Leadership Lessons Learned From the Playing Fields

by Leah Fygetakis

Girls Rugby

When I was in college, I played on a women’s recreational touch football team.  We were known as the Iron Ovaries. Those were the days of women claiming our rightful place in being able to do whatever men could do. 

Yes, the times were changing… but have they really?

Ask yourself this question:

Are women today seen as men’s equals in their credibility and effectiveness as problem-solvers and as leaders?

You Throw Like a Girl

When this is said to a man, it is a powerful accusation that can send him back to a place of childhood shame in no time flat.  For a boy to be like a girl is to be weak.

So I ask you, how many men do you know who can easily exercise compassion in the course of their leadership?  Do examples of such behavior come to mind in equal numbers among the men and women  leaders within your network?

There is no one right answer, of course.  Likely, it is variable among fields of businessorganizational cultures, and individual differences.  But, I am curious over how we play out or preferably, move on from life’s early lessons so we can lead with a full toolbox of options.

The best toolbox is one that has a “yin” for every “yang” of behavior.  There is a time and a place when all good leaders must be able to display a “steely resolve”, and one where they must be able to exercise “gracious acceptance.”

Subtle Rebuttal

As parents, we would like to think that we are raising our sons and daughters to value who they are and to not get stuck in the traditional sex roles of yesteryear.  I am coming to recognize that this is a taller order than I thought.  It plays out in the most subtle of ways.  I have three short vignettes that show the stubborn, unconscious hold that sex role stereotypes have in how we think and act.

We are all “guilty” of stereotyping roles to specific genders. Both men and women do this even though that cognitively most of us agree that these stereotypes should have no place in business. We generally agree it is best to simply make the best use of our human capital without regard to gender. But this always doesn’t play out in a gender-neutral way.

What does this mean for the workplace when so many of us wear these blinders?  Are we unable to recognize the talent and the resources that are plainly right in front of us?

Vignette 1

I am on the soccer field and it is a very hot day.  The coach motions my 8-year-old son to the sidelines and I ask him if he would like some water.  He takes the bottle of water, but struggles to loosen the cap.  “Here, let me help you,” I say.  He ignores me and walks over to his coach, hands him the bottle and accepts his help.  Apparently, cap-loosening is a “man’s job.”

Vignette 2

I was almost always present for my sons’ baseball practices.  Often, the coaches solicited extra help from among the dads who were there.  One day, my sons and I were early and I was hitting balls on the diamond for them.  I played ball in high school.  More kids arrived and joined in.  The first coach arrived and I started to hand the bat over to him.

“Oh no,” he said, “you are doing just fine.  Keep going.”

” Why didn’t you tell me you could help?” he added.

“I guess I didn’t want to insert myself in the middle of all that good male bonding going on” I replied.

“That’s silly,” he said, “we need the help.”

I wanted to say, “Well all you had to do was ask, just like you’ve asked every dad who has been out here” (some of whom had chatted about how they had never played organized baseball). Uhhhhh…

However, rather than adding my comment I thought this would be an excellent time to exercise my gracious acceptance and say nothing.

Vignette 3

Early in my career, I taught psychology and women’s studies courses for undergraduates.  I was extremely well versed on sex role stereotyping.  During this time, I got my first pet, a weeks-old stray kitten.  Having never had pets before, I accepted the vet’s pronouncement that the kitten was male.  It was a bundle of energy and I took to rough-housing with it a lot.  It wasn’t until the kitten went into its first heat that I realized it was female.

Soon after, in the middle of a rough-housing session, I suddenly stopped.  Slowly it seeped into my consciousness that I had thought I was being too rough.  But I wasn’t being any rougher than I had been before.  The only thing that had changed was my knowledge that this was a female kitten.

It was an “Aha, I gotcha” moment in realizing that even though I was an expert on sex role stereotyping, their power still had a hold on my unconscious.  What a lesson!

Looking in the Mirror

I return to my point that even though most of us “know better,” sex role socialization and stereotypes are hard to erase in our unconscious thoughts and actions.  To counter this, for myself, this has meant building in some regular self-reflection check-ins.

I ask myself, “Would my impressions be any different if this person were the other sex?  Would I be acting any differently?”

What are your thoughts and experiences around gender, sex roles, and leadership?  How do you keep yourself aware and honest? What has stuck in your mind about sex roles that might need to be reconsidered? I’d love to hear what is going on between your ears!

