29 October 2018
Last summer my husband and I spent a week at a Dude Ranch in Colorado. As we prepared for this vacation, I expected to participate in new and different outdoor activities. Little did I know that during this week of adventure, I would learn important lessons about leadership.
We decided to experience white water rafting in a nearby river. What we didn’t realize was that the river was running wildly as the snow was quickly melting from the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Prior to our departure, we were given a tutorial in safety measures, and we were told to follow our guide’s instructions. We then climbed into the raft and started our journey.
While the water was indeed running fast, the early experience was quite enjoyable as the water was easy to navigate. I thought to myself, “Not bad… I can handle this.”
The guide then pulled our raft over to shore and became very serious. She shared we were about to hit some very rough rapids. She gave specific instructions on how to traverse the rocky waters. She was emphatic that to ensure our well-being, we were to follow her instructions precisely and to function well as a team.
We didn’t realize we were heading for a level four rapid.
As we approached the rocky waters, my anxiety grew. We started down the rapid and while our raft felt incredibly unsafe, we did not capsize as did other rafts within site. However, an elderly man from our raft had gone overboard. The man’s son was rightfully frantic as he feared for his father’s safety.
Yet in the midst of this “storm,” the guide stayed focused on her game plan. She provided clear instructions to the team. She shared that her first priority was to get eight people safely to dry land and that she would ensure the elderly man would be rescued.
Preparation, focus and adaptation
This experience reinforced to me the leader’s role in navigating an organization through white water down cycles that are inevitable within any business.
Like the guide, a great leader coaches the team comfortably through the good times and anticipates rocky waters before they are encountered. A great leader prepares followers by teaching them to adhere to guidance and to execute flawless teamwork. A great leader remains focused on the game plan but makes “in the moment” adaptations when circumstances change. And, a great leader looks out for the interest of the greater good while also showing extraordinary respect for every stakeholder.
I learned about leadership from that rafting experience last summer. From the white waters of a Colorado river to the C-suite or boardroom, the leader’s anticipation, team preparation, focus and adaptation are all required to ensure sustainable organizational success in the midst of difficult times.
And yes, the elderly gentleman was safely reunited with his son and quickly traded his seat in the raft for a welcomed glass of wine.
14 October 2018
Since Gracious Leadership was released in late January, I have been extraordinarily humbled at the overwhelming response this book’s message is receiving. Within my blog posts and public presentations, I talk openly about the need for leaders of all types of organizations to be fully respectful as they seek to guide their teams to peak performance.
Respectful leadership “should” be for one and for all. What a novel concept that ought to be readily embraced!
However, in reality, this concept is not novel; it’s just not consistently applied and as such, has become grossly underrepresented as the obnoxious noise of toxic leadership strives to dilute the harmony of respect so desperately needed across our nation.
We must do better than this!
Certainly, there is no better time than now for advocates of fully respectful leadership to stand up and be counted.
Respect for one and for all does not pertain solely to showing respect to others. It also means that we must take a stand to respect ourselves. That means that we need to become our own best advocates.
Within Gracious Leadership, I included a chapter entitled “Gracious Leaders are Courageous” with a section of the chapter challenging readers to find the courage to advocate for themselves.
Women especially tend to be excellent in advocating on behalf of other people. However, when opportunities present for females to ask for stretch assignments or advancement, we often will opt to become more reserved… and we shrink into the comfort zones of our current roles. It’s no wonder that as a society, we still have not made adequate progress in having a representative number of women leaders in the C-Suites and in our Board Rooms.
Why are we so bashful about advocating for ourselves?
When I was a young executive, I decided to ask my CEO for a title change so the nomenclature of my role and the magnitude of the work would be better correlated. After giving my request some thought, the CEO said, “Yes.”
Was this title change important to a 28-year-old young executive? You better believe it was. And it became even more important 20 years later when I again garnered the courage to advocate for myself. I asked for the opportunity to lead a hospital without having had one single day of hospital operational experience. Thankfully, the answer I received was “Yes.” And this particular “Yes” allowed me the joy of experiencing the nine most gratifying years of my professional life to date.
