Breaking Free From The Work Trap While On Vacation

Fall’s coming. And as much as I adore this season, my mind can easily turn to the cold that will arrive and vacation adventure travels.. We love our vacations, yet the persistent challenge of working during cherished breaks is as ubiquitous in the leaders I coach as it is with their teams. Disconnecting from work and immersing in leisure is not just a luxury, it’s a fundamental human right. Making it happen may seem simple to imagine, but it’s not that easy to do. So let’s explore some strategies for making time to vacation, what often gets left out in communication before you leave, different styles of vacations and what to do if you’re failing to take a true break.

Streamline, simplify and succeed.

Let’s face it—getting away can be a challenge. After all, there’s so much to do. This is especially the self-talk of those who are experiencing work overload that never seems to let up. If you’re involved in far too many projects to ever consider taking time off to rest and reenergize, then it’s your job to negotiate people’s expectations of your role and streamline their demands. Proactively prioritizing, delegating and negotiating are the skills to put into action to make your working life reasonable and create the pathway to providing your brain with a mental break and stress relief.

Communicate your availability limits.

Once you set the date when you will be off work, it’s up to you to enable others to plan for your absence well in advance. Merely activating an out-of-office (OOO) email alert is too late and insufficient to announce your vacation status to those you work with inside the organization and out.

One partner in a financial services firm was on vacation when his client urgently communicated that there was interest in a company buyout. They hadn’t said anything to him for months prior, but now suddenly they were crushed with preparations and the deadline was imminent, leaving him little choice but to sacrifice a half-day of his time away with family because he was the only one on the team who could do the work.

To minimize surprises in the future, he’s taken to putting a proactive strategy in place. He initiates early client conversations, supplementing the communication of his upcoming vacation dates with a comprehensive checklist of common challenges and deadlines. This serves as a helpful reminder to jog their memory regarding potential impacts of his unavailability. This proactive communication has lessened client surprises and left him with peace of mind that he didn’t leave it all in the hands of his clients.

Expect to be surprised.

Nevertheless, let’s be real. It’s smart to do what you can to diminish the probability that you will be interrupted on vacation by a surprise demand. It’s also realistic to accept that no matter how resolute you are in your desire for uninterrupted bliss, and no matter what you’ve done ahead of time, there will be times when work comes knocking on your holiday’s door. High-stakes situations can arise while you are away that can’t wait for your return, and your team will reach out to you. But here’s the catch—make sure everyone is on the same page about what truly constitutes a “high-stakes” matter. Is it an intergalactic invasion threatening the fate of your company? Or a trumped-up fake deadline that your team has been duped to believe? What information can you provide to your team ahead of time to help them effectively spot the fakes and to triage the real, urgent messes?

Stop temptation with a habit.

It’s problematic to aim to de-stress and truly relax if you are checking your devices all day long and crowding out the benefits of why you took time off in the first place. There’s no chance of interrupting the sources of stress. Self-monitoring is easy for some but not for all. If you have trouble holding back from repeatedly checking for messages from people at work, there are plenty of hacks for you to experiment with. Recruit an ally and empower them to be your gatekeeper. They could safeguard your device(s), maintain the secrecy of your passcode and help you respect a time limit you make for yourself. With their assistance, you can override the temptation to constantly look at work-related messages.

Choose your vacation style.

Not all vacations are created equal. If you want to work during your time off, consider embracing the concept of a “working vacation,” and own it. Maybe you are a digital nomad—working while traveling on “holiday.” Be transparent about your intentions, letting your team know that you will be available to them while also taking breaks for personal rejuvenation. Setting these expectations up front can foster open communication and ease any hesitations from your staff and colleagues who might otherwise shield you from interruptions.

Get out of your own way.

Finally, if you have a pattern that you intend to disconnect but don’t every time, consider that it’s not them—it’s you. You might be getting in the way of your well-earned vacation. Reflecting on what saboteurs are causing you to avoid putting on the brakes is helpful, whether it be the ceaseless need for accomplishments, the driving fear of what could happen when you aren’t working, persistence in the role of the victim or the people-pleaser or a reluctance to put yourself first, to name a few. These saboteurs aren’t fixed for life, but their hold on you can be. They are at the root of your dissatisfaction and explain your unhappiness and frustration. It’s time to recognize them and lessen their hold on you.

Does anyone need evidence that taking breaks from work is a good thing and necessary? They offer relaxation, fill us with positive emotions and diversify our experiences away from the routine. It’s a no-brainer, and yet there are so many things conspiring to take us off our leisure time while away from work. One big one is work itself. Another one is us.

A version of this article was published by Photo thanks to Priscilla du Preez.

