planning

The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Your Search for calm

planningIt happened for the second time. I arrived to speak at the conference workshop and realized that I left the mail-back cards and envelopes at home…again. (Yes, I have a packing checklist; yes, I used the checklist; yes, I still overlooked it.) That feeling of panic hits. The mail-back cards are an added feature for attendees. They write their key points on the card, seal it in an envelope, self-address it and I mail it to them 30-days later as a reminder. In this case, the cards were part of the agreement with the client; hence, panic.

In my study of neuroscience, I’ve come to understand that an alarmed brain can derail, well, almost anything.  When we get alarmed, even at a low level, it impairs the thoughtful part of the brain just when you need it most. I learned (the hard way) the importance of a) staying calm and b) finding a work-around, believing that there’s bound to be a way to solve the problem.

Stay calm. My mind raced, “Oh no! I’ll have to drive two hours back home to get the mail-back cards. I need that time to prepare, but the cards are part of the contracted program. I NEED those cards! What will I do?” Have you ever had your mind run away with you shouting, “Oh no! What will I do?” It’s natural. The brain perceives a threat (in this case I perceived impending failure) and it sends off alarms. Your skill is to recognize the feeling of alarm for what it is: your brain feeling threatened. The brain is super-sensitive to threats so it isn’t the best at discerning real from fake threats. You must slow down enough to intervene, take some deep breaths, and not give in to the “Oh no!”

Work-arounds. My friend is a retired association executive director who ran, over the course of a 30-year career, hundreds of conferences and trade shows. There’s always a glitch – always. He taught me that there is also always a work-around. He’s right (and I put that in writing). You just have to keep your head in the game (see Stay Calm) and be a bit creative. Staying calm is essential but not enough.  You must believe that there’s another way and look for it…really look for it.  In the mail-back card example, after I calmed down and realized that the cards really weren’t here, the search for a work-around began.  There was bound to be a business office with a printer and paper cutter. There was and the young man staffing it was very helpful. New cards were printed (but without the photo on the back) but still no envelopes.  The young man suggested the CVS – right-o! They had envelopes but not the correct size. This is where done is better than perfect. I got the envelopes, explained the story to the participants and instructed them to exercise mental flexibility and fit the card into the envelop any way they could!  And they did.

As it turned out, there was a glitch at the session and there was no projector or screen for my presentation, and it’s a highly visual program. Ok…stay calm; find the work-around. Two flip charts, colored markers and creative sketching later, we did the program without any AV. And, the attendees learned both the content and the power of work-arounds.

The next time something doesn’t go right, remember: Stay calm. Find the work-around. It’s there; it just takes a calm head to find it.



Stay calmIt’s going to be a tough meeting. The topic is controversial and you feel strongly about the outcome.  Plus, there’s a person in the meeting who routinely unnerves you. It’s the kind of situation that could easily cause you to over-react and not behave at your best.  If you let the situation get the best of you, you are unlikely to achieve the outcome that you wish. What steps can you take to resource yourself to remain calm and in control of your emotions?

Recognize the Situation in Advance.  To manage yourself in situations that are challenging, it helps to know in advance when you will be in that situation.  It’s not that hard to do as triggering events are repeatable.  Think about it. Who regularly gets on your nerves at work? What situations annoy you every time? Maybe it’s when people show up unprepared despite your efforts to provide materials in advance. Or those people who just don’t care and you do. The more you can identify the types of situations and the people that knock you off center the more likely you can prepare in advance.

Make a Plan. Before the meeting, take a break to clear your thinking and make a plan.

Understand your Communication Style. What is your natural communication style: direct, engaging, hands-off? Consider the people in the meeting. How do they typically communicate and will they react constructively to your style? How will you adapt your approach to enable them to be at their best?