Leah Fygetakis is Founder and Principal of Directed Success
She can be reached at leahfygetakis@comcast.net

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Leadership Procrastinationitis

by Dr. Bärbel Bohr


Is there a prescription treatment for procrastinationitis? This is the “disease” that seemingly permeates people so that every action needs to be delayed until…. well, ….. uh,…. later, I guess?

Some Things Never Change…

I knew it would happen this way. When I sat together with my colleague Linda to prepare the quality feedback survey for our courses, I handed her over questions #1-5 to cross-check on them.

Backgrounder: [Linda was supposed to have prepared questions #6-10.]

Looking at me innocently, Linda shrugged her shoulders and showed me her most charmful smile and said:

Well, you know,” she answered while her eyes avoided to look at me: “My daughter got sick and I had to run so many chores yesterday that I couldn’t prepare the questions.”

I suggested a break and decided to get some tea from the cafeteria to cool down.

Yesterday!” she had said.

We got the assignment one week before Christmas and were at the beginning of February now! I couldn’t believe it. She could have prepared everything well in advance. Instead, we would have to do everything together now in order to keep our deadline. I felt cheated.

On my way to the cafeteria, I remembered that last year she had put up a big post-it on her desk visible to all of her colleagues and her boss:

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. (Walt Disney)

When we saw the post-it, we all looked at each other sighing and thinking:

Well, she is giving it another try.”

Linda, a charming, witty and very creative colleague who we all cherish, is a chronic procrastinator: our cinderella of “last-minute”-stands. Two months into the new year the post-it disappeared without any further mentioning it.

“Procrastinators Anonymous”

I assume most of us, including myself, have some procrastination attacks from time to time, yet around 20% of the population suffer from the chronic form of procrastination.

My students call it “procrastinationitis.”

There is tons of material out there in form of books, blogs, self-help courses that try to help and don’t need to be repeated here. On Wikibooks you can find a comprehensive overview of available resources on procrastination.

It is a wide-spread disease, no doubt.

What Linda tried in the past, some of us may have to get inspired to do now; overcome procrastination.

  • What would you say?
  • Have you made progress?
  • Or have you already reached the slump so that you feel like giving up?
  • Is it that you, um, perhaps, are reading this blog article in order to avoid doing something else that you should do right now?
  • And now feel tempted to switch to your email because you start to feel guilty?
  • Or do you perhaps happen to know some employee of yours who has taken this resolution?

According to studies on the subject, many therapies fail because the patients are supposed to change in a way that does not suit their personality. Authors of self-help books on the topic tend to be well-structured and organized. It must be very frustrating for procrastinators to see all the plans, control patterns they are supposed to learn.

Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, sums this up nicely:

Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up.

Procrastination and Corporate Culture

Even though it is always one’s own decision to stop procrastination, I started to think on my way back from the cafeteria in how far we as leaders and colleagues in companies and corporations can foster the tedious process of behavioral change and make it easier for the individual to adapt to it.

After all, procrastination may cause loss of productivity because most people are not happy that they delay their activities.

I came across some suggestions for team leaders and managers in Kevin Burns’ blog that I would like to share with you.

His Top 3 list of advice contains the following items:

  1. Break down projects into digestable pieces: The shorter the deadline, the less possibility for the procrastinator to delay the work
  2. Always ask the procrastinator for the status when you see him or her and do it in public. This will help to develop reliability.
  3. If a procrastinator does not deliver on time, show consequences and pass on work to a good worker

These pieces of advice sound convincing, but I am sure they would not work in all types of corporate culture. “Forced control” mechanisms like these might lead to more sophisticated ways to achieve procrastination in the long-term and might even develop mistrust between leader and employees.

I would, hence, rather favor measures, which help the employee remain accountable for putting off the work, and avoid patterns, which require permanent interventions by the manager. Measures that I prefer see the manager or leader in the role of a temporary coach so that the employee can really find out the reasons why the work is getting delayed so very often.

A coaching relationship would be the first step to a real cure, not just fighting the symptoms. This, of course, would only work if the manager is not a messy procrastinator him- or herself. As we all know, overworked managers have a tendency to procrastinate, too.

What do you think about these suggestions? Which ones would work for you? How can you as a leader help your employees heal procrastination?

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Dr. Bärbel Bohr owns “Bärbel Bohr – Projekte mit System”
Lecturer at HSR Hochschule für Technik / Rapperswil (Switzerland)
She inspires success in leaders & students on communication & culture awareness

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On Leadership and Optimistic Fearlessness

How Your Small Business Can Beat the Goliaths

Small Guy vs. Big Guy

If you have an idea for a small business or startup, but feel discouraged because you feel you can’t hope to compete with the big guys, you need not give up on your dreams.