Getting Hybrid Work Right

We’ve had a few years where working hybrid has become a new normal for many. Even so, businesses continue to apply trial and error to get it right. Like all workplace strategies of consequence, we are all learning from our mistakes to get better at it. Here are a few things employers are doing to get the best from in-person and remote work in a hybrid model, and what to guard against.

Leader Bias In The Wrong Direction

Many leaders regularly wrestle with the decision of whether to mandate employees back into the office for more days in a week. I hear this concern a lot. The mistake to avoid is to act on impulse rather than on data. Digging deeper, it exposes leader bias toward in-person work simply because at the root of it, it’s familiar, and they may enjoy it more themselves. Businesses need to ask themselves whether they have promoted people while using hybrid models and whether promotions have included young people and new hires. Leaders must also acknowledge that if the current system is working, there’s no reason not to listen to what employees want.

Making The Case To Come To The Office

Leaders have recognized that if they aren’t able to make the time in the office worthwhile, then all interactions will be virtual. Yes, there’s food and snacks on offer, movie night, cocktails and game nights. But most of all, facilitated, human, in-person connection is what draws people together. People want to experience their teammates in person, but the frequency varies. One pharmaceutical company makes it easy for people who don’t work closely together to meet, facilitating random match-making by lottery over lunch in the office. Leaders there frequently organize cross-functional coffees and provide introductions as a way of offsetting the decline of random encounters and shrinking networks. For many leaders, the new priority has become to check in with employees when they are together in the office and enable connections.

Employers are more choosy about creating moments when everyone comes together, working to be intentional about the reasons why to do it at all. One professional services firm coordinates bi-weekly, in-person team meetings and reserves other in-person encounters for annual planning, off-site retreats and year-end events where celebration and being together is something people look forward to.

A financial investment company regularly has large employee turnouts by bringing people together for networking socials, training and skills development and sessions to promote well-being. Whatever the reasons to invite in-person gatherings, I’ve noticed that smart leaders have understood that employees want them to be designed for meaningful participation. There’s less of a desire for passive entertainment or lectures or information sharing where few are speaking and most are only listening.

Rethinking Meetings

For many, most days are filled with back-to-back meetings, exaggerated by the ease of virtual communication and WFH where the day starts earlier and ends later since commuting isn’t frequent. In fact, we now know that meetings have multiplied in some cases by more than double. Employees have become challenged with blocks of virtual meetings that can become stale without alone time reserved for thinking, planning or strategizing.

There have been plenty of remedies for the relentless challenge of meeting fatigue such as reducing the number of meetings in a week and the length of each meeting, leaving a day free of meetings, mandating meetings to no more than two people and encouraging employees to reserve time without meetings.

Other changes to make meetings productive are the introduction of meeting management training and training people on the power of negotiating boundaries and how to maintain them. Some have mandated intervals between meetings to leave time for casual chats and so the business of meetings starts on time, and others are clawing back early starts and late days in favor of shorter workweeks for less pay, and offering a compressed workweek.

Securing “core hours” is popular—a dedicated block of time typically in the middle of the day when colleagues are available for real-time collaboration and meetings and personal obligations. What businesses and organizations are realizing is that the sacred cows of pursuing increasing efficiency and speed are exacting a high cost on people over time. There are plenty of ways to make work enjoyable without losing productivity by considering alternate ways to collaborate with others and exercise limits to prevent overwork.

Not Penalizing Women

There was a time when flexible work, part-time work and leaves from work were considered “accommodations” that were encouraged for women, but this often stalled their careers and stigmatized them, as they were viewed as more committed to their families than to their work, which hindered their chances for advancement. Hybrid and other flexible arrangements may bring on fewer incongruities between genders as more men opt in. I know of a technology company that goes beyond having a flexible work policy on paper to actively encourage male and female employees to take advantage of the under-utilized opportunities available to them, with assurances that their careers won’t suffer as a result. Early data shows that they’ve been successful with this approach.

As one senior woman leader I know puts it, there’s finally recognition that working less, taking leave and even working from home isn’t slacking off and that most people are happier to have the option to choose it.

There is plenty we aren’t yet doing well, such as configuring office space where use, not hierarchy, is the sorting decision; promoting inclusivity when not working from home; and driving innovation while reducing collaborative overwork. There’s never been a time when high-performance culture did not require flexibility rather than rigidity, and a workplace approach that balances the benefits of virtual and in-person work is no different. The conversation about the future of hybrid work will continue to evolve with input from all areas, bringing people’s best thinking together.

Thank you to Shridhar Gupta for the image. A version of this article was published by on May 31 2023.

Five Ways To Include Neurodiverse Talent At Work

When my own relatives, friends and clients began self-declaring their neurodiversity, it took me by surprise. There was so much I didn’t know and didn’t always recognize.