Prime Yourself. Priming is a technique where you feed your brain positive information so that it is in that mindset. Because of the mind/body connection, priming the brain results in subtle but powerful shifts in behavior. For example, before the big meeting you choose the story to tell your brain. “I dread this meeting. Brian is always so difficult in meetings and I’m concerned that the meeting won’t go the way I want.”  Or, “This will be a good meeting. I’m capable of managing my reactions and I’ll exhibit calm strength if others over-react. And, we’ll accomplish our objectives.” Priming with the second option is much more likely to yield the outcome you wish.

Use If/Then Planning. Consider examples of how the meeting could unfold and the actions you’ll take to manage any problems.  Examples could be: If Brian starts interrupting everyone and dominating the meeting, then I will calmly ask that he allow others to offer their ideas. If Brian takes the meeting off-track, then I will restate the objective and re-focus the discussion. If the discussion begins to go in a direction with which I don’t agree, then I will make an effort to be open to new ideas and objectively consider the best option.

Work the plan. You’ve primed yourself with positive information and you have a plan. Now, pay attention to yourself and others to stick with your plan. Notice your level of agitation. Is Brian getting to you? If so, notice your tension and consciously think about slowing your breathing; relax your jaw. These simple techniques help to rebalance the nervous system.  Also, attend to the level of agitation in others. Intervene if you notice someone getting anxious. Listen to and validate their comment and redirect the discussion so that the agitated person has a chance to settle their nervous system. Summarize the discussion frequently to make progress.

With a little preparation, you can transform a damaging situation into a productive one and you remain calm instead of becoming testy. Testy helps no one; calm helps everyone.



Remember back in early March, when every single decision and idea we had was met with fear and doubt, because none of us knew for certain what to expect, or how bad things were going to get? Now, after several months of settling in to so many “new normals,” perhaps it’s time to reflect on what we learned and give consideration to what strategies worked best for us in the face of adversity.

I’m fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time on the water.  While COVID-19 may have been my first time ever in a pandemic, it was not the first time I’ve been tossed around by a violent storm and lived to tell about it – I mean this figuratively and literally. The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions. Here are four important things I learned…

It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, or exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Have you been able to weather the storms that hit you both professionally and personally, this year? What about your finances or your relationships? The good news is, bad storms can give us perspective. They help us to see what really matters and they force us to make better decisions.

Next time you’re dealing with the raging winds and powerful waves of the storms surrounding your business or your personal life, keep these four anchors in mind!

Use This Checklist to Evaluate Your Program! (agency)

Trust is the currency of public agencies. You need trust to work effectively with elected leaders, to successfully argue for your agency’s funding, and to build relationships with citizens who pass judgment on your performance. While it is essential to have technically proficient staff and technically sound recommendations, it is equally or even more important to have staff who listen with empathy, speak succinctly and clearly, and make the boss/citizen/politician feel that they “get” them. These are the skills that staff use to create trust. These are the skills that need your professional development investment now.

The current environment foreshadows a future for public agencies with tighter revenue, constrained travel, and stressed staff. When belt-tightening the budget, professional development is often the first line item cut. That’s a really bad idea. Here are ways to effectively make the case to keep those funds in your budget.

  1. Stressed staff don’t create satisfied customers. When uncertainty abounds and resources are constrained, staff can feel stressed while trying to provide essential services to citizens. Stressed staff will not be exceptional public servants. Now more than ever your staff needs to know that you care about them and believe in their professional development.
  2. Listening is calming. Uncertainty activates the threat response in the brain. That’s why you see over-reactive bosses, citizens and elected officials. Listening and empathy sooth the brain’s threat reaction. Powerful interpersonal skills like listening and empathy can be a game-changer when dealing with an agitated community leader. That community leader wants to feel heard and know that staff can put themselves in their shoes.
  3. Technical data needs clear, concise communicators. During this unprecedented time, you want your leaders making decisions using available data. To do that, you need staff who can articulate technically-sound recommendations without sounding condescending or spouting mind-numbing data laced with jargon.
  4. Read between the lines and adapt. There is always a message under the spoken message. To be effective, staff need to see beyond the data and adapt to the unspoken messages. The most technically-sound argument can go down in flames if the staff person doesn’t pick up on subtle clues and adjust immediately.

