Here’s How This Crisis Is Changing Organizational Cultures For The Better

The challenge organizations face during this pandemic is how to proactively make policy changes that allow them to adapt but also maintain their culture. Yet many organizations are finding that the crisis is changing them. Defining, promoting, maintaining and protecting culture are signature roles of the CEO. Culture defines the way people in an organization should behave based on shared beliefs and values that are established and reinforced by leaders over time. Organizational culture also sets the context for all decision-making, including those that need to be made during a crisis.

Culture Clarified And Strengthened

There are organizations that have seized on the crisis as an opportunity to make their values better understood. I coach employees at a computer technology company where the CEO and senior team began to talk to other leaders about the behaviours they wanted to see. They call it a form of “human transformation.” They made a compelling invitation at the start of the pandemic to their leaders and managers to show greater empathy and lead with humanity, generosity, kindness and humility at this time because none of them knows for sure what it is people are dealing with. The leaders I’m working with are doing what they can to soften their approach, which is helped by the fact that this is a continuance and a strengthening of the business’s cultural values.

Museums are adapting in interesting ways. They are public institutions that we visit to participate in what they have to offer. And for many museums, especially in cities, they serve as community hubs, albeit ones that house humanity’s ideas and conversations with itself. Close to home, the Art Gallery of Ontario received donor funding to keep everyone employed without layoffs, and the staff took a 25% cut in pay. What’s notable is that this hasn’t always been the solution in the past when the budget for staffing was short, but to their credit, this is how they are managing the situation today. Further, concerned about its staff, museum leaders have been addressing self-isolating at home while the building is closed with a newly created “Learning U.” Staff are asked to group together to learn from their own educators and from the catalogue of Coursera and connect twice a day virtually to share their learning and elevate each other’s spirits. The museum director refers to this as a means of keeping staff “whole” while they are self-isolating.

Accelerated Cultural Change

A culture can change for the better in unusual times. Recently, I listened to a female senior executive in the entertainment industry explain how, for years, she had asked to work from home one day a week because of her young family and that she was refused. The argument was that executives had to be located in the office building if they were going to be productive. The punchline is that she and the rest of the company are all now at home delivering flat out at least five days a week. This crisis is also accelerating cultural change. It may have been unexpected and achieved overnight, but the longer the crisis lasts, the more likely these new ways of working will imbed themselves.

Cultures exist inter-professionally too, of course. In health science research, where the culture is persistently alpha competitive, ambitious scientists compete for scarce funds to be published in far too few stellar journals, with unflinching deadlines, and undergo rigorous peer reviews that can be nasty business. As one educator wrote, the pressures toward research and university excellence has created “a culture in which the mental health of researchers is compromised and discriminatory behaviours are overlooked, and then embedded in research practice.” Naturally, the normal pressures have eased at this time, a lot of research and publishing has been suspended, and everyone affected is noticing what could be possible. They had long been saying that the processes were cruel and unsustainable, but it took a pandemic to make fraternity and humanity visible in what has been an unbending system. Researchers are hoping that the changes they see will go beyond the temporary and yield a full rethink of the entire science publishing system.

The opportunity to strengthen work cultures for the better is happening right now, brought on by the crisis. More than our requirement to connect, there is something that’s hanging in the balance. It’s the fear and dread of the strain that physical distancing is causing on our work culture by keeping us apart. How organizations respond to this challenge will change cultures in ways that are both planned and unplanned.

This article was first published on Forbes.com. Thank you to Pawel Czerwin for the image.

Examining The Gains And Losses Of Our Changing Work Environment

(Forbes published this article in the early summer and I am posting it here because the strategies are evergreen.)

Organizational life has changed. Yet even with a global pandemic and a broken economy, the world keeps on “worlding.” In addition to the threat to public health, the disruption to our livelihood and our businesses is challenging many millions of us around the world. We have changed how we work and lead. Our work lives in this liminal space is worth examining. Here are a few observations and recommendations worth noting.

Get On Video Selectively

It’s times like these when we reflect on what we miss the most. Meeting informally is one of those things.

Virtual work has seen leaders taking on extra effort to seek out conversations that would have occurred by happenstance at the coffee machine, the work lounge, around the ping pong tables and in private offices. Now, everyone’s calendars are filled with back-to-back videoconferences on Zoom. Need to address a problem? Schedule a Zoom meeting. Initially, many raved about Zoom calls because they enabled remote video contact, but now, I’ve heard people in my network complain about how exhausting it is to go from Zoom call to Zoom call. It’s a better idea to ask yourself if a voice call is needed, if video needs to be on or if an email should be sent. Use videoconferences selectively. It’s not the only way to make connections among people.