Greater disclosure of the observable ways that people learn and perform tasks is getting easier for people to talk about in some circles, including workplaces. Whether it be autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia or other neurological differences, how we process information varies and it’s easy to accept that people excel in some cognitive behaviours and struggle with others, depending on their brain functioning.

The reasons for the unmasking at work appear to be many. Welcoming neurodiversity at work fits in perfectly with employers’ larger diversity and inclusion programming and matches up well with the promotion of psychological safety where people are rewarded for their vulnerability. It’s also true that with the changes brought on by the pandemic, we learned to recognize that we may share many of the behaviors seen in those who are neurodiverse. Significantly, the strength-based model of neurodiversity is moving more and more away from the deficit frame of stigma to one of acceptance, making it more comfortable for people to disclose. At the same time, there is recognition in business and government that there are multiple intelligences.

Businesses, large and small, have led the way to focus on the basics of hiring, the selection process and the education of managers and others. They’ve done so to address unemployment numbers in some groups that are deplorably high, even though we now know that each neurominority demonstrates strengths in their thinking styles that everyone can benefit from. More often now, members of groups are actively pursued by employers for certain goals because they think differently, not despite it. Among those strengths are creativity, problem-solving skills, pattern recognition, practical skills, numerical skills and dexterity. Naturally, not all who are in the neurominority have the same strengths.

Leaders in many more companies can learn from the vanguard in this growing area of inclusivity at work. Here are a few examples of where to put your efforts:

1. Partner up with existing programs.

The Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Round Table, a group of 50 companies with neurodiversity hiring programs, and Disability:IN, a global not-for-profit, joined together to put job seekers in touch with employment opportunities in the United States. Job seekers are in banking, automotive, pharma and many other industries. To post a job opening, there are criteria companies need to meet.

2. Update job listings.

So often employers have reported that candidates screen themselves out. An example of a typical ad may include a requirement for candidates with “strong communication skills.” Greater specificity such as “able to respond to daily emails” helps get the point across and does away with unduly high expectations and poor matches.

3. Rethink your interview process.

Rethink the way it’s done to inject far more predictability to bring out the best in candidates who might otherwise not shine in the competition. Some companies invite candidates to develop and present a portfolio about themselves and past projects. Then managers ask questions and reciprocate by presenting a deck about themselves.

Others might include a skills-based project. Some employers ask candidates to do several hours of work and present it so that the managers can look at their approach and gain an understanding of their skill level. The work isn’t to benefit the business and doesn’t. It’s strictly to assess competencies.

Also, consider the value of having neurodivergent individuals serve on hiring committees to share their personal experiences working at the company in ways that offer assurances to the job candidates while promoting the company’s safe and inclusive culture.

4. Adapt job specs.

One marketing professional I know has moved her desk to face the wall to lessen distractions. Other examples for those who want to avoid the unpredictable include offering flex-time, providing noise-canceling headphones, inviting individuals to communicate to colleagues when there’s a need for quiet time to think and having multiple screens to lessen the back and forth. There are many simple ways to adapt to individual needs.

5. Train your managers, mentors and more.

Include an introduction to neurodiversity, different communication and processing styles and their impact on time management, organizational skills, memory and concentration. Setting clear expectations and communicating using multiple formats (written, verbal, etc.) is vital. Do what you can to build awareness and comfort for all. Include practical strategies and tips. What’s vital is to provide examples of how greater inclusivity benefits everyone. Capture examples of when individuals think about a problem in a fresh new way or when work is done with greater speed than what was envisioned.

The feedback from managers has often been that they’re surprised to learn that those who are neurodivergent have similar talents and limitations as other members of the team. And it’s not uncommon for multiple people to discover that the same behaviors that are being explained are ones they themselves share.

Lastly, keep in mind that more than just managers can benefit from training. Consider including other members of the team, as well as mentors. Find ways to distribute trainings more widely so everyone who wants to partake can. In one technology company I know, a large business unit requested a recording of the training because they wanted to be educated.

The rallying mantra is #nothingaboutuswithoutus because this population, like any, wants to be included in hiring, programming and training. As with everyone, individuals who are neurodiverse want to feel they belong. It’s about changing work for the better and respectfully supporting their needs.

This article written by Sheila Goldgrab was first published by (Photo credit: thank you Nataliia Kitovska)

Go Beyond HR To Find Diverse Talent

Many leaders are still asking how they can find the people they want to hire to create a more diverse workforce. Difference comes in various forms such as gender, race, religion, marital status, age, national origin or ancestry, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity. Here are a number of creative ways to achieve this goal.

Scout out and share the talent.