These points can help you make the case for your professional development funding provided that it grows self-aware, high-functioning communicators. 

If you already have a professional development program, use this checklist to assess how it’s working for you.

✓ Is your professional development program designed specifically to meet your goals with engaging and interactive material?

✓ Does it use science-based content to transform touch-feely interpersonal issues into practical, logical technique?

✓ Does it convert number-crunching engineers into high-functioning communicators who write and speak like pros?

✓ Is the program designed to use neuroscientific learning principles like engagement, experiential learning and reminders to enhance retention?

✓ Is the program designed and conducted by a professional who led an engineering organization rather than someone who just talks about the theory?

✓ Is the training leader technically proficient AND a certified speaking professional™ (CSP) with the skills to maintain participants’ interest through real-life examples rather than a series of lectures with word-filled slides?

✓ Do you see tangible results that lead to practical, real-world applications?

 


 

If you are not getting the results you expect, now’s the time to make changes. There’s too much at stake. A sub-optimal professional development program leads to sub-optimal results. Is that what your citizens expect?

If you don’t currently have a professional development program, look for one with the attributes above because this is what your staff and clients deserve and what today’s environment requires.

Above all, keep the funding in the budget! Invest more now and you’ll be the agency who comes out of this on top.

At Shelley Row Associates we meet all the requirements above and more. Shelley is a professional engineer, former USDOT executive and a Certified Speaking Professional. Here’s what clients have to say about the impact of her custom-designed programs for public agency staff.

“Excellent presenter. Got me to think about a different way to approach how we present materials to the decision makers.”
Jon Fitzkee, Lebanon County Planning Department

“Excellent! Perhaps the best and most valuable presentation I’ve heard in four years of elected office.”
Mary Ann Gill, Woodford County Fiscal Court

 

Talk to Shelley now about your custom professional development program.

Other Resources:

Top Management Skills for Technical Managers: A Ten-Part Webinar Series

The Over-Thinkers’ Guide to Working from Home Effectively

 

Teresa wanted to see the big picture strategy before discussing specifics. Tom wanted general ideas with time to think before deciding. Paul wanted to give orders that were followed to the “T”.

To be successful, each of these bosses blog 100919required a unique approach. The approach that worked for one wouldn’t stand a chance with another. You can save time and frustration by giving serious consideration to the approach, topics and personal agendas of your boss. Here are five areas to study about your boss so that you can be more effective in your job. Let’s face it, a happy boss makes for happier days at work!

Communication style. Save yourself time and headaches by studying your boss’s communication style in advance and adapting your approach.

Their communication styles couldn’t have been more different. Teresa expected me to lay out the big picture, have a clear strategy and logical recommendations for next steps. I learned to be thoughtful, prepared and develop my recommended action plan. And it worked…with her. When I changed jobs, I used this same approach with Tom. It was a miserable failure. After a few flops, I learned the hard way, that he was a tactician who looked no farther than the next move and he needed time to think about each step. He needed to come up with the answer – not me. I learned to present general ideas, brainstorm briefly and walk out the door. In a day or two, he’d come back with his own thoughts about the situation and we’d move forward.

What’s your boss’s communication style:

StrategicTactical
Big picture thinkerWants all the details
Visual learnerAuditory learner
Wants the storyWants the data
Gets down to businessChats first
Quick decision-makerNeeds to ponder
Goal-focusedRelationship-focused

Power position. Your boss’s power position will be a motivator in his behavior and decision-making.

Mariana was a hard-charging Gen Xer intent on making a name for herself. She took uncommon risks on projects that, if successful, would garner attention within the organization and industry. John saw a succession of managers get fired from the position he now held. Not wishing to follow their lead, he was super-duper conservative in his decision-making. He kept a low profile, backed no risky projects, and shied away from controversy. He opted to stay in the middle of the road and to not rock the boat (to mix land and sea metaphors).