Book Time Of Your Own

One client company of mine instated a 30-minute, meeting-free zone, organization-wide. It was communicated by the CEO, who is doing what can be done in a hurried, emergent environment to ensure people’s well-being. It’s a recognition that in addition to the loss of informal time, we are forfeiting alone time to think.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says that we’ve idealized extroversion and teamwork, and this new “groupthink” has left leaders with not nearly enough time to reserve thinking of their own. I see this in my work, too, across all industries. This 30-minute respite is a useful directive and experiment.

Pooling Collective Intelligence Is a Smart Way Forward

A lot has been written about top-down leadership as the most suitable style for urgent situations. Overlooked, though, is the expanded role a more decentralized model of leadership can offer. The emergency situation is exposing and, in some cases, exacerbating company vulnerabilities that require far more mind trust than the senior team can provide.

The same client company I discussed above seized the opportunity to engage its employees in adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges are those that can’t be solved by experts. They require courageous creative thinking. Crowdsourcing models such as these develop people’s strategic thinking abilities so that many more can make sizable contributions. And the proposals are far more considered since the crowdsourcing process encourages radical ideas where diverse perspectives are sought out and heard.

Taking on truly transformative ways of working by addressing challenges frees up the senior team to see the big picture by encouraging large-scale transformation and innovation thought through by others. This leaves the senior leaders to fly at 43,000 feet, the altitude at which a commercial passenger airplane flies safely at its maximum speed.

Team Retreats Reimagined

Once considered a luxury for some who viewed off-sites as time away from getting things done (or, at least, many had low expectations of what could be achieved), retreats are now seen as invaluable. And that’s a very good thing. Now, these retreats have urgency driving their agenda. Done remotely, the logistics of navigating time zones isn’t always easy, but it can be done. The previous model of a few full days away is now being replaced by two to three-hour multiday retreat sessions in home offices or people’s living rooms. It’s a recognition that in-person human hours are not the same as Zoom hours. Shorter bursts of meetings are far more productive than one long stretch when you are online.

Work In Unity

Leaders who are clients of mine have also reported less infighting, and fewer impasses caused by intractable disagreements. Not all senior teams are acting harmoniously, no doubt, but early reports of reaching agreement following a rigorous exchange are telling. There’s nothing better for business continuance than when people are driven by a common purpose.

Looking to what’s happening around the world also reveals countries shifting from discordant divisions across political party lines to a unified voice. Canada is showing a common front against the virus even though the ruling government party finds itself in a minority situation. And in Europe, there are calls for unity. There’s even an appeal for a global ceasefire endorsed by the United Nations while the virus rages. In time, we will know if this will have an enduring effect.

What are the long-term effect of these changes, and will they stick when the emergency situation is over? It seems to me that it depends, in part, on how long this lasts. The duration of the crisis, the reason for all the changes we are making at work, will decide for us whether returning to how we did things is even feasible. We want to be deliberate about processes and practices so that we choose wisely what we want to keep, and we discard the bad practices that were bred out of speed and desperation and evolve them so they are better.

A version of this article first appeared on Forbes.com. Credit to the beautiful photo goes to Elana Mozhvilo.

Advice for Leaders Newly Working from Home

I might be in the lower percentage of those people who enjoy working from home. My work as an executive coach and before that as a management consultant has provided me with the opportunity to choose where I work, for the most part.

Many more people are working from home as a precaution to protect from the further spread of COVID-19. You’ve been told to work from home, and you are nervous about whether or not you can do it successfully. Maybe you tried it once or twice and failed. With a little bit of foresight and planning, and following good advice, you can make this work for yourself and for your team.

Be Real About What You Are Worried About
The secret is that you have to find solutions to your fears. Like anything related to leadership, you will be far more effective if you are honest with yourself and admit those areas where you expect that you’ll be challenged. In this case of working from home, you’ll need to help yourself and plan to keep up your level of productivity and not lose your sense of work fulfillment.
To that end, first, get clear with yourself on what you are jittery about. If it’s your fear that you won’t be motivated to work when you are at home, identify your distractors. Is it social media, fear of loneliness or household chores like cleaning out the fridge or doing yard work that will siphon off your time? Once you identify what you know will likely take your mind off work, make plans so it doesn’t stop you from getting work done.