I was at a women’s leadership conference when I heard an incredible story. A panelist recounted how she was able to make sweeping changes to bring gender and ethnic diversity to her male-dominated workplace in the transportation industry.

She shared about her colleagues’ constant refrain that there were no female engineers and architects to hire at the senior levels. Frustrated, she began gathering the names of women she knew and who she was meeting at industry events, and then compiled and gave the list of professional women to her colleagues at one of their meetings. Her efforts paid off.

Aim to reconstruct jobs.

Sometimes the solution is already inside the business. In one instance, a senior leader invited one of the leaders reporting to him to help him understand why, after the company declared it a goal so long ago, there still wasn’t racial diversity on his team. The reasoning he gave was that the team required candidates with multiple hard-to-find specializations. They saw that separating the team into two, each with only one area of specialization, would lessen the barrier to entry and give many more people the opportunity to be eligible. Hiring for diversity is made possible with structural solutions. Here are a few other examples:

• In a pharmaceutical company, several jobs were re-imagined to give people with only foreign work experience an opportunity with room to be promoted.

• In a not-for-profit, a review of job descriptions revealed needless criteria that were then removed. They went deeper to simplify the online application process when they noticed that the drop-off rates were high.

Develop a non-insular network.

It’s commonplace for employees to be asked for referrals to fill open positions. It turns out, that isn’t often helpful for hiring for diversity because we regularly know people who are similar to ourselves. This closed-loop is only helpful if you are from a marginalized group, like the racialized woman in the transportation industry who found plenty of qualified women to introduce to her male colleagues.

To find a way out of the closed loop, you’ll need to have a strategic network: people outside your operational web of connections who can drive business goals forward by identifying emerging trends. They are different than you, and it may be that they are eligible candidates or they know people who are.

Tapping into a non-insular strategic network can drive a leader’s success and that of the business. A leader I know is diligent in keeping in touch with the people he worked with in previous jobs, with each promotion to a new role and with every leap to a new employer, often across industries. It’s admirable, and I’ve told him so. I’ve seen him turn around a near-impossible search for talent in 24 hours, bringing forward an eligible candidate. Tapping into his non-insular strategic network drives his success and that of his business.

An entrepreneur on a not-for-profit board serving persons with disabilities was asked if he was able to place a neurodiverse individual in his company. Keen to make it work, he hired a consultant who was brought in to interview the candidate and shape a role to match his strengths. It’s been a success story. They are currently reviewing the success factors so they can apply the learning to other new hires, such as those who are neurodiverse, those who are much older or younger and those without a college or university degree.

Promote junior talent.

Too often, diverse talent is mostly at the junior levels of the organization. An antidote is to upskill or reskill these employees so they can move into jobs with a career path; this could help others stay with the organization because they see their peers being promoted. Some leaders share their goals with their direct reports so that everyone’s plan is laddered up to the larger company goals and each person understands their part in achieving them.

Pairing junior employees with a VP and above who can mentor them can help them see that they have a future with the company. Sometimes the talent you need is already in the company. Giving junior diverse talent exposure to leaders, mentors and opportunities can maximize their potential and make a big difference in attracting new talent.

Share stories of the obstacles.

A CEO shared that she had been a victim of bias over her career. People she worked with earlier in her career jumped to the conclusion that the dissolution of her marriage was caused by her long hours at work—a sexist view and unfounded. I was told by a Black woman at the company that hearing this was inspiring to her; knowing that her CEO faced bias helped her feel less alone.

Previous generations kept quiet about stories of bias they faced at work—often for very good reasons. But younger generations are more willing to tell these stories that others can take inspiration from.

Too often, searching for diverse talent is relegated to the HR function. It’s considered other people’s job even though it requires many more people’s involvement to get right. The most useful understanding of diversity broadly includes employees who reflect a range of backgrounds, thoughts, experiences and skills. It takes a little creative problem solving to enable greater work opportunities and bring in multiple perspectives.

Use What We’ve Learned From The Pandemic To Be A Better Male Ally

No one disputes that male allyship is needed to enable the change we want to see with gender equity at work. If anything, the pandemic has revealed just how boxed in our thinking about work and gender has been, and it’s given men many more opportunities to serve as allies to women. Illuminating what’s new and what’s still in play can help with finding solutions for gender inequities at work. Men who want to help bring about change have vocalized a common challenge: understanding women’s experiences as different than their own, and then what to do about it? So here are three ways men can improve their allyship to women.

Advocate for flexible work arrangements.

For too long, women with more family and household responsibilities than their spouses have requested to work from home. Too many proposals for even one day a week at home were turned down because it was the exception, not the rule. Even more women who wanted it didn’t dare ask for it, knowing that they would be judged as uncommitted to their work. It’s no wonder the maxim “organizations were built by men for men” has become a meme during this time because it’s now abundantly clear who is most disadvantaged by working the hours of 8 to 6 at the outside office.