Hamburgers were around before McDonald’s got its start, and the same is true with athletic shoes before the advent of Nike or Reebok. The secret sauce to being competitive in a crowded area or one that has a dominant player is a combination of brand development and customer loyalty.

There have been many stories about smaller companies won out against the larger competitors because they came up with the products, a brand, or even a lifestyle that became iconic.

Offer Something New

You may have a passion for selling anything from women’s clothing to mayonnaise, but the first question to consider is what makes your product different from what’s already on the market. The fact that you have an idea implies that there is something lacking among the available choices, and your product may fill in the gap.

What you offer does not need to be entirely new, since as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun, but it can be a fresh spin on a tired concept. Some people have notions of an attitude or feeling their products will convey that sets it apart from the company that makes ordinary widgets.

A good branding strategy is to show that there is an aura or vibe conveyed by your product.

Beat Them at Their Own Game

Don’t be afraid to go directly for the customers of that big box retailer or that winning website. You should also not be shy about directing comments about a competitor.

In addition to just trying to beat them at their own game, you can say outright that you are trying to prevail against the big guys if you offer deep discounts or a truly one-of-a-kind product.

At the same time, you have to create an idea of your own target customer who may be slightly different from the target customer of a huge competitor. Since your operation is smaller, you have the advantage of creating a more specific niche market, since the typical customer of Amazon is just about anybody, and this customer can be harder to pinpoint.

Use Negative Publicity to Your Advantage

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and wit once said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. This is not necessarily true of companies, since an E. coli breakout or a major corporate scandal can send stock prices plunging and customers fleeing.

However, there are ways you can use not only negative publicity to your advantage, but unsavory headlines for publicity.

There are likely to be very few cases where this can be done, but some companies have made their name on what seemed at first blush like negative press. One of a company’s worst nightmares, particularly small a small company, is being hit with a lawsuit from a larger competitor.

Going Against Goliath

Hampton Creek, makers of the Just Mayo product that is free of eggs, was sued by Unilever, the owner of the Hellmann’s mayonnaise brand. Unilever filed a lawsuit because it believed the use of the term “mayo” by Hampton Creek was false advertising, since the product contains no eggs.

Unilever ended up dropping the lawsuit and sales of Just Mayo increased astronomically because of the news the lawsuit, and regular supermarkets stocked the products. People flocked to this brand because the lawsuit the lawsuit made it seem like the more established company was frightened of competition from the new, healthy alternative.

Since many people are interested in healthy eating, they enthusiastically got behind the Just Mayo brand.

Creating the Right Balance

Even if your small business is an area that seems crowded or has a dominant force to contend with, by creating a balance of making it new and beating the competition at his own game, you can achieve success and market share.

Go for the typical customer while zeroing in on your fans.

Also, develop a brand that sets your products apart from other offerings on the shelves or the Internet.

Jump at the opportunity to use publicity about your company or the industry to your advantage. Once you’ve earned attention you can monetize it by marketing directly to potential customers on social media or advertising.

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Leading Your New Venture

3 Key Strategies to Sustain Your Small Business

Customer Services

You Have Customers, Now What?: 3 Key Strategies to Sustain Your Small Business

Once your small business starts picking up speed, you will want to be sure that you have the capacity to handle your growth. So, how do you continue to grow once you have gotten over the initial hurdle of attracting your first customers?

This depends on your specific business model, but it may mean hiring extra team members, outsourcing, or implementing systems that increase your efficiency. At the end of the day, it is difficult to grow and run your business at the same time.

As the head of the company, you will want to keep one hand in the day-to-day operations of your business, but spend most of your time focusing on big picture strategy in order to keep it growing.

Here are three ways that you can ensure smart, sustainable growth for your small business.

Optimize Your Website for Better Customer Service

Customer service is key to success as your small business begins to grow. Having a website that makes it easy to find out information about your products or services and contact you with inquiries will lead to better engagement with customers and more sales.

There is nothing worse than a website which has little useful product information and no way to contact the business owner.

First, the obvious: include a “Contact” section on your website, which includes a phone number, e-mail address, contact form, or any combination of the three. You may also consider including a “Get a Quote” form. This allows you to go ahead and gather useful information from a customer in order to quickly and efficiently get them a price quote.

Another great option is to add a live chat function to your website that allows customers to talk to your company directly from the web.

Outsource Your Customer Service

Once you have optimized your website to provide outstanding customer service, you will want to make sure that you have the manpower to handle the questions and quote requests that come in. Being able to answer every e-mail or phone call in a timely and friendly way is how small businesses set themselves apart from the competition.

