Journey To A Board Seat

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The problem many women leaders face is that their career path at some point hits a dead end. Either they want a senior executive position and can’t seem to get it; or they have that position and know they need to expand their skills to succeed; or they have had it and are ready to ease off – they want to move into a new phase of their professional lives without giving up their professional identities.

Becoming a member of a corporate board solves each of those problems. It is the best kind of professional development for senior executive leaders, and it’s also a way to transition out of the workaday world into a less intense but more fulfilling phase of contribution and meaning.

Nevertheless, few women actually find their way to a board seat. Why? Perhaps they don’t know how valuable that role could be for them, or perhaps they don’t know how to get there. Perhaps they simply don’t believe it’s possible, given that most board’s seats are filled by men.

Enter The Athena Alliance, an organization that prepares women to succeed in finding a board seat – and for corporate boards to find them. The Athena Alliance offers Membership options for individual leaders. Even better, companies often cover the costs of Membership for their employees as a benefit, knowing that the journey to a board seat will actually make them better leaders.

I became acquainted with The Athena Alliance when I was promoting my book The New Advantage: How Women in Leadership Can Create Win-Wins for their Companies – and ThemselvesThe Athena Alliance helps women to be successful in finding a board seat by preparing them, educating them, and connecting them to a network, until they find the board seat they want.

In my coaching, I have seen women take this journey with remarkable results.

  • Laura was an Executive Vice President who tried for years to break into a C-level role. Only when she joined The Athena Alliance and took the journey to a board seat did she get the visibility, credibility and opportunity she needed to finally gain the title of CEO.
  • Nancy had been a CFO in a Fortune 500 company for years and was ready to retire ~ but at 52 felt she had much life ahead of her. Taking the journey to a board seat led her to explore many new interests and gave her the opportunity to support companies she believed in and help them succeed.
  • Lillian had led a company as the CEO before it sold. After a year’s rest and retirement, she started to get restless. She loved her work and felt she had a lot to offer. Her journey to a board seat gave her a way to exercise her mind and share her skills while maintaining an easy, peaceful quality of life – and get paid well to do it

Whether you are a business leader who wants to succeed as an executive, or an executive who wants to transition to a board member, you will benefit from understanding what The Athena Alliance has to share with women about how to succeed.

Join me for this 12-part series as we explore your Journey to a Board Seat – up next: An Interview with the leader of The Athena Alliance, CEO Coco Brown. As a sneak peek, here are a few words from an Athena member:

 “Athena Alliance is tireless in its mission to bring valuable opportunities and indispensable resources to its membership. There are only actions and results—from matching me to stimulating board roles, promoting my company and my profile among industry leaders, to helping me make the most important business connections. When I think of any organization that is a must to be a part of, I first think of Athena Alliance.”Caroline Tsay
CEO & Co-founder of Compute Software
, Board Director @ Coca-Cola Company and Morningstar

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How To Organize Your Life, Do Less and Have More Time

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Many of us have an action plan, or to-do list, to keep ourselves organized – at the beginning of the day we write down everything that we have to do, and then the day is filled with the victorious crossing off of items from the list. But what happens when you get to the end of the day, and too often there are lot of things left?

We’re left with a feeling like the work is never done, but perhaps the problem isn’t so much that there’s so much that needs to get done, but the fact that we’re putting everything on one long to-do list.

You can actually organize your thinking, and organize your time, just by changing your to-do list.

Having a detailed daily action plan can help you stay focused – it’s called the catalyst. In science, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without being consumed in the process. For you, your catalyst is an action that dramatically increases the rate at which you achieve your vision without it consuming you.

The CATA-list action plan is divided into 4 categories:

  • Catalysts
  • Achievements
  • Tasks
  • Avoidances

The catalyst: To find your catalyst, ask yourself: What is the one thing I can do that will have the greatest impact on my vision? The guiding principle for your catalyst is that you know this one item would do the most to get you to your goal. For example, let’s say you’re trying to lose 50 pounds. A catalyst might be to go running, or give up sugar. Your catalyst is that one thing that’s most important for you to do to manifest your desired outcome.

Achievements: These are the actions you classify as highly important. They might not have the transformational effect of your one catalyst, but they’re the achievements that matter on a day-to-day basis. It’s your daily actions, priorities, projects and deadlines.