Flexible work options are being understood by far more men for the first time as a critical challenge faced by women. Only last year, the contradiction of men ranking life-work balance in the top three challenges women face while ranking flexible work options for women at the very bottom shows how hidden from view new work arrangements were as a solution to a big problem. Many allies are now witnessing just how key flexible arrangements are for women and for themselves and their families. For those women whose requests have been declined, there is an opportunity for male coworkers to be partners, enlist more allies and develop a revitalized business case. Male allies have a role to play in joining women in insisting that flexible work options continue based on true business needs.

Join employee resource groups.

Many organizations have moved from ticking the checkbox for compliance to publishing new DEI goals, actions and accountability that go with it. McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report with Lean In told us something we’ve known for some time: Women in senior roles are twice as likely as men at their level to take time doing DEI work outside their formal responsibilities, and women at all levels are taking most of the actions of allyship.

More men can encourage others to participate and welcome them into women’s employee resource groups and associations. Membership will afford them the opportunity to expand the conversation about DEI goals by making the case for more male involvement from “the inside.” Among the compelling ways to frame the conversation for enrolment is to talk about gender equity goals as “fair play,” make the connection to how men’s involvement will elevate their workplace culture and point out how greater participation from men can build a broad scaffolding that joins all marginalized groups.

Insist credit be given where it’s due.

Women leaders tell me that one unfair practice that frustrates them the most is when men take credit for their work. Getting ahead of it by claiming the credit for themselves is a good habit to start and maintain, and I have guided and coached many women to design a habit to do that. At the same time, it’s not a full resolution to what is dishonest behaviour. Traditionally, we’ve left it to men to do the right thing where giving credit is concerned, without much at stake when they don’t. The same goes for women leaders who behave badly.

Encouraging allies to elevate the accomplishments of women by bringing them out of obscurity and making them visible to the right people when their co-worker is not there is an act of male allyship. So is stepping forward to call out those who over-emphasize their role and eclipse the contributions of others. Giving credit is a vital part of the competencies required for good teamwork, collaboration, and developing and attracting top talent. It’s good leadership.

Encourage psychologically safe workspaces.

Working from home during the pandemic crisis has opened up our view to other parts of people’s lives and nudged leaders to be more understanding of all of it. In my experience working with women leaders, a male leader who expresses his emotions such as fear, anger and frustration can go a long way to feeling comfortable enough to be themselves. The promotion of emotional intelligence development inside organizations has done very little to legitimize the expression of emotions, aiming instead to support people to manage theirs.

As one of my female clients said, “Having that degree of trust with a male leader is really rare in my company but invaluable in building my own confidence to stretch beyond the emotional parameters that were set for girls and boys from a young age.” Male allies who are creating psychologically safe spaces for women and men do it by allowing the expression of emotions to deepen the connections with those they lead.

Everyone has experienced the pandemic differently and it’s been tough. Thankfully, the health and economic crisis has cracked open new, more accessible options for working that need to continue. Male allies can be actively involved in making change and lead people by accepting others’ vulnerability and modelling it themselves. We have to move forward with greater speed and intention to continue to push to close gender equity gaps. Male allies have a role to play as partners in learning from what we’ve gained and identifying their part in historical dynamics that haven’t yet budged.

Written by me and first published by Image thanks to rodnae-productions.

Women’s Great Resignation: Ways To Retain Women Leaders

As women continue to consider exiting the workforce, the question on their minds is: Does my workplace work for me? While many organizations are attempting to redress the inequities women face, there are plenty of new policies and actions that have served to undermine women’s certainty that they belong. Let’s discuss a few examples and positive ways to retain women leaders.

1. Be thoughtful with mentoring pairings.

Consider a leader who would like to increase her assertiveness. Like anyone who is working on this, she appreciates that it has an impact on her relationships and how she is perceived. It takes experimentation to express assertive behaviours to the right degree. Too little, and you aren’t standing up for yourself and expressing yourself sufficiently, too much and you’re perceived as hostile. In an effort to help, a more senior leader selects a mentor for her who is overly assertive. She and others perceive him as aggressive. The thinking behind the match was that pairing a leader who overdoes a vital competency with someone who underutilizes it would work. Instead, it sends the wrong message and creates confusion for the mentee who is looking to find the right level of assertiveness.

Get 360 feedback about potential mentors before involving them in facilitated mentoring programs where they will be role models. In my experience, leaders who overplay their strengths are not good mentors to a mentee who is looking to practice the competency.