As I make presentations and challenge my audiences to find the courage to advocate for themselves, I always share that if they are already trusted, proven performers, the probability of getting a “Yes” when asking for opportunities should be increased. However, I also caution participants to understand that just because they are already trusted, proven performers does not necessarily mean they will automatically be offered those coveted advancements. Sometimes you just have to ask!!
Since releasing Gracious Leadership, I have been delighted to hear from several individuals who, after reading the book or hearing this advice, have taken the risk to raise their hands and ask for advancements. For those who have shared with me their progress in finding the courage to advocate for themselves, they’re batting a thousand!
To maximize the respect you show to others, it’s critically important that you first show respect for yourself. So whether you are aspiring to secure a promotion or if you find yourself in the horrific position of being subjected to inappropriate sexual overtures, I encourage you to respect yourself without hesitation by garnering the courage to find your voice and let it be heard in your own way. In so doing, you can become your own best advocate.
Fully respectful leadership starts with YOU. Respect yourself first so you then can lead others like you’ve never led before.
I can’t wait to hear your stories about how you are finding the courage to advocate for yourself and elevating your voice to make your self-advocacy real! I encourage you to begin this journey today!
11 September 2018
After racking my brain about the best birthday gift for my husband, I placed orders for travel clothing from two competing companies. I chose expedited shipping to assure the items would be received before his birthday.
The order from Company A arrived according to plan. The order from Company B was like a customer service train wreck.
While Company B sent an order confirmation stating all items were available, several days later they sent a separate communique that two of the items had shipped, and the other three items were on backorder. When the package appeared to be missing in action, I checked the tracking status and learned the expected delivery would be two days AFTER my husband’s birthday.
Upon calling the company to inquire about the problem, the Customer Service Representative acknowledged the catalogue’s expedited shipping verbiage was a “misrepresentation”. She shared she had encouraged the “catalogue people” on multiple occasions to change the language, but they had not done so.
The saga continues….
The day following my husband’s birthday, I received yet another notice that one of the items would not arrive for another week.
And the story gets even better….
When I called a second time to talk with Customer Service, I learned that one of the remaining items was no longer available and another was on backorder for two months!
While Company B refunded the expedited shipping charge, it was at this point I decided to conduct a little test. I thanked the Customer Service Representative for her assistance and shared I knew she was trying to help with a problem she did not create.
I decided to push a bit more…
I shared I had also ordered birthday items from their competitor and all their items had arrived on time as promised. I expressed my experience with other companies that, when falling short of expectations for any reason, would take action to “make it right”.
The Customer Service Representative put me on hold to confer with her supervisor. She quickly returned and shared there was nothing else they could do.
And so I thanked her kindly for trying, I sincerely wished her a great weekend, and I concluded by politely stating that we would not order from them again.
Company B missed its moment in the sun as the culture of the company obviously does not view problems as opportunities to serve. And as a result, they lost a customer.
Within the book How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, Peter LeBoeuf shares that when you respond promptly and proactively to customers who complain, they are highly likely to be even more loyal than if the problem had not occurred.
I have certainly found this approach to be true. The power of a prompt and sincere apology for disappointment incurred coupled with a commitment to improve have been very effective in customer retention and in reducing organizational risk exposure.
Company B could have taken some easy steps to “make it right”. They didn’t express remorse for creating disappointment on my husband’s special day. I suspect we are not the only customers experiencing disappointment from their poor service as they overpromise and underdeliver.
As a leader, what will you do to assure that disappointed customers receive prompt and sincere care, attention and resolution? Just remember that problems actually are opportunities to serve, and disappointed customers present a huge opportunity to be transformed into loyal patrons.
And oh, by the way, we’re still waiting on that final item to arrive from Company B!
For more information, please see the chapter entitled “Gracious Leaders See Problems as Opportunities” within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.
20 August 2018
The podcast entitled “Making the Rounds and Gracious Leadership” is available via:
Part of our conversation in the podcast relates to the topic of rounding and how effective leadership listening can contribute to highly engaged teams.
