When You’ve Fallen and You Have to Get Up

I was collaborating with a colleague this week on a session he’s doing with the senior leadership team of his company to identify the critical qualities they need in leaders for the future.

In the process, I came across General Stanley McChrystal’s TED talk on leadership.

It’s great. It could be a model for how to craft a leadership message.

Real Leadership

It starts with a personal story about jumping out of an airplane, landing hard and falling down. It includes self-deprecatory humor, shows vulnerability, gives meaning, connects to the future, and winds back to the beginning with a powerful call to action.

When you fall, says General McChrystal this:

“If you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you out. And if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on need you on your feet.”

It’s a great statement of how leadership is the opposite of victim mentality or being caught up in fear.

  • If we’re thinking like victims, we’re stuck to a self having a problem.
  • If we’re caught up in fear – the very words suggest it – we’re snagged or stopped.
  • The more we worry, protect, or blame, the more we spiral into a dark hole of self-thoughts and bodily tension.
  • These thoughts and tensions make us weak and clumsy.

Even if we want to be authentic and do all the good things leaders are supposed to do, we will get in our own way if we are caught up in self-pity, self-doubt, or self-promotion.

Serving The Larger Picture

On the other hand, the more connected we are to others and to serving a larger picture, the more naturally we stay in the flow of now, the more naturally we move with the rhythm of what’s going on, and the more naturally our self adds its value.

There’s a quality of movement in McChrystal’s advice: so what if you’ve fallen; your people will help you and need you on your feet. Go! We sense this movement from other leadership voices, whether it’s Sheryl Sandberg leaning in or Kevin Cashman’s leading from the inside out.

Leadership moves, gets others moving with it, and creates more movement.

Getting A Move On

In this regard, Zen is great training for leaders and leadership becomes a great practice ground for Zen, as both emphasize penetrating now to the utmost whereupon self disappears and freedom of movement expands.

As Zen master Takuan (1573 – 1645) advised the leading sword master and military advisor of his day, “Don’t let your mind stop.”

“A mind that stops in any one place will not be able to move freely…By not stopping anywhere, it will be of use everywhere…The mind of one who has reached the highest level will not stop even slightly on things.  It is like pushing a gourd on the water’s surface.” (from Fudochi Shimmyo Roku)

The Zen Leader

When I was writing The Zen Leader, it struck me this “flip” from stuckness to movement or, as I called it, from coping to transforming, is where leadership begins (hence, the first chapter and a way to make this flip). Because if we define leadership – in the spirit of Cashman – as authentic self-expression that creates value, one cannot do this from a place of stuckness or coping.

The actions, decisions, or commands we issue from such a place are not authentic, they don’t express the authentic self, and/or they don’t create value for others.

Where have you seen this principle of not getting stuck, or “not stopping the mind” in leadership?  And how have you seen people get unstuck when they’ve landed hard, and are having trouble getting back on their feet?


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Ginny Whitelaw

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw, The Zen Leader, is President of Focus Leadership
She helps leaders transform with programs, coaching, FEBI assessment, keynotes
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog |  skype: ginnywhitelaw | +1 410 923 0285

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The Scourge of the Zombie Employee

`Zombies at Work

Zombies exist – and they just might be working for your company.

In the day and age of belt-tightening across industries, reduced budgets, and a focus on maximized productivity, employees are being asked to take on more and more responsibility, including increased workloads without an increase in pay.

Because many jobs are hard to come by these days, employees have no choice but to acquiesce to increased demand.

Creating the Dead

Unfortunately, the burden of an increased workload can lead to:

  • Employee health problems
  • Increased mistakes
  • Reduced effectiveness of communication
  • Decreased customer satisfaction

As employees push themselves harder, with no relief in sight, they tend to wear down over time, becoming less engaged in their work, and frankly, more apathetic about their role in the company.

Most of them just go through the motions.

So, in the age of cost cutting, what can an organization do about this potentially devastating problem?

4 Ways to Keep Zombies Away

Here are four ways to make sure your people stay engaged and don’t turn into zombies.

1. Focus on Customers

As ridiculous as it might sound, plenty of organizations are guilty of not putting their customers first. In an attempt to reduce overhead or fine tune internal processes, decisions are made that are not in the best interest of customers – like overworking employees or shortening business hours.

Companies should center every decision they make on what’s best for the customer, because a focus on providing the best products and the best service will keep customers coming back – and ultimately keep the doors open.

2. Consider “Line of Sight”

Line of sight” is the correlation between an employee’s actions and the impact they have on gaining and retaining customers.

Zombie Employees

There should be a direct link between the tasks your employees are completing and a benefit to your customers and prospects.

When employees understand this connection (and the importance is has to the organization), they are more likely to be engaged in their activities, and thinking about them in a larger context.

On the employer’s side, this means keeping employee assignments relevant, and if need be, explaining how a particular task is beneficial to the customer (and the company) in the long run.