If you are the only one in the family who’s staying home, don’t fall in the trap of doing everything during the workday because you are there. Be firm with your boundaries. Being at home isn’t the same as having time off. Continue to share whatever household tasks you can with others in your family. When my spouse also began working from home, we continued to share household responsibilities.
If it’s social media that pulls you in and gets you going down a rabbit hole for hours at a time, set a schedule of when you will indulge in the channels that delight you. Hold yourself to specific time limits. But beware of the social media discussions that can sour your mood. When you are at home, your mood needs protecting more than you might be used to because you are on your own, at least when you are new to this new work arrangement.

Be A Good Boss
I learned early in my career that I can be a very demanding boss when I’m the boss of me. In other words, many of us make the mistake of becoming workaholics who are immune to paying attention to the signs of overwork. We are all fueled by wanting to do high-quality work and avoiding being a bottleneck for others in the collaborative work we do, but we can go too far. If this is you, my advice is that one thing that can make an impact is to make sure you take breaks.

Ground Yourself With Breaks
What I’ve learned over decades of working in a home office is that when I venture outside and take a walk, I am far more productive. Don’t let a full day of meetings prevent you from doing it. Make room for being active in your calendar. If you want scientific evidence that taking breaks is imperative for productivity, have a look at Dan Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s really not. You’ll sleep better at night and be more productive during the day. This, in my experience, is hard advice to follow but has huge dividends if you do it daily.

Stay Connected
When it comes to interactions with your team and stakeholders, you’ll want to review your calendar and see which meetings you can hold in a group or move to a one-to-one. Once you are on the call, be sure to switch on your camera and invite others to do the same. It’s easy to send emails all day, but don’t do it. You’ll find that scheduling calls and seeing people will not only improve the focus of the group calls but also restore your sense of affiliation to others. As a leader, this is vital if you are going to continue to show you care about the members of your team.
Relatedly, it can be lonely working from home, so structure in some social calls to maintain the sociability that you enjoyed when you were able to share a coffee with people you saw in the halls.

Here are a few other tips from my experience:
• Get dressed in the morning as you would for work.
• Keep your pantry stocked with healthy foods. Don’t let junk food satiate your hunger or your boredom.
• If you are a compulsive snacker or a coffee addict, do not work in the kitchen.
• If you are a natural planner, plan your day. If you aren’t, make a list based on your goals.

Working at home isn’t hard, but like anything new, it may take you time to adapt to your new situation. You may surprise yourself by how much you learn to enjoy it.

Photo credit with thanks to djurdjica boskovic. This article was first published on Forbes.com.

Cultivating A Performance Culture Of Respect

There are few things more important for a leader than fostering a culture where people feel safe to contribute their ideas. In a psychologically safe workplace, people feel free to take risks without fear of any negative consequences for speaking up. I’ve seen firsthand the lengths involved in identifying, preparing and promoting talent when I ran a management assessment center. To spend plenty of resources for that purpose and then not use the talent is a terrible waste.

Amy C. Edmondson has written the latest sine qua non about psychological safety in the workplace. If you didn’t know, Google’s study on what makes the best teams was influenced by Edmondson’s early research. Google ranked psychological safety as the first and far and away the most important of factors vital for team success. But getting it right can get messy.

If you as a leader insist on high performance standards but neglect psychological safety, employees will want to speak up about quality or safety concerns, but they’ll feel anxious because they know that their observations and general input to make something better will be ignored or ridiculed. Their contributions, most of the time, aren’t welcomed, so they don’t offer input, and so on it goes. I’ve seen examples of this, and as an executive coach, I’ve heard of many more from my clients who share their stories. There have been situations where a senior leader demanded ambitious goals thinking it would take ambitious efforts, and then modeled bad behaviors such as a raised voice, throwing things and humiliating others with their words. The leader wanted to stretch the elastic band of possibility in an uncertain market, but their actions kept people silent, dampened people’s drive, encouraged cautiousness and promoted fear.

On the other hand, lowering performance standards and relaxing consequences isn’t the way to go about it either. When you do this, all you get is a “nice” culture at the expense of one that promotes challenge and innovates. Letting go of holding people accountable reduces people’s motivation to take risks and set ambitious goals. It reduces engagement.

If, however, there’s a high bar for performance and attention to promoting sensitivity when people take interpersonal risks, the environment will be productive, and people will feel open and ready to disagree. The Goldilocks principle is at play when this combination is exactly right. In a psychologically safe workplace, there’s challenging work to do in ways that are mutually respectful so that when people fail and recover, they do so without reprisal.