While the word “rounding” has traditionally been utilized within the hospital and health system space, I have found that the use of “strategic rounding” processes can yield a high return within industries and organizations of all types.
Throughout my career I have employed a broad perspective about “rounding” and the positive impact it can have upon corporate culture. In my opinion, rounding represents any opportunity to build trusting relationships through providing a transparent means for open and honest, two-way communications.
In short, rounding is one of the best ways that leaders can seek feedback from their most important organizational asset: their people. When leaders make listening to key stakeholders a top priority, the likelihood of realizing peak performance can be optimized because employees who follow these “listening leaders” are more likely to feel valued, appreciated and respected. Leadership listening can be the catalyst that results in real-time relationships of trust between management and the front line.
To get a firsthand view of your organization’s corporate culture, unannounced rounding provides a great opportunity to meet employees where they are and to ask them important, open-ended questions. Of course, the goal should be to obtain employees’ unfiltered feedback regarding their work environment, customer satisfaction or any other hot topic that might be on their minds.
I believe the most effective leaders who drive sustainable success understand that one of their most important leadership responsibilities is to listen with purpose and to respond with care. Purposeful leadership listening is so important that I dedicated several chapters to this important topic within Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.
Within the chapters entitled “Gracious Leaders Listen with Purpose and Respond with Care” and “Gracious Leaders Seek Feedback”, I introduced the concept of Three Powerful Questions that can be used whether you are involved in unannounced rounding or if you’re hosting employee town hall meetings or other systematic listening venues. I encourage you to take note of these three simple, yet profound questions and begin to incorporate them into your ongoing rounding and other listening processes.
- What one thing should we change to make our customers’ experiences better?
- What one thing should we change to make your work life better?
- Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
Time and time again, throughout my career I have been amazed at the unvarnished truth that employees are eager to share. Frontline employees are the people who have the best view of how an organization is living its values (or not!). They’re just waiting for someone to ask them with sincerity and with a commitment to honor thoughtful feedback that is shared.
Whether your rounding is occurring through what has traditionally been called MBWA (Management by Walking Around) or if you’re hosting a series of stakeholder input sessions in Town Hall Meetings, just remember that the individuals who will feel the best about conversations once they are over are likely to be those individuals who did the most talking!
To build real-time relationships of trust with your employees, start today by asking the Three Powerful Questions and then open your ears and your hearts to hear with purpose the feedback that your team just can’t wait to share.
26 July 2018
Several months ago, I attended an event to celebrate the professional excellence of Central Ohio executives. When I entered the sparsely lit, underground garage, I decided to be strategic about where I would park to avoid congested traffic following the event. I spotted the perfect space… one that might save a few minutes at the end of a very long day.
Before I backed my car into the coveted spot, I assessed my surroundings, mentally gave myself the “all clear” sign and proceeded to park. Suddenly I was startled by a loud bang.
My heart raced, I put the car into park and I exited the vehicle to evaluate the situation. I thought I had been cautious in looking out for potential hazards. However, I had backed into a massive, concrete post that blended with adjacent surroundings and wasn’t visible within my vehicle’s blind spot. Because I had failed to expect the unexpected, the unscathed post won as evidenced by the significant cost incurred to repair my SUV.
This experience provided an excellent opportunity to ponder different types of blind spots within business and how they can cause a collision course within our careers.
It is estimated that 30 percent of executives are toxic leaders. They have blind spots. They don’t see that their negative leadership styles prevent their teams from optimizing organizational performance. Other leaders have communication blind spots that directly correlate with a poor ROI on their human capital. Regrettably, the list of leadership blind spots is vast.
Clear eyes for making deals
High-cost blind spots can exist when executives are engaged within M&A activities. I recall a time when our corporation was involved in an opportunity for market share gain. The development officers were “over the top” excited about the high-value possibilities expected from this deal. As is often the case with M&A, time was tight with pressing deadlines, the multiple contracts were complex, and in this instance, the work of the proposed entity represented uncharted waters for our company.