What’s your boss’s power position?

RetiringAspiring
On the way upOn the way out
Well-connected internallyIsolated internally
Risk tolerantRisk averse
Promoting him/herselfPromoting the organization
Political aspirationsNo political aspirations
Well-connected externallyIsolated externally

Personal interests. Every boss has personal interests or pet projects. These are areas that hold special passion and where they want to make an impact. It’s helpful to know their area of interest and why it’s an area of interest. Their “why” can range from an intellectual interest to a personal passion based on a traumatic event in their life (such as the death of a friend due to drunk driving).

Patti cared about motorcycles in transportation policy and safety. Jose cared about cyclists. In both cases, we always had a project of some sort that included motorcycles and/or cyclists. Felicia wanted to leave a legacy of safety advancements.

What are your boss’s personal interest areas and why?

Intellectual interestPersonal interest
Mild interestAvid interest
Focused on leaving a legacy in this areaNice to make an impact if feasible
Interest area is central to your missionInterest area is tangential to the mission
Easy to accommodate their interestIt’s a stretch to accommodate their interest

Personalities and background. Your boss’s background can provide clues to working effectively with her.

Mike was a southerner who came from a military background. Consequently, he was the epitome of a southern gentleman who valued respect, protocol and manners. Always soft-spoken and polite, he expected a calm, courteous exchange with gracious acceptance of his final decision. Yvonne was young and proud of her accomplishments. She was successful because she was well-connected. She knew everyone who mattered. In briefings, she wanted to know who would “win” and who would “lose” because of her decision. She needed to understand the political connections within and outside the organization.

What do you know about your boss’s personal history and career background? What experiences will have colored her perspective and how?

Rural upbringingUrban upbringing
Raised in the United StatesRaised outside the United States
Large familyOnly child
Prestigious educational backgroundOther educational background
Work experience in the private sectorWork experience in the public sector
Work experience in associationsWork experience in academia
Extensive leadership experienceLimited leadership experience

Their Headaches and frustrations. What keeps your boss up at night? What are her daily headaches? What phone call does he dread and who is it from?

Bill was the executive director of a professional association. Effective and efficient, his day went downhill when his Board Chair called to discuss “an issue.” To support him, we had to consider the Board’s reception to each topic in advance so that Bill didn’t get “the call.”

Joanne just wanted to stay under the radar – nothing controversial, nothing high profile – just let her do her work quietly without fanfare. She dreaded a call from anyone “up the chain.” She cringed when she was asked a tough question in a senior staff meeting. The trick to working with Joanne was to ensure that all potentially sticky issues were resolved before she engaged. We went forward only with projects where the wrinkles had been ironed out in advance.

John wanted it his way and he didn’t like anyone who got in his way. He didn’t want someone telling him that he couldn’t move forward as planned. He didn’t want to hear about roadblocks or setbacks. Our job was to demolish the roadblocks and find ways to achieve his goals no matter what.

How dialed in are you to your boss’s worries and concerns?

Issues with problematic staffIssues with a tough boss
Problems with internal stakeholdersProblems with external stakeholders
Financial concernsProcess concerns
Lacks trust from othersFeels like an outsider
Struggling to change the cultureStruggling to fit into the culture
Customer complaintsStaff complaints
Dropping salesStaff attrition
Technology disruptionManaging change

Assess your boss using these five areas. See if you can walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes her tick. Now, use that information to adapt your briefing style, the way you approach them for decisions, and the type of interaction you have with them. The more you can work from their perspective, the more effective you are likely to be and with the least amount of stress and frustration. Try it and let me know how it goes!



It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?GettyImages-87990433-590a5aae5f9b58647047e624

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, or exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Have you been hit by a storm? In life, in business, in a relationship?  What about in your finances, or in your relationships? Next time you’re dealing with the raging winds and powerful waves of the storms surrounding your business or your personal life, keep these four anchors in mind!