2. Make growth opportunities count.

Advancing women in their careers by giving them opportunities for growth is moving in the right direction. So when one woman earned the invitation to participate in a next-level leadership team meeting, she naturally accepted. When the meeting started, she was asked to take minutes for the group.

When a mid-level manager is given an opportunity and then assigned an administrative task, it doesn’t advance them in any way. They want to be free to be actively engaged because they want to maximize the occasion. Playing the role of the scribe is a sensitive issue for women as it relegates them to assist in an administrative function, long ago perceived as a woman’s rightful job and as far as her career could advance.

3. Reserve your praise for a job well done.

A director in a design studio in the technology sector prepared an outstanding strategy. Her manager asked her to present what she and her team had accomplished. Many more people came to the call than were expected and in the banter before the presentation began, her manager noticed that the director was a little nervous. His response was to tease her about the colour of her lipstick thinking it would provide her with the confidence she lacked by telling her how good she looked. It had the opposite effect. Instead, it made her feel self-conscious.

Women want men to be great allies when they face challenges at work. What some allies don’t know yet is that commenting on women’s makeup, clothing or physical appearance redirects attention to how a woman looks instead of focusing on their competence. Calling out a woman’s physical appearance is a challenge for women working hard every day to gain credibility.

4. Recognize that one rule can’t fit everyone.

Among the new measures brought on to slow down the increased expectations for work since the pandemic, is the “no emails or work calls past 7 p.m.” rule to show support for parents who have family obligations. But instead of freeing people up from work obligations, it serves to levy new pressures to get everything done before the witching hour. This is the matching bookend of obligatory early morning meetings for those with childcare responsibilities.

The best ideas are rigorously tested before they become rules. This rule disproportionally disadvantages moms with family responsibilities immediately after the workday. Encouraging leaders to have conversations with their teams in order to tailor the right limits for everyone is preferable to a blanket rule. Flexibility not uniformity is preferred.

5. Build on what came before.

A committee was put together in a public sector organization to support women’s leadership. When the office responsible for developing policy and programs to advance women’s equality learned about it and wanted to be involved, the chair communicated that she had no interest in collaborating and preferred to work without dialogue.

When leaders go it alone and don’t leverage the people, processes or work that’s come before, they forfeit lessons from the field, efficiencies for disseminating communication through established pathways and the opportunity to build momentum.

6. Promote for real.

Being promoted means an increase in responsibilities. Yet when there is no actual increase in decision-making power, the promotion is in bad faith. A recently promoted leader’s decisions had to be run by her male senior management team each time. It wasn’t long before this director understood that she wasn’t set up to succeed. She also came to doubt that her pay was on par with the men at her level since she was only permitted to function as Team Lead.

Research shows that early on in careers, men on average, are given more people to supervise and lead larger teams. As a result, they gain a wider span of control even at the same organizational level. Getting a change of title with more responsibilities but no increase in decision-making power is the oldest cheat in the book. It looks good to promote a woman but it’s demoralizing for everyone it affects.

The problems that are leading to the great resignation didn’t start today. Yet we have the opportunity now to re-imagine work and normalize new ways to ensure women are supported and valued. It all starts with listening to women’s experiences to know where to make changes so that women know they belong.

(This article is written by me, and was first published by

Photo by Christina @ 

The Secret To Productivity Isn’t Time Management

When the only answer to a leader’s personal productivity challenge is better time management, you know that it’s missing the mark. After all, it’s not likely that one causal answer can’t remedy a very long list that amounts to trouble. Leaders bring concerns about broken time management to executive coaching hoping that five dos and don’ts will solve what pains them. It’s can be simpler than that, but it takes some self-insight to succeed. Let’s take a look at the real symptoms behind less than optimal productivity.

We ignore the underlying cause.

All of us procrastinate. Doing something other than what you’re supposed to can be a welcome relief, but getting a fifth cup of coffee and doing unimportant work is not getting you anywhere. You already know that. With hybrid work, the challenge of doing double-duty when working from home makes a single-minded focus even tougher. The clock ticks toward the due date for everyone when they deliberately delay.

Contrary to what most people believe, it isn’t lack of discipline that causes procrastination. We procrastinate when we are feeling a strong emotion about the work we want to avoid and that causes us to put it off.

An engineer in a consulting firm delayed writing a bid because she was aware that if she was successful the requirements would mean undue pressure on her staff at a difficult time when they were already working weekends.

A physician researcher with chronic procrastination challenges admitted to himself that the research he had signed on to no longer matched his interests. He did it for reasons that seemed right at the time, but those reasons didn’t hold.

To address procrastination, you have to look inward. Tune into your thoughts and emotions to better understand what you fear. With the clarity you gain, you are in a better position to give yourself good counsel and make adjustments that relieve whatever is interfering with the work.

We are overwhelmed with collaborative overload.