When the deal was done, celebrations ensued, and, within a matter of months, the new business enterprise began to falter. Our multi-disciplinary team had reviewed the proposed contractual language for proper business terms. Amid our haste and naïveté, however, we didn’t slow down long enough to ask ourselves a vital M&A question: “What language needs to be in the contract that is currently missing?”
Our blind spot of failing to expect the unexpected contributed to a bad business outcome.
Be purposeful; learn from the past
As you find yourself in the adrenaline rush of M&A activities, I encourage you to be on the alert for blind spots. Be purposeful in expecting the unexpected. Document your experiences from each successive deal and learn from any mistakes. Don’t take for granted any aspect of the transaction and work closely with all team members, not only to review the “ink on paper” of the proposed contracts, but also to include the “must have” business terms and associated language that can position the new business enterprise for success.
19 July 2018
We frequently talk about the need to “pay it forward” in the workplace and in life at large. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to invest our time, talents and (hopefully) our wisdom into our mentees so they can seek to become all they were created to be.
In addition to paying it forward, have you ever considered the importance of reaching back and expressing your gratitude to those who invested in “your” growth and development?
I recently was meeting with a mentee, and we had a delightful conversation regarding her career aspirations and strategy for her advancement. After we talked about her professional roadmap, she shared she recently had an opportunity to thank her mother for the sacrifices she had made as she supported her daughter’s growth and development.
This conversation made me long to turn back the hands of time and talk once more with my parents, both of whom are deceased. To my mother, I would thank her for being a role model of kindness, encouragement and compassion. To my father who was an attorney, if only I could find a way to see him try a case in court. And, I would ask him to share all he experienced as he advocated for Equal Rights at the pinnacle of racial unrest in Mississippi in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Regrettably, my father passed away before I had a full understanding of the courage he displayed as he assumed a high profile, high-risk role in advocating for respect for all people without regard to their ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.
Because of the lessons I learned from my parents, I seized the opportunity to honor them by dedicating Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before to their memory. Clearly, they were incredible role models of several of the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership.
Writing Gracious Leadership also afforded me an opportunity to reflect upon the impact of other mentors who shaped me into the leader I have become. As I reflected upon all I had gleaned, I reminisced about four individuals in particular who had a pivotal impact upon my professional journey. And, I decided to honor them by sharing within my book the profound impact they each had upon my career.
As I contacted these individuals to describe my intent, each leader displayed abundant humility as they learned what I wanted to share. It gave me such joy to have the opportunity to thank them for believing in my potential and for taking a chance on me as I traversed the professional pathways I was meant to follow.
As a leader, I am confident you will pay it forward as you seek to help your mentees realize their full potential. While we can all readily agree that life and work are busy, and there are never enough hours in any day, I challenge you to be purposeful in reaching back and thanking those very special individuals who believed in you and who inspired you to be all you were created to be! Start reaching back today! You’ll be so glad that you did!
24 June 2018
I recently received a message on LinkedIn from a woman who had attended one of my book launch presentations. This professional was hosting a Round Table Discussion, and all the participants were reading Gracious Leadership in anticipation of a group conversation regarding this time-critical topic.
The woman was specifically writing to share that she was making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake to serve at the Round Table, and she was having difficulty getting the icing to be thick enough.
I smiled to myself as I read her message. You see, I had experienced the same frustration many times throughout the years as I tried to master both the science and the art of making a Caramel Cake. It’s really tricky to get the icing “just right.”
Now, you may ask yourself, “What in the world does making a Caramel Cake have to do with Gracious Leadership?” The answer is actually quite simple.
Making “this” particular Caramel Cake definitely requires all the key ingredients as specified within the recipe, but it also calls for the “art part” … meaning the right amount of patience, persistence, perseverance and, yes, even a little bit of love!
Becoming a Gracious Leader and building a healthy, high-performance work culture are like making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake. Simply put, neither aspiration is easy.