Is your life hectic? It seems that everyone I talk with laments their frenzied life. Have you ever considered that your customer or client is also frenzied? You can add to their frenzy with uncertainty or create an oasis of calm certainty through proactive communication. Proactive communication is a simple technique that will set you apart because of the calming response of the customer’s brain to certainty. You want your customers to keep an open line of communication with you and feel like they can be heard. That is why a VoIP phone service system can be highly beneficial to businesses as well. You can get more info about this over at Fusionconnect.com.

Before we examine further, understand that uncertainty activates a threat response in the brain. Certainty activates a reward response in the brain. If your customer is stressed, that reward response will feel like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise hectic day. They will remember that good feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to be the source of that feeling for your client? That’s why you want to master proactive communication.

Proactive communication is simply providing useful information to your client in advance of their needing it. Proactive communication gives them certainty about a meeting, a delivery, a job, a deliverable or whatever it is that you provide to them. Take Krissia, for example.

My life is particularly hectic and stressful right now. I plan to sell the house my late husband and I shared for 17 years (he bought this house in 1981). Preparing the house to be on the market has been both stressful and emotional. It feels like a sea of uncertainty and I don’t need more.

To prep the house for the market, I’m having it deep cleaned. The first person I contacted agreed to the cleaning date and scheduled a time to stop by to assess the house. She didn’t show or call. Talk about uncertainty. That’s when Krissia was recommended. After looking at the house, we scheduled the cleaning day. Before I had a chance to worry if she still planned to show up, I received a text from her confirming the date, the arrival time of her crew and the duration of the work. She was ON IT. Yes, it’s simply good customer service but, it feels like more than that. I never felt a flicker of uncertainty. My brain never went into threat response. Her simple and short text was proactive communication that gave me certainty. The same happened with Oscar whose crew cleaned the yard and with Chuck whose company washed the windows. Each proactively communicated with me so I never worried.

It seems so simple and yet…it’s not. I see companies all the time who add to the client’s stress by creating uncertainty.

How well do you and your organization provide proactive communication?

  • Do you confirm meetings in advance (with the location, agenda and objective)?
  • Do you confirm your arrival time for a lunch meeting?
  • Do you confirm the delivery date for the report you’re writing?
  • Do you provide progress reports? (Once upon a time, I worked for a demanding boss who constantly phoned and emailed for project information. We began providing him a short email every Friday with the status of all the projects of interest to him. We gave him certainty. The calls and emails stopped.)
  • Do you confirm order delivery for products or services you provide?
  • Do you confirm late delivery of the order, report, or service? Proactive communication is even more essential when it’s bad news. The customer may not like the news, but your proactive communication demonstrates that you are on top of the situation, that you are monitoring status and that you are interested enough to let them know. All of that is certainty.

Whether Krissia, Oscar or Chuck, none of them knew my world was spinning wildly out of control. In the midst of my whirlwind, their simple proactive communication provided certainty. Certainty activated my reward circuit and provided calm. And I will buy calm from them again. That’s what proactive communication does.

What does proactive communication look like in your organization and how well are you providing it? It could be the very thing to your client needs to feel certain that they like working with you.



It was supposed to be an easy cruise. That’s what they told me.  The  47’ Morris sailboat, sailed the Newport to Bermuda race and finished second in her class. We were part of the crew sailing her back to Newport.  And, it was my first sailing trip. To say that the trip didn’t go as planned is an understatement if there ever was one. We made it back safe and sound because of the quality of the boat and the experience of the crew – except for me. When we left I still didn’t know a jib from a halyard or port from starboard.