Who isn’t distracted by unnecessary email, wasteful meetings and demanding requests? Most people believe that this is where we waste the most time at work and take measures to lessen the distractions. It turns out that if you are an average user of digital media, those aren’t the biggest time wasters you can do something about. The culprit is over-collaboration.

Rob Cross has spent decades studying networks. In his book Beyond Collaborative Overload, he writes about the reason leaders become overwhelmed and, ultimately, undermine their success: Many involve themselves in work they shouldn’t be doing, caught in a mess of excessive demands on their time.

Cross’ work made me think of the vice president of marketing I know who joined a project and admitted that he did it to show that he was right all along. Or the vice president of operations who revealed that she went forward in a multi-functional initiative because she was concerned with what colleagues might think of her if she declined. Or the countless others who are pulled to get involved because of the project’s prestige or because they want to show they are indispensable or because they haven’t considered if the project could be better served with others in their place. Diving in to collaborate won’t do you or the project any good if you are tied up with a project that you shouldn’t have become involved with in the first place.

Efficient collaborators are selective because they are attuned to their own triggers for self-sabotage. Strong performers who value their boundaries turn away from their known temptations.

We are focused on distraction management, rather than forming good habits.

Time is a valuable non-renewable resource. Since we’ve come to rely on our electronic devices to serve multiple functions and with the pervasiveness of social media, people know to reign in digital distractions. This is widely known as attention management. It also focuses on productivity as a function of time management.

What’s worrisome is that with distraction management as a lens, people rely on willpower alone. Willpower is a strange thing. In my work with leaders, we design a habit sequence to override willpower because it’s so fickle. Sometimes it works, and other times it fails you. If you have a habit in place it acts like a force field because you are no longer thinking “Should I or shouldn’t I?” You are simply repeating the tiny actions you’ve designed.

We misunderstand willpower.

And that’s not all. In the past, we’ve been told that our willpower depletes over time, and that it’s better to sync up your must-do activities that require your focus for the time of day when you are at your best. Yet Carol Dweck and others at Stanford University found that self-control is as strong as you think it is. If you think it’s less available and easily depleted, then you are right. If you believe it isn’t limited and your self-control can be generated with a good challenge, you are also right. In practice what this means is you can persuade yourself that you aren’t so easily depleted, you’ll do much better at avoiding distractions. A growth mindset provides us with a view that we can replenish our willpower. This has not only changed my mind about willpower, but I can also predict that I can keep my focus when I most need it.

Are there more distractions on your time now than ever before because you are working from home? Maybe. We know that addressing procrastination means looking within to notice what you’re telling yourself. To resist over-collaboration is to first know your weak spots and keep your boundaries firm. And shifting your mindset about self-control can increase your willpower. The maxim of the Ancient Greeks is as relevant now as it was then: Know thyself. No number of time management strategies and tools can hope to replace it.

This first appeareed in Thank you to Bruno Figueiredo for the image.

Sheila headshot

Cultivating Habits Close the Gender Leadership Gap (Forbes Interview)

Thank you to Forbes for this interview and article. – Sheila

It has long been recognized that female leaders are being underrepresented and left behind in STEM and S&P 500 companies. Historically, the move towards closing opportunity gaps at work took a gender agnostic approach with marginal results. Today, businesses are addressing the issues that hold women back and tailoring leadership development specifically towards women.

At the same time, there is a growing consensus that habits are a powerful success tool. Habits are how leaders strategize, execute and influence, as well as build and leverage relationships. As habits receive more attention and respect as a much-needed learning intervention in women’s leadership development, there is a growing demand to shift from leadership programs that focus on strategies to programs that focus on habits.

Forbes Coaches Council member Sheila Goldgrab is an executive coach and the founder of Goldgrab Leadership, a boutique leadership firm through which she leads Women Leaders Habit Labs, an online experience offering women the opportunity to learn what gets in their way and form new habits to scale their leadership and get the recognition they deserve.

As an award-winning executive coach, published author and speaker on how women leaders can authentically gain recognition and fulfill their potential, Goldgrab works with women and men in top technology companies and STEM disciplines across the globe. She said women become increasingly scarce moving up the leadership ranks of S&P companies, creating a “thinning pyramid” effect. “With Habit Lab, the pinch points of the pipeline get unstuck directly because of the habits leaders put into action.”
This is because Goldgrab tailors her approach with a gendered lens. “When executive coaches share their habit journeys and the framework they use with their clients, they foster the abilities of others with long-lasting benefits,” she said. Helping women advance up the leadership pyramid means understanding the value of habits that are specifically effective for women.