But let’s be careful not to oversell psychological safety. It doesn’t have the muscle to go all the way to motivate people to collaborate with one another, and that’s key because collaboration is how work gets done. Psychological safety is a hygiene factor, not an engine. When it’s absent, boy do we notice.

The Dynamism Of Trust And Collaboration

We also need to notice how psychological safety interacts with collaboration. What’s important for leaders to recognize is that trust is foundational. We can’t cultivate purpose without it.

We know that having a view beyond ourselves, to the group, the team, the enterprise and the higher mission opens our appreciation of what we are working towards and gives us the energy to work interdependently.

Collaboration without trust isn’t genuine or effective. The stepladder to effective collaboration begins with trust, so it’s disappointing that executives in a large study rated building trust very low in relation to the other factors of instilling purpose and generating energy. This news is hard to swallow and suggests that we still will be facing a trust deficit for some time.

I feel good about the leaders I know who read about management concepts with the intention of raising their leadership game. However, I’ve noticed as we hunger to learn, we can inadvertently overemphasize a useful concept like psychological safety, believing it can deliver more than it can. We can also slip up by overlooking the importance of trust in creating effective collaboration. Understanding and applying both go a long way towards creating a flourishing culture at work.

 

This article was published first on Forbes.com Thank you to Rodion Kutsaev for the photo.

For Women Leaders To Move Up, They Must Be Fully Themselves

I always knew that women were not smaller versions of men, but distinct all on their own. Recently, I found a photograph of me with a few of the female counselors I cherished from the overnight youth camp where I spent many summers. These pictures showed the women leaders to be who they were: strong, compassionate, smart, caring, funny, bold, loyal and ambitious. Young leaders comfortable being themselves. I had looked up to them and imagined growing up to be just like them. The male counselors were talented too, and different.

That’s why I was surprised when my internet search for women-only leadership programs came up with fewer results than I expected. Women’s identities, perspectives and the requirements for women leaders to succeed are different from those of men.

The underrepresentation of women in the C-suite and the boardroom is common knowledge, and less known is the wide gap that exists for all managerial levels. Women are much less likely than men to get promoted. These are signs of unhealthy organizations, and there’s work we need to do.

Here are six considerations for women leaders.

Refine skills traditionally known as women’s ways of leading.

Embrace empathy, compassion, relationship building and collaboration to get things done. These were known as women’s ways of leading not that long ago when they were undervalued, but the business world has caught up now, and it’s common knowledge that without skills of emotional and social intelligence, your career progress will be limited. Don’t consider quieting them. Instead, work to refine them and support other women and men to do the same.

Sharpen your decisiveness, negotiation and authority. 

While we live in a time when soft skills have been renamed “power skills” that reflect their high value, we also need leaders to make decisions quickly, negotiate, be authoritative and take up space. Think of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She’s a leader among leaders who gained the world’s admiration when she communicated compassion then took decisive action following the mosque shootings in her country by pushing forward with gun reforms.

Observe role models to help claim your leadership identity. 

Find an employer where there are senior women leaders. Observing how women navigate as leaders is purposeful and effective for the process of internalizing a new identity that being a leader at any next level requires. This is doubly true if you fear whether or not you can be yourself at the next level of leadership. You can learn a lot from observing a woman leader who is authentically herself, happy and successfully operating at the level you aspire to.

Acquire two networks, not just one.

To navigate well inside an organization, it helps to work with powerful people at levels higher than your own. Being well-connected is good for men and for women, but women need a second network too. They benefit from a cadre of close women peers who give access to information about the leadership culture of an organization, maybe what success looks like in a male-dominated industry and ways of interacting. Close ties to a group of women account for an average job ranking 2.5 times higher than women whose networks didn’t have those two features.

Negotiate for yourself.

Women ask for things and they do it well. They feel at ease asking on behalf of their division and are less likely to ask for themselves. A telecom leader on a panel told a story about talking with her successor about work. He mentioned in passing that the team meetings were changed to 9:00 a.m. Surprised at this, she asked how it happened because she had perpetually been inconvenienced by having to run a teleconference in her car while stopping at daycare. He said that he had simply announced a time change to the team. She was visibly astonished as she’d never thought to negotiate this for herself and admitted the irony of having earned a strong reputation as a negotiator and first-rate deal-maker on behalf of her company interests.