The trip, expected to be a little more than three days, took five due to adverse weather. The only thing calm was the crew. The seas were rough almost from the start and became even rougher when we crossed the Gulf Stream. The evening we hit the Gulf Stream, we encountered three 50-knot squalls in quick succession with 10’ to 12’ seas. Due to the rough weather, the boat had a series of issues. The auto pilot stopped working on day one, the engine stopped on day two, during the storm the reef line on the mainsail broke, the halyard on the jib broke, the furler jammed, the tack of the spinnaker let go and, later, the spinnaker artfully wrapped itself around the forestay. During the worst of the storm, lines fell into the water and promptly wound themselves around the propeller shaft. I’m told that none of this is unusual but to have them all happen on one voyage was remarkable. By the time we arrived in Newport, everything I brought to wear was wet. The quick-dry fabric never dried.  Collectively, we smelled like a 50’ wet tennis shoe. Are we having fun yet?

As I lay in the narrow bunk, heeled 30 degrees, I listening to the storm tear at the boat and sails. And, I listened to the crew tackle each adversity calmly, collaboratively, decisively and transparently. Do you do the same when adversity hits your organization?

Calm. It was one problem after another in quick succession in rough weather. It would have been unnerving except for the calm of the captain. With each calamity, he talked to the crew – no raised voice, panic, of exasperation. The intensity of the situation stood in clear contrast to his calm demeanor.  As an insightful leader, how do you manage stress and outwardly demonstrate calm?

Collaborate. When a problem was solved, something else broke. Each time, the captain collaborated with the crew. What happened? What are the pros/cons of each option? This was no dictatorship. Neither was it a democracy. It was informed leadership. How do you collaborate under stress to capture and objectively weigh all options? Our captain based his decisions on crew input. Do you truly listen to others?

Decisive. The conversations between the captain and crew were quick, succinct and decisive. The captain listened, made a decision, and that was that. Other ideas were dropped, and action was taken. Are your decisions crisp, clear and strong? Once you decide, don’t waiver. There’s time later to evaluate and adjust. For now, give staff clear directions to follow.

Transparent. We were in a tough spot. Some of us were not experienced sailors and the situation was a wee bit unnerving (to say the least). It would have been easy for the captain to sugar-coat our predicament under the pretense of not alarming us.  Instead, he was honest and transparent. In a matter-of-fact manner, he shared the realities of each situation and decision. The transparency was reassuring and created trust. Are you being transparent with your staff about difficult situations? Yes, some topics can’t be discussed openly, and it is not constructive to publicly debate every option.  However, once a decision is made, it is helpful to share the decision, the rationale behind the decision and the implications. People understand that not everything goes as expected, but people don’t like to be in the dark. That creates suspicion and erodes trust. Transparency does the opposite.

I confess that I’m not ready for another cruise like this one, but I’m grateful for the crew and for the lessons: be calm, collaborate, be decisive and transparent.

Share an experience that you’ve had that taught you a lesson.



It was dark and I was in unfamiliar territory. I was aboard a friend’s boat on the Chesapeake Bay, at night, headed home, when he said, “You should drive. It will be good practice.”

“Good practice?” I thought. “Is he crazy? There are lights everywhere.” As I looked across the horizon and saw white lights, yellow lights, red lights, green lights, blinking lights, bright lights and faint lights.  “Which do I follow?” I asked him.

He said, “You’ll learn to sort out the important lights, that help you navigate to the dock, from the irrelevant ones that are a distraction.”  Wise words that also apply to you as an insightful leader.

You navigate your organization towards the future and along the way there are countless pieces of information and distractions that can take you off course – if you let them. How do you sort out the relevant from the irrelevant? Here are three tips I learned from executives I interviewed.

  • Have a clear objective. You can only navigate to your goal if you are clear on your goal. Yeah, I know…that seems obvious. And, I’m continually amazed at how often managers lack clarity on the goal. We breeze past the difficulty of finding clarity in the rush to act. Clarity immediately reduces distractions. Clarity allows you to ignore all inputs that don’t align. Without clarity, it would be like me aiming for any creek when I wanted Aberdeen Creek.To get clarity, ask yourself,
    • “What is the desired outcome?”
    • “What specifically needs to be accomplished?”
    • “What specific action do I want to occur?” Don’t settle for generalizations. Be specific

From a place of clarity, identify the key next steps. These steps help to retain clarity and focus along the way. Activities that aren’t in alignment with the steps to the objective, can be dealt with later.