Certain parts of every job are mundane, but if the employees understand the overall importance, they are less likely to be dejected about the less-than-interesting tasks.

Also, don’t assign “busy-work.” Everything your employees do should be important in some way.

3. Don’t Implement Layoffs at The Expense of Service

Budgets are hard to meet. Overhead is hard to keep down. Revenue isn’t always as high as you need it to be.

These are simple realities of running a businesses – but the answer to meeting these problems is NOT to simply reduce your workforce. In some scenarios, layoffs are inevitable (in emergencies or massive changes in service or scope), but it should never be a go-to method for saving money.

In fact, layoffs may even be more problematic than you realize.

Diminishing a workforce may save you some money each month, but at what cost? Trying to maintain the same level of service with fewer people will only bog down your employees.

And here’s what’s worse – when you start laying people off, it affects the people who keep their jobs as well. Suddenly, those people are feeling tense about their job security, feeling less emotionally and psychologically attached to the company, and maybe even a little resentful that some of their colleagues are no longer there. This means reduced productivity across the board.

4. Transparency

One of the key components of employee engagement is transparency, plain and simple. When an entry-level worker can see where they fit in the context of the whole company, they are more likely to embrace that role and put personal stock into the work they do.

Throughout an organization, the context of a particular task or role is important. Much like “line of sight” with customers, transparency between departments, or from management down through the ranks, helps everyone understand the important role they play in the overall success of the organization.

Stepping Up Your Game

When costs seem oppressive or sales are down, the solution is not to slash budgets or pare down services. In fact, the best solution is just the opposite – if the company is struggling, it’s time to step your game up and build the organization your customers are proud to do business with.

In doing so, you’ll create an organization that your employees are equally proud to work for.

Zombie employees are the byproduct of lack of engagement. Without anything to strive for, or a clue about why they’re performing a certain task, would you expect anything less?


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Anil Saxena
Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | (888) 999-0940 x-730

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How to Be a Legendary Leader in 3 Steps

Employee Rewards

It’s no secret that employee recognition is an important factor in worker morale.

After all, management may make the big bucks and get stuck with the tough decisions, but it’s the workforce that takes care of the day-to-day grind that is the heart of the business.

Employee Appreciation

Happy employees are ones who are appreciated for their hard work, while the ones who feel ignored or undervalued tend to negatively affect the entire system.

You can see article after article on how one can properly show employee appreciation. And it’s up to you as a leader to tailor those suggestions into a strategy that works best for your company, but while you do that, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Step 1: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Employee appreciation doesn’t need to be all encompassing.

For example, have you ever seen a parent praise their child for doing something mediocre and expected, like clean up a mess that they had made or behave themselves during a car ride? This kind of praise is very positive and beneficial for young children; it trains them to develop good habits and strong self image.

However, when it comes to adults, it’s just not necessary.

The employee whose job it is to handle sales calls doesn’t need to be praised for doing so. It is, after all, the most basic function of their position. They should be treated well, certainly, but that doesn’t mean that they should be rewarded or publicly praised.

If they or other team members begin to suspect that recognition and appreciation is handed out arbitrarily, they may begin to feel as though they are being patronized. Even worse, they might get the idea that mediocre performance is ‘good enough,’ and cease striving to improve their work.

On the other hand, an otherwise hard working, effective employee who just happens to arrive a few minute late every day should be allowed that small indulgence, provided that it doesn’t begin to get out of hand. Don’t focus too much on the little things if you really want to effectively show employee appreciation.

Step 2: Recognize and Accept Employee Differences

Many employee recognition tips suggest presenting rewards such as parties, badges, or other attention-grabbers for excellent performance. However, before you go rewarding your team member with an over-sized novelty hat and a sticker that says “Great Job!” you need to do a little research.

You see, not every person reacts the same way to attention.

Some of the best employees on your team might be uncomfortable as the center of attention, and you need to respect that. It is not your responsibility to pull Shy-Sara or Quiet-Connor out of their shells. These are adults who have had their whole lives to determine exactly who they are, and they will not appreciate being pulled from their comfort zones, especially as a ‘reward’ for their accomplishments.

The best-case scenario is that they will simply smile and then continue with their project, while the worst-case scenario is that they will learn to avoid discomfort by toning down their work performance. Find out a little bit about your employees before you try to shower them with praise; not everyone enjoys what you think they’ll enjoy.

Step 3: Be Sincere

If your employees are really doing exceptional work, then that should make you want to reward them. That’s wonderful. However, if you feel like they don’t really deserve the praise you’re giving them, then chances are it’s all going to come through as insincere.

There are few things worse than insincere compliments; they deaden the soul, and rob all future recognition of its meaning.

But what can you do?

If employee performance is low, then moral might be the cause.

How can you increase moral without offering disingenuous praise?

The answer is simple:

  • Get a feel for what the employees are doing.
  • Get down and spend some time with them.
  • Listen to their gripes and annoyances without being judgmental.
  • Take some time and (if possible) give them a hand with their work for an hour or two.