Attend to your career, not just your job.

With increased artificial intelligence, greater digitization and technological integration, it’s a smart strategy to focus your time on high-value work. Too many women expend lots of energy being sticklers about their work and so forfeit the opportunity to move on to the next thing. Letting go of perfection to release time in your schedule for professional development, strategic thinking and broader networking will get you further.

One of the benefits of living in the era of #TimesUp is that people’s expectations of what is acceptable have changed for the better. To close the leadership gender gap, we continue to want to see equitable policies, programs and services. But now, more women and men regularly call out inequities when women’s voices are missing on thought leadership panels, when solid female candidates are overlooked for a leadership role or when not a single woman director makes the list during film awards season.

Many companies today are betting that their diversity and inclusion initiatives will close the gaps in women’s advancement. This requires looking to attract, hire and assess for promotion. It also involves taking a hard look at the workplace culture to identify the unseen biases and obstacles across the employee life cycle and the commitment of senior leadership to this goal.

What’s often overlooked is the traditional gender-neutral view of what it takes to succeed, as though being a woman is an incidental identity, not a material one.

Women have had lots of practice navigating their likeability with their competence and have had a tough time being seen as both at the same time. It’s one of many double binds, and it belies just how difficult it is. Nevertheless, some men and women still wonder why there’s a need for women-only groups in leadership development. It’s because women, men and organizations will benefit from women becoming fully themselves as leaders.

 

Getting Unstuck

How are you doing today? One of the many things I’ve learned about how to be with people during this crisis, is to give up ‘How are you?’ and ask a question that expresses more of our empathy and our humanity while giving people the space to say what’s really going on. “How are you doing today?” does that.

I’ve been asking a lot of people what the experience of this time is for them. We might all be interconnected and “in this together” but these times are accelerating and intensifying the inequities in our world that we live with. Just yesterday I saw a magazine cover with the header Rich Corona Poor Corona – who lives, who dies and who thrives. That captured it.

As I continue to ask others, I keep thinking about what I’m learning. It’s an immense question to consider as life’s restrictions continue without reprieve and has a bigger answer than the space available in this blog post. Yet, when I look at my own experience of this time with the advantages I have, I began to notice that there have been four stages to my personal experience of this time, so far. Viewing your experience in stages is a simple way of looking at a block of time. I encourage you to have a look to see if you can define stages, and if so, what they’ve been. Here have been mine to date:

Stage 1:
I found this time a little scary but mostly stimulating. I was staying in, signing up for all sorts of webinars for professional development and personal interest. I created a handbook for living and leading in uncertain times which I shared widely. It was early days and I wanted to be helpful.

Stage 2:
I became sick of staying on zoom calls and I couldn’t focus. I feared that I wouldn’t have the concentration to read a book. So I joined a virtual book club as a test and the temporary community offered both comfort and excitement.

Stage 3:
A friend lost both his parents to COVID and everything went dark.

Stage 4:
I worked hard to regain my focus and recognized that I couldn’t wait until my motivation returned so that my habits would continue. I had to re-imagine all the ones I worked hard to design and do. It took some time to reimagine new designs for eating and exercising and even working in this new world.

Stage 5:
I enrolled in an online learning program and my creative juices are flowing again to create new materials, read, write and learn. My multiple groups, some I’ve been a part of for years and some just newly formed have helped me stay connected to myself and to others. I’m astounded that I am as creatively productive as I have been. It’s also true that there are dips in my energy.

Naturally, there have been sad and worrying moments, but for me, getting out into nature has been a standout experience I will bring with me into the future when this is behind us.

The day before yesterday, I became aware of the paradox of nature once more. There was comfort, it was peaceful, still and static and it was also filled with change and dynamism. How I viewed the natural surroundings felt familiar, but there was something foreign and odd about it.

We walked slowly and thoughtfully through cornfields, and then along the shores by a creek with brook trout. We sat by the shoreline to eat the lunch fixings we had brought with us. We were careful to taste our food, not just eat it because food is now an ordeal to procure. “Savour it”, I remember reminding myself.

When we were in the forest I felt as though I had entered into a universe. I noticed and then said aloud that I was appreciating the small wonders around us. The sounds of the Canadian geese that flew by close enough to see their markings, the mischievous burdock that grabbed hold on our socks, and the sounds and sightings of a butterfly with dark tips on the edges of its wings that revisited many times. When I returned home, I reviewed my photos and thought about what John Muir said at a different time:

“The clearest ways into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”

I’d had trouble with focus in this pandemic but I knew that the hard part was behind me. There was and will always be the forest that makes adventure and calm available.