As with any recipe, all 13 Key Ingredients are required to become a Gracious Leader. Not even one ingredient can be omitted, and no shortcuts are allowed. This, my friends, is the science of Gracious Leadership.
As a Gracious Leader, to guide your team to peak performance, you will need to be purposeful in building and maintaining a healthy work culture, one in which your team is empowered to soar to new heights while achieving the right results. So, in addition to teaching your followers the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership, you will also need to add your own version of the “art part” … the right amount of patience, persistence, perseverance, and love that are emblematic of your personal leadership style.
Whether you’re making a Hattie Bell Caramel Cake or you’re well on your way to become a fully respectful leader who inspires a healthy corporate culture, when you get it right, you will absolutely know it!
Just as this woman reached out to me, I hope to hear from you, too, as you aspire to become a Gracious Leader. If you have not yet begun this journey, please start today, and together let’s lead like we’ve never led before.
Hattie Bell's Caramel Cake
- 1 cup butter
- 5 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3.5 cups sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 pound butter
- 2 tbsp white Karo
- 1/2 cup Cremora
- 1 tsp vanilla
For the Cake
Cream butter, add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add whole eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla to milk. Sift flour and baking powder. Add part of flour mixture, add milk and then remaining flour and beat until smooth. Pour batter into three greased and lightly floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake 30 minutes in preheated 375-degree oven.
For the Icing
Mix sugar, Cremora, Karo, and milk in a large pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar that has been browned, cooking until it forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. Add butter and vanilla and cook until butter dissolves. Beat until icing is right for spreading between layers, then beat until creamy for icing the remainder of the cake.
I have passed along Hattie Bell's Caramel Cake recipe exactly as it was written in the New Hope Baptist Church Cook Book. This collection of favorite recipes was published to honor the American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976.
I will add a few clarifications. These steps represent the "art part."
- Be sure not to overcook the cake so that it will not be dry.
- Cook the icing in a 5 quart, non-stick pot. Use powdered Cremora. In addition to the 3 1/2 cups of sugar required in the recipe, brown 1/2 cup of sugar in a small, non-stick skillet during the time that the sugar, milk, Karo, and Cremora are cooking.
- I use a candy thermometer and cook the icing to 236-237 degrees, still applying the soft ball text that is required in the recipe.
- After adding the butter and vanilla to the icing, I beat the icing with a mixer until it reaches the right consistency to spread between the layers. I then beat the icing by hand until it reaches a creamy consistency that is right for icing the remainder of the cake.
- Remember that no shortcuts are allowed. Always use patience, persistence, perseverance, and love to get the icing "just right."
25 May 2018
My husband and I were recently checking out a new Mexican restaurant in our hometown. Although the establishment had only been open for a few days, upon our arrival we found a “full house” with a waiting list which, from our perspective, is typically a sign of great food and wonderful service.
We were not disappointed.
The environment was festive and fun, and the food was very good. This pleasant experience made us immediately plan our next visit. In short, it was a great evening.
When we asked for our bill, the server smiled and said that our check had already been settled as a couple who had been sitting nearby had paid for our meal before their departure. What a nice surprise that brought immediate smiles to our faces! We asked the server who they were, and we wondered if perhaps we had worked with them at our prior places of employment. The server did not know them. He simply described them as a nice, young couple who, for whatever reason, wanted to pay for our dinner.
As I thought about this random act of kindness, I was reminded of all the good that resides within the overwhelming majority of humankind. Every day we primarily hear what is wrong with our world. Just imagine how amazing it would be if we would focus more on all the good that is being done to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
This unexpected act of kindness also took me back to 1982 when, in the midst of a personal healthcare crisis, hospital employees I did not know showered me with their seemingly small acts of kindness. They not only met my clinical needs; they also cared for me as a whole person. In so doing, they changed my life forever as I soon would enter the healthcare space as my professional calling.
