically, competition absolutely does not exist in the room.  The work is consistent among all team members and there are no opportunities for advancement.

In other situations where competition is present (in work or volunteer groups) I notice that even I am concerned about getting credit for what I contribute.  And I consider myself non-competititve.  For those who are competitive, how do you feel when working on a team?  Do you still worry about getting credit for your individual contributions?  Does that change the way you interact with your team members?

For leaders of teams made up of high-performing individuals - how do you balance these concepts?  Is teamwork part of what your people are evaluated on?  Are rewards individual or team-based?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Social Networking

In working with senior leaders I typically find an outright aversion to social networking.  I hear people say "I would never want the people I work with as Facebook friends," "That is just a time waster," and "Our organization blocks it so it must be bad."  When used properly, however, social networking can be a huge asset.  There are lots of posts on how to use it, what to use, etc.  I recently gave my personal Facebook page up to just be a way to update friends and family on my son's progress.  Riveting to some, but not necessarily something that everyone wants to read.  I warned everyone before I did it and directed those "work" connections to my Strategic Serendipity Facebook "Page" and my Linked In account.  This works really well for me.  I'm currently experimenting with Google Plus so feel free to "circle?" me on that if you wish.  Here are the general guidelines I use when posting.

Rule #1 - Don't post anything you would be embarrassed to see on the front of the Washington Post.  Yes, I have my privacy settings restricted and yes I am careful about who I friend.  However, it is a good rule to get in the habit of and makes for a lot less regret.

Rule #2 - Don't post when you are angry.  My mom always told me "If you don't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all."  I think this is a great guideline for social networking posts.  

Rule #3 - Don't engage in a debate with your friends' friends.  The old rule about not discussing money, religion, and politics will keep you out of trouble.  But what about when your friends do?  No matter what is said, there will be someone who disagrees with it.  Social networking allows people the anonymity (you are a friend of a friend, I don't know you) to express their opinions in a more judgmental way than they would probably do in person.  So, even if you are agreeing with your friend (sometimes even just liking), there always stands the chance that someone is going to elevate it to a hostile level.  If it is someone you don't know and it isn't part of your "brand" (you are a religious or political blogger) think seriously about engaging.  What are you hoping to achieve.  These issues all deal with people's core values.  The chances of you changing someone you don't know's core values based on a Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In post are almost nil.  So again, what are you hoping to achieve?  If you can't answer that question with something achievable, think twice before hitting post.

Rule #4 - When you really want to break rules 1-3, type it out in a word processor first.  Edit it at least three times.  If you still want to post it by then, it must be important to you.

Rule #5 - Don't try to be everything on every platform.  Again, what are your goals?  Consider your audience and post accordingly.  Back to my recent Facebook move, the purpose of my personal Facebook page is to stay in touch with friends and family and let them watch my son grow.  The purpose of my Twitter account, my Linked In page, my Strategic Serendipity Facebook Page, and my blog is to develop my professional network.  It is very rare that I post the same thing on my personal Facebook page as I do the others.  

Rule #6 - Utilize the networks' internal linking functions.  If you want to post the same thing on Linked In and Twitter, use Linked In and link your Twitter account.  You can link your Twitter account to a Facebook, or a Facebook Page account once, allowing you to post over multiple platforms with one post on Linked In through a chain effect.  

Rule #7 - Utilize the social networks to connect with people.  Don't just post, read others' posts.  Find people you have interests in common with.  Join groups on your areas of interest.  Linked In is my favorite source for current topic research.  Seriously.  Some people post things the instant they go live.  Yes, you can read all "the" blogs, journals, and websites in your discipline, but that is all you would do.  A group on Linked In sponsored by professionals in your area will often highlight new, current, material.  There are also posters in most areas on Linked In and Twitter that function as the "information collectors" and if you can identify and follow them you will be a step ahead.  This is really important if you are new to an area and trying to figure out what "the" blogs, journals, and websites in your discipline are.

Rule #8 - Make it a habit.  For some, social networking might fall into the same category as exercising. I know I HAVE to, but I can make up a thousand reasons why I can't right now.  Just like exercising, though, once you get into the habit, you miss it when you don't.  Use your public transit commuting time, your coffee break, your first or last hour of the day, or, if you are really ambitious, kill two birds with one stone and take your portable device to the gym and do it while walking on the treadmill!  (Warning, don't try this if you get easily seasick.)

Rule #9 - Have fun with it.  I don't mean send your Facebook game invites to the CEO you just met.  I mean (and this helps if you like what you do), use it to go where you would go if you were surrounded by people who do what you do, like what you like, or need people like you.  If you are an enthusiastic person, don't be afraid to show it, "I love how this article shows the positive side of the current negative work in the area."  If you have a dry sense of humor, make sure it translates as that and not as condescension.  If you enjoy getting into the weeds on a topic, do so!

Rule #10 - Don't be afraid to dip your toe in and lurk.  You don't have to put everything out there to get access to everything else that is out there.  You can set up a page with minimal information and no picture or a picture of a sunset and just read.  That is okay!!!!  Someday, if you want to step out a little, start "Like"-ing things.  Social networks are a tool, and like any tool, you need to make it work for you.  

Bonus Rule for those of you who are putting it out there and wondering if anyone is listening - Keep going.  Don't get discouraged.  Don't feel like a failure.  Don't quit.  Someday, when you least expect it, someone will tell you that you inspired them, taught them, or helped them in a way you never knew.  

What are your social networking rules?  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

THE Decision

Every leader faces it at one time or another. You've mastered your technical domain and are encouraged (subtlety or not) to transition to delegating to and developing others. But what if you really like what you do?  But what if you are worried you will get bored eventually without a new challenge?  But what if you feel like that is a long way down the road and you still have enough challenges to keep you busy for a few years?  Sound familiar?  At what point do you decide to transition from doing yourself to developing others?  

How did you move into formal leadership?  What were the primary factors that encouraged your decision?