  • Control the tangents. Be brutal about this. Everyone you talk to will try (maybe unintentionally and maybe intentionally) to take you off on a tangent. If you stay laser focused on the objective, you can tactfully redirect the conversation while staying aware that other issues will be dealt with later. When someone tries to divert your attention, say,
    • “That’s a good point, and we need to stay focused on the goal. We can come back to that point once we deal with this.”
    • “I appreciate you bringing this up. Let’s put this in the parking lot to address next.”
    • “I realize this is a concern of yours and we will address it, but for now, we need to stay focused on the goal for today.”

As I scanned the darkness, the horizon filled with lights. But I didn’t need the circling light of Thomas Point Lighthouse or the red and green lights of other boats. I began to train my eyes to discern the lights on the markers that indicated the way back. It went like this: Marker light…got it in my sights. Lighthouse light: it’s out of the way; I won’t run aground; no need to consider it further. Other boats: They are not in the way and not coming my way; no need to consider them further. They remain in my periphery but didn’t distract from the goal. How do you sift out the tangents, set them aside, and stay focused on the objective?

  • Check in along the way. As we motored back toward the dock, the navigational chart told me which marker should be in view next. Did it appear when and where it was supposed to? Check. We were still on course. As an insightful leader, it is wise to check your course along the way. Are you still focused on the objective? Are you still taking the steps you identified or have you succumbed to a tangent? Check in along the way and make course corrections as needed.

You, as an insightful leader, are the keeper of focus. In addition to reaching your goal efficiently, your staff will feel more secure and calm because of your clear-headed focus.

Photo Copyright : James Kirkikis



I was in my hometown of Smithville, Texas for the big Jamboree celebration. Jamboree includes a coronation, parade, dances and a livestock show and sale. For the livestock show, kids raise steers, pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits to be judged and sold. The two-year old granddaughter, Kyndall, of my childhood friend was fascinated by the rabbits. An eighth-grader holding a white bunny walked past and Kyndall was ON IT. She patted the rabbit, rubbed its ears and, in a moment of brilliance, she bent over to be at eye level with the rabbit as though she was communicating with it. It was an adorable moment that captured my attention. Here’s why.

In today’s world where email, instant messenger, LinkedIn messages and more are a predominant form of communication, the insightful leader understands the importance of relating person to person (or, for Kyndall, person to bunny). Here are three tips to be more relatable, particularly for high-stakes conversations.

  1. Make eye contact. Kyndall got it right. She made every effort to make eye contact with the rabbit. You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person. Increasingly, the staff I work with seek to hide behind email, but an insightful leader meets in person and makes eye contact – for real. Yes, it’s easier to email but the personal touch makes all the difference. Force yourself, make the time, and make the effort to talk to your staff face-to-face and eye-to-eye. That’s how you connect as people.
  2. Use language that is relatable. Multisyllabic, pretentious (big, showy) words may make us feel educated but they create a barrier to communication. Recently, I assisted a client to craft an important communication to all employees in the company. We intentionally used words that are simple and understandable to all. You create connection via your communication. Think about the simplest terms you can use to communicate effectively. Simple, concise and clear are the recipe for relatability.
  3. Show your interest. Kyndall carefully ran her tiny fingers through the rabbit’s fur and over its ears. As I watched, it was clear that she loved the rabbit and the rabbit sat calmly under her touch. Your staff may not have soft ears and fluffy fur but you can still communicate your interest through sincere curiosity about their perspective and interest in their work life. How do you express your interest in your staff? What do you know about their thoughts and ideas? Do you inquire about their suggestions to improve their work? Like Kyndall’s rabbit, people respond to those who they sense are interested. What would your staff say about your level of interest in them?

Let’s learn from Kyndall and her rabbit. As insightful leaders, you can take a few simple steps to be more relatable to your staff. It’s pays off in dedication and the hard work that comes from feeling connected.