Rather than staying up all night answering e-mails and returning phone calls, it may be more efficient to outsource your customer service. Many companies, such as Register.com, now offer what they refer to as call center plus services.

This service, unlike traditional call centers, helps small companies grow their businesses by providing customer service infrastructure for:

  • Answering e-mail
  • Conducting live chats
  • Handling quote requests
  • Handling phone calls

By letting somebody else handle customer inquiries, you will free up time to focus on further company growth.

Hire a Virtual Assistant

Finally, once your business has taken off, you will need to have someone who can take care of basic administrative tasks for you. This includes data entry, basic accounting, scheduling meetings and calls, and so on.

While you may hire someone to come work in your physical office, another great option is to hire a virtual assistant.

This type of employee comes with little to no overhead as he or she will work from a home office on a personal computer or phone. You may provide a small stipend for office supplies, but this is negligible compared to an employee who you need to set up in an office.

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On Leadership and Burning a Few Bridges

Mega Shark

Conventional wisdom tells us to never burn a single bridge in our professional lives because you never know when you might need that relationship again. 

I firmly believe that there are going to be circumstances and people that nearly require you to do this:

Burn some bridges so that you will never need to work with those people again.

That’s Right, I Said It…

I have been working for the past 35 years and have learned a thing or two in this time span. For a long time I followed conventional wisdom and did whatever it took to part ways on a positive note.  There are times when the reason I was leaving was more than a promotional opportunity, more money, or a shorter commute.

These are all the generally softer ways of giving notice.

They are often spoken in truth, but many times they are used to cover up the real reasons to avoid burning bridges.

Burning a Few Bridges

As time progressed, I thought it would improve circumstances if I shared the issues that caused me to consider other opportunities, more money, or a shorter commute.

When leaving previous jobs, I did the conventional thing and had candid conversations with Human Resources during exit interviews, explaining the challenges with processes and particular personalities that cause concern and issues in the workplace.

I have spent the past 22 years in learning development, so my core was telling me that people can’t improve until they know that there is a performance gap.

Looking back, I would say that each of those times when I was honest and doing what I thought was helpful, I burned a bridge.  I’m not talking about toasting the wood a little; I’m talking about a five-alarm fire, nothing but ashes when I left.

There was no walking back over that puppy after I was finished burning it.  The people I left never spoke with me again.

And now I am left to wonder if this is really such a bad thing?

Out of the dozen or so people who would sooner slit their throat then say hello to me, I have to be honest that it doesn’t bother me in the least that they do not care about me.

These were folks that the word ethical wasn’t even in their dictionary.  Underhanded, manipulative, rude and down-right mean are better descriptors of their personalities.

I hated working for them at the time, and after leaving I felt a rush of relief at never having to work with them again.

Although it was not my intention to burn a bridge with these people, the fact remains that I did, and the primary benefit was to never hear from them again.

A Bad Referral Backfires!

Burning BridgesWhen they say we are only separated by about six people from each other at most, (six degrees of separation), it does cause a reduction in referrals and future contacts that might cause these people to question if they should begin a working relationship with you.

Recently I suffered the opposite of that type of disconnect when someone contacted an old manager to find out what kind of training professional I am and what it would be like to work with me.

I know that this must have been this guy’s dream come true to work his magic by telling this new contact what a nightmare I would be to work with.

He said this:

“Jim is a purist when it comes to training and needs to do everything the right way.  He plays by the rules and Joan of Arc has nothing on him when it comes to ethics.  It makes it challenging to work around him because he is such a goody two shoes.”

Well thanks to these comments, I have a new client that shares my servant leadership style and ethical code.

What my old manager was trying to do was clue in his friend to how difficult it will be to work with a person like me, and at the same time selling the attributes the new client was looking for in a new working relationship.

Now I will be the first to admit this situation was a fluke.

Understanding Consequences

Most of the time when you burn a bridge with someone, that person will have a negative influence over anyone asking about you, not to mention that they will never work with you again.

When I began consulting 6 years ago I was heart-broken that a particular person wasn’t giving me the time of day or throw me a bone’s worth of business.

He was angry over my leaving because as he said, “I don’t want you to go.” 

I had a difficult time explaining why I was being called to strike out on my own and go from a reliable income to complete uncertainty as a self-employed consultant.  While financially it was not the best decision I’ve ever made, it has brought me innumerable benefits I would not have collected if I had remained.