Tasks: This category is for the actions you like to take, but can’t justify as truly critical, at least not in terms of your priorities and goals. Tasks are typically big time consumers. These are the long meetings that need to be scheduled, networking events, or maybe they’re things you like to do only after the more valuable action items are taken care of.

Avoidances: These are the actions that have actually very little return. Often times, scrolling through social media feeds falls into this category. Surfing through our emails, unuseful conversations are avoidances that actually take up the time we need for more important priorities in our lives. By creating a catalyst you have organized now your to-do list in an efficient way in an organized order of value for your time.

By creating a catalyst you have an organized your list of action items in an efficient way, and in an organized order of value for your time. When you see your catalyst through, you free yourself of the daily to-do list, and organize your list of action items according to your priorities – and, ultimately, achieve your vision.

For more resources on time management, work-life balance and other leadership coaching materials, see Joelle’s recent books and articles, and resources for women leaders.

Delegation

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If you are looking to be more effective and intentional with your time, and, ultimately, elevate yourself to a higher level of leadership, you are probably discovering that the delegation is becoming essential.

Delegating tasks on your endless to-do list is a necessary reality if you’re going to free themselves to achieve those “big bets” and your long-term goals.

So why can task delegation be a struggle for many leaders?

The answer is simple: It takes time and effort. It’s tempting to avoid it altogether.

If you hear yourself saying, “It would be easier to just do this myself,” think again. Remember those big goals of yours! You won’t achieve them if you’re trapped in the day-to-day minutiae. Instead, let’s look at an approach to delegation that can get you the support you need to succeed.

Broken down, delegation also means training others to do the task that you need done.

You may need to confront your own insecurities about quality control here; the person to whom you delegate may not do the task as well as you do. Thats okay. They don’t need to do it as well as you, and they don’t need to do it the same way as you. They just need to get it done – and by the way, if you choose selectively, you will be giving them the opportunity to stretch and grow as they do.

You may also need to calm your fears about whatever cleanup may be ahead if things go badly. Delegation runs the risk of failure. No wonder that cautious side of you wonders again if it wouldn’t just be better to do the task yourself. But be strong – the likelihood of failure is far less if you take responsibility for helping the people to whom you delegate to do the task well. In fact, if you teach them thoroughly and coach them along the way, you may free yourself from the task for good, as you will have trained a capable other to do the task in your place.

It bears repeating: If you insist on doing every task on your list yourself, you’ll never rise above the level of your to do list. You’ll always be doing the same work.

Mastering the skill of delegation is what can free you to rise to the next level.

Here’s a handy technique to get you started. The next time you need to delegate tasks, just remember this method: the ODC. An ODC is a message you deliver to the person who will do a task.

  • The “O” stands for Outcome. What outcome are you trying to achieve?
  • The “D” stands for Deadline. When you want to the task to be done?
  • The “C” is for “Clarification.” What detailed directions can you provide, and what questions do you and your task-doer need to discuss?

Here’s an example of ODC in action. You have traditionally planned the end-of-the-year party for your team, but this year you’re focused on delivering a high-impact client engagement and don’t want to take time away from this critical project. You choose Michael, the new coordinator on your team, to take on the party.

You’re ready to delegate.

Promising yourself that you will let Michael do things his way, and promising Michael that you will do everything you can to help him succeed, you launch the ODC.

“Michael, I would love to have you take on this new project. The outcome is to have the final end-of-the-year party planned for our team, and we want to have it completed by June 10th. What questions do you have, Michael? And, before you start, let me show you some of the criteria that we want to use.”

It’s an easy, quick reminder of how to transfer information from your brain into someone else’s. You don’t have to talk Michael through all of the details. You don’t have to explain to him what last year’s party looked like, you don’t have to give him all of your files, unless Michael wants them. You can trust Michael to do things his way. He knows the outcome, he knows the deadline, he’s had a chance to ask questions, and you’ve given him enough detail.

Now if you check in with Michael every other day to make sure he’s on track and keep giving him the opportunity to ask questions, he will have taken on the whole project. You have one giant piece of work delegated to someone else, and you are free to concentrate on something bigger. Michael gets a new opportunity, and guess what: you do, too. The whole thing is as easy as remembering “ODC.”

For more strategies to take control of your time and cultivate better personal leadership skills, see Joelles book: The Inner Edge.