For leaders looking to learn more about how and why to focus on habit formation, Goldgrab recommends reading James Clear’s best-seller Atomic Habits and Charles Duhigg’s classic The Power of Habit. To gain specific insights about women in leadership, she recommends How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.

Goldgrab said diversity and inclusive goals are more important than ever when it comes to achieving gender balance at the top of the leadership pyramid. This is because, in order for women to advance in the workplace, they must feel able to be fully themselves. According to research from Catalyst, employees experience inclusion at work when they feel valued, trusted, authentic and psychologically safe. Experiences of inclusion explain 49% of team problem-solving and 18% of employee innovation.

Goldgrab believes one of the biggest mistakes leaders make is continuing to do what worked before, only doing more of it and faster. “But doing that isn’t going to advance their career,” she said. “To enable change to happen, we need new habits. When leaders learn how to sustain a habit they value, their actions become consistent with their career ambitions.”

Four Job Search Strategies During A Pandemic

“I’m thinking a lot about my work and what’s next.”

It’s coming up to the new year and a time to re-assess so much about our work. For so many who are are planning a job transition, the current search for meaning and greater purpose is a new wrinkle in an already tough situation. A health crisis, a racial inequity crisis and an economic crisis have stopped most of us, employed or looking to be, long enough to reflect on what we are doing with our lives. With so many abruptly ordered to stay home to work, and the pandemic and discriminatory policing ending lives, plenty of people are scrutinizing their working lives for purpose and greater alignment and are choosing to move on from where they are.

My clients who are in job transition have raised interesting concerns. Here are four of them, along with complementary strategies for what to keep in mind if you are in a job search or expect you may be in the future.

Strategy #1: Push through to share with others that you are in transition.

“A colleague just got a new role as a CEO, and I want to hold off changing my work status because I’m concerned that when I reach out to congratulate her that it will look like I’m just doing it to nudge for a job.”

The sooner you share with your network that you are in search mode, the sooner others can help. It sounds commonsensical enough, but holding back is common, especially, in my experience, among women who aren’t always comfortable leveraging relationships when they need to. Their hesitation is that they will appear needy and others will feel used by their manipulation.

Conducting a job search without the support of your network won’t be nearly as successful, and unless you are lucky, it will be a long journey until you land. There is no shame in taking initiative and communicating you are looking for work. Most of us have experienced job transition and are eager to help. And those who know your work are motivated to see you continue to contribute. If ever there’s a time to not hold back the reality of your situation, it’s during a job search.

Strategy #2: Stay current.

“How do I find out what’s going on in an industry that I’ve targeted during Covid-19? They are all in deep change. How do I get current?”

Social distancing has removed the opportunities to learn about industries at in-person conferences that so many depended on. Conferences have now migrated online, making them easier to access and at a lower cost. But it’s important to not just limit your learning to mass venues. In some ways, this tumultuous time is an opportune one to learn what is going on in every field and industry because everywhere there is so much flux in the marketplace.

And don’t give up on an industry because of what you are hearing from news reports. It’s true that many are having a tough time returning to full productivity and profits post-Covid-19. Your job is to consider your skills and assess how you can help with change management or a strategic pivot. Some employers are hiring far less, but many are hiring what they absolutely need.

Strategy #3: Get out in front of the internet.

“I do a lot of Zoom and I listen to a lot of webinars. I haven’t been asked to any interviews yet.”

Be careful not to spend too many hours on the internet. Naturally, it’s easy to do and believe you are job hunting productively. It’s relationship-building, though, that will make the biggest difference in landing work.

In addition to attending webinars and listening to expert panels, offer to lead or host your own webinar. Consider corralling your colleagues and host a panel to gain exposure and show what you know. The point is to be visible and be seen as an expert. Get out in front.

Strategy #4: Help them see you as a fit in the role.

“I know what I want, but I’m not sure I can persuade them that I’m a good fit.”

This is what I heard from a client of mine at the start of his career transition. After leaving an exceptionally demanding senior leadership role that started as meaningful and highly rewarding work, changes came in that degenerated the role, and he found that he was at odds with what was being asked of him. My client spent time talking through what he wanted next with his family and then with me as his coach. Still interested in a senior role, his review of his personal values led him to seek work in a smaller city where he and the family could root themselves and be closer to nature. The job, too, would need to be smaller but still complex and with the potential to make a big impact. He was clear what he was after; nevertheless, the members of the interview panel for the first job interview felt he was overqualified. Challenged to help the next job panel share his vision that he was right for the role, we worked together to clarify his story and the articulation of his values to clearly show how they were aligned with the role. Spending time on your story and your values is a necessary strategy for anyone seeking new work, not just for those others deem overqualified.

A version of this article was ublished on Thank you to Aaron Burden for the image.

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 Thank you to Pawel Czerwin for the image.