Photo credit: Sheila Goldgrab

Leadership As An Infinite Game

If life is a game, you need to know whether you are playing an infinite game or a finite one. It’s especially true now as we sit still in our homes and reflect on our work and leadership. As Simon Sinek and others have pointed out, if you play the games of leadership and business as though winning is central, then you are playing a finite game. However, if the point is to keep the game going, then you’re engaged in a different game — an infinite one. Forming new habits of leadership is definitely playing an infinite game, and that’s a vital distinction.

It can be humbling when you realize the goal you’ve set for yourself to become a better leader hasn’t been accomplished. We feel worse about ourselves each time we don’t succeed at closing the gap between what we want to achieve and where we are now. It just might be because of the way we come at it.

Consider your last 360-degree feedback report. You studied the feedback, sorted through what you wanted to work on and then began. But here’s the secret that many know from experience but others haven’t yet learned: Goal-setting is overrated.

It isn’t that goal-setting is bad or not needed. It is. Starting with clarity about what leadership behavior you want to work on is vital. You need parameters and to start small. But goal-setting alone won’t get you very far.

Too many people start with the problem and then rush into correcting it. A more effective way to start is with the outcome you want to create. To genuinely create, you need to do better than react to feedback or a problem you’ve identified. So how do you set out on a path to become a better leader without it being a reaction? By getting very clear about the leader you want to be. Let me explain what I mean.

Take me, for example. As a young leader, I knew that I needed to delegate more. There were times that I was delegating, but then I’d fall back on my old habits of doing it myself. With more ups and downs, I did what most people do: I worked harder to ensure I had the right processes in place to make delegating likely. That new approach didn’t stick, either. Then something unexpected happened. I was beginning to lose interest in my goal, likely an expression that I thought my situation was hopeless. So I wrote out all the strategies I was using to see what was missing. Once done, I asked myself whether I needed more strategies. Nope, that wasn’t it. Instead, I refocused by asking myself a fundamental question that eluded me even though it was hidden in plain sight. I considered what sort of leader I wanted to be, and here’s what I learned: I wanted to be a trusting leader. Now I had a workable outcome to aspire to.

As Robert Fritz, an expert on structural dynamics for behavioral change, has written, the way to achieve a goal is to think of outcomes we want to create, not to simply react by thinking about how to remove the problem, because that doesn’t often work. With the insight about the kind of leader I wanted to be as my outcome, I resumed the game with the stakes far higher and engaged in the game far deeper than before.

Don’t Confuse The Scoreboard For The Outcome

Learning is often a game played with goals and scoreboards. Measures are helpful to know how you are doing, but we can often confuse the personal scoreboard with the outcome, and that can lead us to take a detour right back to playing a finite game where it’s about winning.

Many people know the story about Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity hack of marking an X in his calendar for each day he writes a joke and maintaining an unbroken chain of X’s. Even though he has disavowed the claim that it was his system, nevertheless, it’s a great approach for some people. But if the measure of the X’s becomes the goal, as often the measure can if you aren’t careful, it will replace the outcome of becoming a joke-writing comic. Getting and then maintaining a winning streak of X’s isn’t the same as writing high-quality jokes, for example. Too many people confuse the measure for the outcome, and that’s when they get derailed. Getting back to leadership and the skill of delegating, running a perfect streak of days delegating could mean I’ve reached my outcome of being a trusting leader, or it may not if I wasn’t mindful of also matching the work I assigned to people’s strengths and making resources available so they succeeded.

This is where identity-based habits are so vital. Those are the habits we form with deliberation that change our self-concept. The centrality of winning is not the main concern for those playing the infinite game. Playing this game shifts your mindset from winning, a place where you may have started, to building a new habit by deepening your understanding of yourself. It’s a game played outside in the world with new behaviors — and inside yourself, too. You take action while watching yourself, as I did, as an observer at the same time. I wanted to be a trusting leader; what was undermining my trust in others? How could I address it? How could I set expectations well when I delegated? These questions can show up and need addressing.

There’s a powerful myth that strong leaders come ready-made and fully developed. Maybe that’s why people think that strong leaders are born and not made. Yet people are growing around us all the time.

When we look at leadership development as the infinite game it is, with identity-based goals and not as a problem to be solved, we can experiment with who we are and how we show up with greater freedom.