How to Network to Grow Your Business

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Mastering the art of networking is one thing – but using it to grow your business is a whole other level.

So may books and articles have been written on how to network effectively, and if you want it, you can access a lifetime’s worth of advice on how to connect with others. But although connecting with people is certainly a nice thing to do, at some point it can feel futile. There are only so many names you can collect; only so many events to attend.

If you really want to take your networking to the next level, you’ll need to approach it in a way that ultimately leads to business growth. To do that, the best thing you can do is show people who you are. Give them the experience of you.

This goes beyond your elevator pitch. Ideally, you do have an elevator pitch and have crafted it to represent who you really are. But that’s just the first step. After all, in your elevator pitch you’re simply telling people who you are. In next-level networking, you also show them.

If you’re an executive coach, for example, instead of chitchatting with new connections, look for opportunities to ask genuinely helpful coaching questions.

If you’re a resource who provides a valuable service, pose thought provoking, reflective questions or point people to something that might be helpful for them to read, related to something that’s important to them.

To get away from the superficial connection and into a real conversation, move from telling people what you do, and just do that for them. Forget about trying to get business from them; rather, just be you and show them how you can help.

All of this helps you connect with people in a more impactful way – one that helps you express what you care about and make the impact you’re striving to achieve.

If you want to set yourself apart in your networking, I advocate for going in with a thoughtful, reflective plan. Organize what you’re thinking before you go into any networking situation:

  • Ask these universal questions, in order: Who, why, what, how and what if?
  • Ask yourself who you would really like to connect with. Follow up that question with why you want to know them, and what you want to ask them to make a connection.
  • Determine how you want to open the conversation. Choose one really good question that you’re comfortable delivering and is also meaningful to you and the people you meet. For example, “Tell me about your practice and how you got to be as successful as you are?”
  • Finally, imagine what kinds of interesting things might happen if all goes well. What if you find a meaningful connection with exactly the right type of person? What is the ideal outcome for you, and for them? Thinking about this ahead of time will focus your efforts.

If you know what you’re going to ask, it takes down the exhaustion factor immediately, and you’ll ultimately come off as much more genuine. More importantly, you’ll learn to embrace your story, and learn about others’ stories, in a more powerful way.

Shy? Get more of Joelle’s networking strategies from her recent article in The Oprah Magazine.

How NOT to Fail at Networking

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At an event recently, a businessman walked up to me with his business card in hand. He smiled and winked, handed me his card, and delivered his slick elevator pitch in one clearly practiced motion. I thought, “Ick.” 

My next thought was, “Yikes – I hope when I introduce myself at a networking event, people don’t think, “Ick!”

The Ick Factor in networking is directly related to one avoidable thing: insincerity. To the businessman winking his way over to me, I seemed like a “prospect.” Certainly his approach made me feel like one. I was a target, and getting me to take some kind of action to his benefit was seemingly the goal.

You can avoid the Ick Factor and make sure people respond well to your outreach by dropping the façade and bringing something far more meaningful to the conversation: you. 

I believe that businessmen and businesswomen are most successful in their networking when they’re truly genuine, and when they think of networking as building strong relationships with people they care about over the things they value.

Otherwise networking is too transactional. People fail at networking when they start with the task of achieving something – “I need to get a job,” “I need to make this ask of somebody,” “I need to get a client.” They succeed when they seek to build deep relationships with people they really genuinely care about.

Researchers have observed that men and women tend to network differently – another element of networking you can use to refine your approach and genuinely connect with others. They note that women tend to lead their networking with a focus on relationships. They will talk to people in a way that’s about getting to know them, and ask questions like what brought them to the event. Women will use that as a foundation for eventually transitioning into a business conversation.

In those same studies, men are shown to lead with business. They are more likely to start by asking someone about their profession, and what they’re hoping to accomplish at the event. And then, if they identify common interests they will evaluate the relationship as one to move forward with at that point.

With that in mind, whether you’re networking with a man or woman, one way that you can master networking very quickly is to let other people lead the conversation just long enough to understand which angle they’re coming from. If the person in front of you opens with a relationship-forming question (“Have you been involved with this organization long?” “Are you front this area?” “What does your lapel pin mean?”), ask a relationship-forming question back, If the person opens with a business-type question (“So, what do you do?” “What brings you to this conference?” “How do you define success?”), ask a business-oriented question back. You will be starting the conversation with the focus where it should be: on the person with whom you’re starting to connect.