Finding a Better Route

One of these benefits has been the realization that burning a bridge forces you to find another route.

Without the easy ability to rely on old relationships to fund my new consulting business, I was forced to find new relationships early on and not wait until after the well went completely dry.

While I might have gone along with conventional wisdom in my early working years and left no bridge unburned, I’m glad to look back at a few I burned on purpose and realize that it was for my benefit that I can no longer connect with those people again.

I’ve learned overtime that you can’t fix every relationship, nor should you try.

What bridges have you burned in the past that you are glad you did? What bridges are still in place that should have been burned down? What do you think is wrong with burning a few bridges? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories!

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Jim Hopkins

Jim Hopkins is the CEO of JK Hopkins Consulting
He a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker in Organizational & Performance Health
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Leadership Rx: Spiritual Leaders Bring Healing to Others

Leadership Rx

Nowadays we witness many individuals who find their working life does not bring them hope but oppression.

Workers are losing their rights in many industries; others are cast aside with ease to bring temporary profit to the greedy. Increasing numbers of workers do not find the dignity and fulfillment that work ought to contribute to their lives, families, and communities.

Leadership Rx

A hope-filled spiritual leader sees these new tasks for leaders in dealing with individuals and organizations as a major responsibility.

They know healing is needed when people:

  • Focus exclusively on self-interest
  • Exhibit excessive internal competition
  • Constantly engage in comparisons with others
  • Evidence mutual blame
  • Lose vitality
  • Compromise their integrity
  • Deliberately do things they know are unethical

A leader also recognizes the need for healing when some in the organization are always marginalized; there are voiceless members, and widespread indifference to others’ needs.

Healing is clearly needed when administration restricts communication, misuses power, allows significant disparity in executives’ salaries, and governs autocratically.

Starting at the Top

When managers get in and get out of the organization with increased salaries and golden parachutes, having done nothing significant, then the organization and its board members need healing. When managers simply do not try to slow the erosion of values, then they also need healing.

Every organization has some individuals in pain, feeling loss, experiencing broken relationships at work and at home, suffering from a lack of meaning, and this sense of pain affects the quality of their work.

In fact, some within on organization need healing but do not know it.

Then again some sick individuals make everyone else sick without ever feeling anything themselves. A leader of hope has to heal the wounds caused by former bosses and also by coworkers. Some individuals adapt themselves to sick situations and then become as sick as everyone else.

No organization can function well amid unhealthy situations that sap vitality, creativity, and commitment. So, dealing with organizational dysfunctions is one of the challenges of a spiritual leader who wants to give hope to others.

A Leader of Hope

A leader of hope allows no one to feel inferior but raises them up to their just level of appreciation, showing empathy to all. Healing others is a major task of a leader of hope who thus enables others to become their complete selves.

This includes:

  • Healing relationships within organizations
  • Clarifying and refocusing roles
  • Setting goals together
  • Making sure channels of communication are open
  • Reflecting on each others’ gifts
  • Expressing recognition and appreciation of everyone’s contribution

The leader’s healing influence will vary for each member in need.

Some may feel they are taken for granted and a leader must give them visibility and prominence.

For others who have been the object of bogus empowerment by former failed leaders a leader of hope must give genuine, significant delegation. There are always members who feel used, often because they are, and a leader will need to heal by letting people feel at home in the organization and making them objects of sincere admiration and respect.

A Healthier Way to Lead

A good leader creates for those within an organization a healthy way of living together, and this implies risk taking. He or she will encourage others to get involved in the journey to wholeness, to share in common values, to become vulnerable as he or she manifests genuine emotions of heart and love.

Part of a healthy way of living together is to heal the loneliness of all around us, to awaken others to hope, to enable people to resolve conflicts constructively, to move them by making it clear that they are loved.

Leaders of hope restore others to healing through listening, empathy, and compassion, and even a sense of humor; healing broken relationships, restoring justice, and building a reconciling community.

A leader of hope will focus on values of colleagues, since a person without values causes problems for those around. Then the insidious destruction of the vision of hope causes everyone to live a reduced notion of what it means to be human.

Many so-called leaders do nothing about the hurt that surrounds them, but a spiritual leader seeks always to bring healing where it is needed.

So how are you doing at putting on your spiritual leader role and serving others with empathy, love and trust so that healing can be a natural part of your organization? If you need some improvement in this area, what steps can you take and what behavior can you emulate to become a healing leader? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Dr. Leonard Doohand

Dr. Leonard Doohan  is an Author and Workshop Presenter
He focuses on issues of spiritual leadership
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