A Simple Handbook to Living and Leading in Uncertain Times

Living and leading under emergency conditions is a skill set on its own. We quickly become aware of the gaps in our experiences when we face a situation where we have no choice but to navigate well, yet feel wholly unprepared to do so.

This crisis is different than a routine emergency. It’s existential. Potentially life-threatening. Global.

I’ve put together a simple guide to be helpful while we live under the dark shadows of COVID-19. It’s a compilation of information along with my own experiences that I want to share so that you are better able to deal with the transitions of loneliness, disruption and online life. It’s by no means complete, but a start.

Click here to download the Handbook.

Stay healthy and safe.

Image credit: Matthew Henry

A Leader’s Guide To Using A Stylist

Leaders have long known that the way they dress makes a difference in how they are perceived. I recently wrote an article about the ways in which leaders can misstep with their wardrobe. A new job, a promotion, new fashion trends and changes in body weight can make choosing clothes for work a challenge when we want to make new selections in keeping with how we see ourselves. For those who need a little help, an image consultant or stylist — I’ll use the words interchangeably here — can offer guidance.

I’ve used stylists at different times in my career and have offered advice to the executive leaders I work with about how they can get the most from hiring one. Here are a few pointers:

Stylists are only as good as how well they know you.

Just as you suspected, despite what they all claim, some stylists steer clients into being copies of themselves instead of selecting clothes that are an expression of you. Some employ questionnaires to learn about you at the start or interview you to learn about your needs, your role and your industry and profession. That’s all useful. Whatever their approach, what matters is that they appreciate your workplace culture and learn your style and the different audiences that you are in front of.

In my case, I was on high alert that I didn’t want anyone to push a style for an executive coach, a vague job title that conjures up images of conservative power suits. The consultant I chose got to know me and my personal brand well enough to present terrific options that were expressions of me.

Here are a few distinct ways you can benefit from a wardrobe review.

Start slow and small. Try them out first.

There’s no doubt that the best way to get to know a stylist is to begin working with them. Yet I find people go from zero to full-tilt far too quickly, purchasing an entire package of services at the start. Consider beginning small to discover how they work. Many have showrooms with clothes, and some have a retail store. Others accompany you while you shop. Ask yourself if you admire their style. Were their suggestions on point? Do they have a talent, or are they just a bit better in their selection than you?

I hired an image consultant for the first time when I was asked to speak at a large event and had a bit of a meltdown about what to wear. I’ll never forget how she nailed it out of the gate when she proposed a suit that had a flattering cut for my body and fit my style and the occasion. I loved it.

Invite them to review your wardrobe before you shop.

Once they’ve earned your trust, have them over for a wardrobe review so you can repurpose and update what you already own. Do this first, if you can, before you go shopping. Many people use image consultants to weed out clothes that they don’t have the courage to discard, which helps them to decide what to keep or donate.

In my case, I wanted to introduce her to all my styles, through casual and formal wear and across seasons. The value I received from her visit far exceeded my expectations. Here are a few distinct ways I benefited from a wardrobe review:

• Sorting out what no longer fits and pinning it for the alterationist. Stylists are typically more in touch with trends than some alterationists, and so having your consultant do the fitting is an advantage.

• Selecting clothing that needs updating. We shortened the sleeves of a favourite blazer for a summer skirt suit and changed over the buttons to breath new life into it. We also pinned the width of the leg on a winter suit pant to update it.

• Coordinating clothes into outfits in ways I found surprising. People tell me that I have a style of my own and I know I have a taste for fashion. Nevertheless, my consultant amazed me with a creative assemblage of my clothes that I never thought to pull together in the ways she did.

• Coordinating jewellery and shoes with a few outfits. This was helpful, mostly because we both noticed what was missing from my shoe collection.

• Identifying which clothing items were missing. For example, I could use several colours of pants to go with some sweaters to stretch my wardrobe. I also recognized that I had overly invested in business clothes for the winter and needed to shift my attention to my summer work wardrobe with a few more dresses.

Until I engaged one myself, I imagined that stylists were “dressers” for politicians and movie stars in preparation for an event. They are. But they are also an affordable luxury for many of us, and they can bring tremendous value if the partnership is right.

I’ve worked with several image consultants at different times in my career. Each worked in their own way and had their strengths. One had a standout talent of assembling outfits, and another had a knowledge of fit that only a clothes designer like herself could have.