Like the young couple at the restaurant, such employees are role models for what is right in our world. I had the pleasure of working for many years with ordinary people who were sharing extraordinary acts of kindness with people they did not know. From two housekeepers who bought clothes for a homeless patient to a nurse who came in on his day off to FaceTime with a patient whose husband had died and who was too ill to attend his funeral…. Everyday employees were making a positive difference with long lasting impact.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to reinforce all that is right in the workplace. Research has shown that organizations whose leaders spend more time reinforcing great work will function at a higher level than corporations whose leaders spend a disproportionate amount of their time on poor performers. Let me be crystal clear. Effective leaders must deal with poor performers. However, they find a way to devote most of their time reinforcing and building upon the results achieved by their best employees. Within Gracious Leadership, I share more on this topic and include tips that leaders can easily put into place to create and sustain an environment of accountability, gratitude and peak performance.
Yes, someone bought our dinner last week… someone we did not know and whose path we will not likely cross again. At the end of the day, the kindness of this young couple is not to be measured by the value of the meal they generously and unexpectedly provided to us. Their random act of kindness is symbolic of all that’s right with our world. It’s also a small example of the goodness they no doubt hold within their hearts as they seek to make a positive difference.
What will you do to reinforce all that is right in your workplace? How will you help your employees understand the power they hold through seemingly small acts of kindness that can mean the world to your customers? What will you do to address any poor performers so you will have more time to reinforce and support your very best team members? Please join me in finding what’s right in the workplace… starting today!
30 April 2018
Forty years ago this month, I completed my academic studies in finance at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was an important part of my family’s traditions, and I treasure fond memories from my time in Oxford. From playing Division 1 basketball to serving in leadership positions within various campus organizations, I am grateful for the opportunity to have received a “well-rounded” education as I experienced formal academic training and also learned a lot about life in general.
Earlier this year I was invited back to my alma mater to lecture in several classes regarding the importance of gracious leadership.
As I contemplated the guidance I might offer the bright-eyed students of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute for Public Policy, several important messages from the school of life took center stage.
Passion, respect and authenticity
First, because these students are deciding what to do with the rest of their lives, I encouraged them to do what they love and love what they do. In every aspect of life, matching the passion of the person with the purpose of the work can yield great joy as opposed to viewing work as “just a job.”
I encouraged these future leaders to get involved in causes they care about and to speak up with confidence about issues they believe are important. I urged them to ask for stretch assignments, so they can broaden their skills while enriching their learning opportunities. And I cautioned them not to fear failure as learning from mistakes is an important part of life and work.
Because these students aspire to serve as future leaders within organizations of all types, I encouraged them to appreciate the value brought forth by “all” members of their teams, regardless of titles or positions. This basic respect is mission-critical as leaders seek to maximize the ROI of their most precious asset — their people.
I coached them to listen more than they talk. Great leaders know that while those who talk the most in conversations may feel better about the discussions when concluded, the individuals who listen the most will likely be more enlightened.
Lastly, I encouraged these students to remain true to who they are versus what they think someone else expects them to be. I shared with them that henceforth, their full-time homework assignment will be: to become all they were created to be.
Mentor with care
When I reflected upon my time with these students, I was reminded that as leaders in the workplace, we also serve as faculty in the school of life.
It is our responsibility to be purposeful in teaching our followers important lessons about both work and life at large. As leaders, we are accountable for helping our employees understand not only “what” they are to lead, but also that “how” they lead is of equivalent importance.
Please remember that the school of life is in session every day, and the lessons your employees learn in the workplace will transcend all aspects of life.
20 April 2018
As I was writing Gracious Leadership, my aspiration was to create and share a timeless message of fully respectful leadership that would impact the leaders of today as well as future generations of leaders.
It is within this dream of teaching our future leaders “how” to lead that I humbly share the following book review of Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, written by Heather Hubbs, an Administrative Fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
I offer my sincere gratitude to Leadership Development Expert Peter Giammalvo, PhD, who shared Gracious Leadership with Heather. Peter recommends that leaders and managers at all career levels within healthcare read this important message about the strategic imperative for fully respectful leadership.
Thank you for your commitment to become a gracious leader.
Janet Smith Meeks