Essentially, by deciding which of the two approaches a new acquaintance takes, you can actually control the conversational outcomes much better, and ultimately, make stronger connections that make networking more worthwhile.

Read more about Joelle’s views on networking in Oprah Magazine. For more resources on effective networking and other leadership coaching materials, see Joelle’s recent books and articles.

How To Stop The Busy-Ness

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Do you ever feel exhausted by all the things you have to do? Being busy “doing” burns us out, it scatters our brains, and ultimately it keeps us from being productive because we are simply too exhausted to focus.

An alternative to “doing” is to practice “not doing.” Practicing not doing is about stopping the busy-ness – putting it down, taking a break, getting focused and choosing a new path.

Let’s examine the art of not doing one piece at a time.

What does it mean to stop? Imagine you are in the middle of a busy day – you have your to-do list, your meetings, your calendar, your email – so many things to do, so many pressures, and you know you’re never going to get it all done. Imagine if, just for the moment, you closed up shop, and walked away. What does it look like for you? Maybe it’s simply walking into another room and sitting quietly for a moment.

The first step is to break the connection and stop doing, even if just for a moment, so you can get some perspective.

The second step is to get focused. Getting focused means remembering the single-most important thing you should be doing. What’s essential? Asking yourself what your priority is will help you quiet the demands on your time, both internal and external, and focus on the one thing that matters most to you.

So now you’ve stopped the busy-ness, you’ve gotten focused again – now you can move forward to the third step – moving forward. Moving forward means clearing the desk and getting out a fresh sheet of paper, with a fresh mindset to match, and redefining how you use your time.

With this strategy you’ll find that a lot of things that were taking your time share, and mind share, before will fall away – because now you are focused on the number one most important thing.

When you practice not doing, you can breathe again. You can focus on your most important goals and you can finally stop the busy-ness. You’ll feel re-energized, you’ll feel excited again and you’ll be more effective than ever. All it takes is three steps: Stop the doing, get focused and move forward. 

For more ways to improve your personal leadership and gain more control over your time and productivity, see Joelle’s book: The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership.

Why You Need To Stop Over-apologizing In The Workplace

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  • “I’m sorry I’m late!” 
  • “I’m so sorry to ask you for this.”
  • “I’m sorry I’m not as prepared as I would like to be.”

How many times have you started a sentence with an apology?

For some people, it’s multiple times a day – often without even noticing. Unconsciously, those of us who over-apologize can be weakening our power. Becoming more aware of what for many has simply become a habit can help them gain a more influential communication style, a stronger executive presence, and more respect from the people around us.

Now, let’s acknowledge that a sincere apology holds a special place in our relationships. And even the off-handed “so sorry” (“Sorry to interrupt – I know you’re busy!”) is often merely intended to be polite and kind. But it doesn’t always work in a business setting.

Often I will hear a leader says something like this to a team member:

“I am so sorry to ask you this, but we really need someone to take on this project, and it’s a big one. It might be kind of a challenge, but we really need to impress this client.”

The intent of the leader here may be to connect personally. The leader means, “I know you weren’t expecting this, but I trust you, and you’re the best person for this job.” But the impact may not be what s/he wanted professionally. The team member hears, “She’s apologizing; she doesn’t feel strongly about this and in fact may feel guilty. I’m going to push back on this.” In a business setting, apologizing as a form of communication can come across differently than it may between friends.

Believe it or not, through no intention of your own, starting an ask with an apology may sound insecure, not very convincing, and even a little whiny, and ultimately you’re not going to get the “yes” you’re looking for.

There are three elements of that communication style that are a problem.

  1. The apology itself. In a business setting, “I’m sorry” can immediately put you into a smaller role, suggesting you have done something wrong that you have to apologize for. More often than not, you do not have anything to apologize for, so choose another approach. Raise your awareness of the overuse of the phrase even for one day and you’ll feel the difference!
  2. The explanation. Whatever follows an unnecessary apology invariably is diminished by the apology itself. “I’m sorry, I really would have liked to get this into better shape for you before sharing it” emphasizes that what you’re delivering isn’t very good. Try owning the deliverable just as it is, knowing that it – and you – are fine and valuable as is.
  3. The implication. Between the apology and the explanation lies one more problem: the emotional tone. When you apologize unnecessarily, others get the sense that you think they feel bad, and/or that you feel bad, and so the feeling is…bad.