My advice? Image consultants can be invaluable whether you enjoy fashion and know your style or you wonder what the fuss about clothes is all about. There’s so much you can learn from an expert about dressing for work when you want to make good choices in step with a change.

This article first appeared in Forbes.com. Thank you to Sarah Dorweiler for the photo image.

Four Ways Leaders Misstep With Their Wardrobe

It’s a tender topic and one I approach with care. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not referring to clothes that aren’t in good condition, unattractive or meant for the beach. When it comes to dressing as a leader, missteps can be far more nuanced than that.

Our perception of leaders is often influenced by how they dress. Our work attire telegraphs so much about who we are and how we lead. But it can also inhibit career progress.

In my work as an executive coach, I often conduct 360 interviews with a client’s peers, direct reports and senior leader. Sometimes they say that my client’s clothing needs a rethink. Interestingly, some even express frustration borne out of a perception that a leader ought to know better. Here are four wardrobe missteps, illustrated through real-life examples.

  1. You might not have allowed your wardrobe to grow with you.

I worked with a banker in wealth planning who was a strong leader but created confusion because her clothing did not align with her level of seniority. Her wardrobe consisted of traditional business attire, specifically multiple navy pantsuits. Many of her peers felt she portrayed the look of someone who had just graduated, not an experienced executive. Her wardrobe needed more variety and modernizing to become contemporary.

Initially, she responded to the feedback by asking questions to gain clarity and then shrugged it off, relaying why it wasn’t important to her. Then, she disclosed that she had created a self-imposed moratorium on shopping for clothes until she knocked off a few added pounds. That sounded reasonable enough.

This story has a surprising ending. After she had time to digest the feedback, she told me that the feedback had been transformative. It changed how she saw herself. It wasn’t just that she freshened her wardrobe but she also recognized that she was due to make bigger changes in her life, including at work.

  1. You may not be dressing with your audience in mind. 

Dress codes vary by industry, but standards can be different even within departments of the same company. I was asked to work with a high potential insurance executive principally because his career ambitions were stalled. He was recognized by senior leaders for his talent for innovation, but we learned from interviews that his casual attitude and clothing were a hot button: He was seen as a rule breaker in a very conservative insurance culture.

To be fair, he worked in operations where the dress code was casual. He didn’t interact directly with clients, and interactions with other stakeholders were limited to the phone. In those instances, his casual dress was appropriate. But he also regularly traveled downtown to headquarters for senior leadership team meetings. Showing up regularly without a blazer made his superiors hesitant to promote him because it would mean greater visibility and more face-to-face interaction with stakeholders.

He surprised me when we met for our next coaching session. He showed me the three new blazers that he kept behind his office door for when he needed them. People around him didn’t expect that he would be willing to flex in this way, and his new wardrobe choices sent an important message about his adaptability to the right people.

  1. You stand out, but maybe not in the way you hoped.

Many of us like to express our personality through what we wear, but sometimes in the interest of standing out, we can go too far and alienate people we work with. I coached a marketing whiz in a large telecom company who dressed untraditionally in colored suspenders, fashion-forward shoes and edgy haircuts. The common view held by those he worked with was that it was pretentious and too quirky for their culture.

When he and I talked it through, he recognized that he was dressing for where he wanted to be and not where he was. He had fostered the sort of look common in an advertising agency, not a telecom company. He impressed everyone by switching up his wardrobe and finding a balance between fun, serious and eclectic. He could see the difference it made to be perceived as approachable.

  1. You haven’t yet optimized your wardrobe to save time and space. 

Naturally, our desire to change the way we dress doesn’t always originate from other people’s constructive feedback. Sometimes we initiate a change because of our own needs.

That is the case with my current client, a strategic planning executive for an international company. With her promotion to vice president, her travel commitments accelerated and she found that she was spending too much precious time coordinating travel outfits for different weather, seasons and cultures. It was getting in the way of her feeling productive and it was frustrating. On more than one trip, she brought too much clothing with her and it created an inconvenience. That’s when she decided to engage an image consultant to help her create capsule wardrobes. Comprised of a select number of clothing items that can be used in a variety of ways, this streamlined approach makes it easier to identify pieces that work together, and thereby reduced her closet, saved her time and minimized her luggage.

It’s important to be mindful about your clothing at work and consider your needs and the expectations of the workplace you are in. My hope is that by being aware of these missteps, you’ll be able to adapt and lead, confident in what you wear.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com here. Photo credit: Cleo Vermij.