Let’s see what happens if we rephrase the apology above, ridding ourselves of this apologetic baggage. How about if instead of saying this:

“I am so sorry to ask you this, but we really need someone to take on this project, and it’s a big one. It might be kind of a challenge, but we really need to impress this client.”

…our team leader instead said this?

“Would you please lead our next project? We really need to impress our client, and you have the right skills and talent to do is.”

Now s/he is asking directly, with courage and self-confidence, for something of importance from someone she respects. The apology is gone, the explanation is clear, and the implication is that the leader expects the best – a delivery that leaves the leader and the team member feeling powerful and ready to succeed.

Again, please don’t misunderstand me – many a sincere apology has healed a relationship and righted a wrong, and it should be a valuable communication tool in the right setting. Just save those apologies for when you need them.

In the meantime, without the unconscious or unnecessary apologies…you’ll be communicating like the leader you are.For more ways to improve your power as a leader, and create new advantages for yourself and your company, see Joelle’s book: The New Advantage.

Email Hacks You Can Master In Minutes

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Have you ever sent an email and not gotten the response you wanted? Maybe you got a negative response – something you intend to have happened. Or maybe you got no response at all. Sometimes when we communicate via email, the intent we have doesn’t match the impact we make.

There are a few simple things that you can use to make your email communication more effective – it’s all about keeping things concise.

One problem with email is that sometimes they are simply too long. If your messages go on line after line, paragraph after paragraph, almost as if someone’s reading a novel, for many people that’s too long. Your email may be perfectly crafted, have a very urgent message and be perfect for you, but if the person at the other end doesn’t read it, it does you no good at all.

Instead, try these email formatting hacks:

  • Communicate in bullet points.
  • Use bold.
  • Make your email succinct – 5 to 10 lines is perfect.

So what if you did those things, but you ran into the problem mentioned above: you sent a succinct, simple email, and for some reason you’ve created bad feelings and the sender responded negatively. This might be because your email’s actually too short – you didn’t say enough. So even though you feel you’ve made an effective use of time with a very brief email, the other person received it as a “barking order” or they weren’t really clear on what you meant. Perhaps you got a response that was incomplete, or you didn’t get a response to your email at all.

Here is a simple formula I learned from my good friend and productivity expert, Meggin McIntosh, the Ph.D. of Productivity, that you can use anytime you write an email to help you be effective in your communication. It’s called:

  • Know
  • Do
  • Feel

In a few simple lines, communicate to the person that the other end what you want them to know, what you want them to do and what you want them to feel. If you communicate in every email, what you want them to know, do and feel in roughly 5-10 lines with clear formatting, you will get the answers you are looking for, and will solve the problem of ineffective email communication.

For more communication tips and personal leadership strategies, see Joelle’s books: The Inner Edge and The New Advantage: How Women In Business Can Create Win-Wins For Their Companies And Themselves.

The Art of Uni-Tasking, And Why You Need to Master It This Year

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As an executive coach, I often work within large corporate settings, where there are lots of busy people trying to get a lot of things done. I know you know how that feels – the endless meetings and email chains, the list of “to-do’s” that seem to multiply faster than you can keep up with.

In those settings, people will often say that the key to their success is about multitasking. You may think the same thing – I am here to tell you that multitasking is a myth.

Multitasking can be destructive, negatively affecting your time, focus, and even your brain.

Do you know it takes you 25 minutes to get back to the task after you have left it?

Research shows if you concentrate on one thing at a time, your productivity goes up 500%. Can you imagine how much time you save if you can do anything 500% faster? That’s what is available to you if you’re able to see one task through to the finish.

Imagine how hard it is to focus if you are constantly shifting from task to task. It’s much more effective to do what I call “uni-tasking.” Simply do one thing at a time, and do it well.

Ask yourself: When was the last time you took a task off of your plate by tackling it from start to finish in one sitting? What was the sense of accomplishment you felt when you did that, and how did it compare to the feeling of multitasking? It takes focus, it takes concentration, but you can do one thing at a time, you’ll be able to get more done in less time.

For more ways to boost your productivity and create a win-win for yourself, and your company, see Joelle’s book: The New Advantage.