If you walk a few miles in their shoes, you’ll develop an empathy and understanding for what they go through. You might even be able to determine a root cause for their unhappiness. Then, once you’ve gotten to know them, you’ll have a much easier time rewarding them for what they do.

Let them know that you understand how difficult it can be, but you appreciate their efforts in the face of trials. How is this different from simply patting them on the backs and saying good job? The answer is all in the sincerity. Get to know your team, and you won’t have any problem appreciating them.


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Robert Cordray

Robert Cordray is a freelance writer with over 20 years of business experience
He does the occasional business consult to help increase employee morale
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Leadership Nostalgia: The Perils of Leading in the Past

Leadership Nostalgia

Are we leading organizations, ministries, groups or teams as though we are living in 1990 – or worse yet, 1950? Non-profits are most guilty, living in the founder’s dreams way beyond their life cycle.

Such visions were birthed in a former reality and the values, decisions, strategies and structures reflected that reality.

News Flash – it is 2013.

Looking Back

The past is cool, even if it was hard. Every day brought doubts, fears and unanswerable questions:

  • Will we have enough customers, recruit enough attendees, ever have a positive cash flow balance?
  • Will we be ready to handle what an uncharted future holds?
  • Will we ever really know what we we’re doing?

It was wild, and we were irrational. Especially we entrepreneurs! Just ask Jeffrey Bussgang

Leadership Nostalgia

Leadership Qualities

There is a kind of “leadership nostalgia” that robs us of present-day effectiveness and a truly transformational future. Just look at any arena of work. The problem is nostalgia is selective; we only remember the extremes.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” said Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, a perfect opening line for any new venture! As we recall the past, we either lived from one crisis to another or “everything just exploded and we could not even keep up with demand…what a rush!!!”

There were no normal days…or so we thought. But leading in the past is dangerous.

Look at these examples:

  • In America, one political group wants to restore American values while another wants to recreate the protest–driven activism of the 1960’s.
  • One graduate school clings to maintaining a purist “on-campus” experience for everyone; another hires a new President who will “take us back to the glory years” of our institution.
  • One church does a contemporary makeover – cooler music, hipper pastors, newer buildings, but still equates more butts in seats and dollars in the budget as success. Another appeals to “the early church” as THE model, unaware that all 1st century strategies do not meet 21st century challenges.

Leading the Future

We need to be leading OUT OF the past, not IN the past.

We need to be learning FROM the past, not longing FOR the past.

Here is what it takes to make that change:

Look Backward Briefly

Driving blindly into the future creates the same head-on collision as staring intently into the rear view mirror. Mine lessons from the past quickly because too much leadership nostalgia sucks the creative energy from the room. And take time to learn from mistakes. Scott Berkun has a great post on how to categorize and analyze your mistakes.

But don’t dwell on the past – mistakes or successes.

People care very little about what you did 40 years ago; time to get connected to the world TODAY and tell some new stories.

Get Very Clear about the Core…and Move On!

Look closely at values, culture, services, and products. Do we need it all? What some think is “our DNA” is really an extension of personal philosophy. If the organism is changing, so is the DNA.

Preserve only what really matters.

The Future is Not Yours Alone

Here is where most founders and long-term leaders get stuck. They have a “This is my baby” mentality – I gave it life!” Thinking they are “passing the baton” or “preparing the next generation to lead” they have changed only the ship’s crew, asking them to sail the same vessel.

Sure, it got a paint job and some high-tech navigation equipment, but it is still The SS Yesteryear.

In the cargo hold you’ll find the same vision, same strategies, and desires for younger leaders to utilize the same leadership style (theirs, of course). For church leaders, look at Protégé: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders by Steve Saccone and for business leaders you will gain much from Feeding Your Leadership Pipeline by Dan Tobin.

Do you have the courage to hand the rudder to a new crew and let them overhaul the entire vessel? Or even put this boat in dry dock and build a new ship? That’d be courageous leadership!

From Wall Street to Main Street to the streets surrounding Capitol Hill, it is time for new leadership models, approaches, strategies and structures.

Will you be part of the team to build them? Will you let others really own the process and the outcomes? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Dr. Bill Donahue
Dr. Bill Donahue is President of LeaderSync Group, Inc

Bill is a professor at TIU and a Leadership Speaker and Consultant
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On Leadership and Living a Below Average Life

Dr. Ben Carson

His mother dropped out in the 3rd grade and then married at age 13. When he was 18, his parents divorced. Growing up in a rough part of Detroit was no plus, either. In effect, he had nothing going for him.

But then, at age 32 he became head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John’s Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. At 36, he performed the first operation to separate Siamese twins conjoined at the head.

So how does a kid with his history turn around and make history?

The Place All True Leadership Begins

Dr. Ben Carson refused to let a “far below-average” life cripple his walk toward achievement.

Average is contrived, a “fake” number or concept, the middle ground between extremes. What leader wants to be average? We know “average” is for losers. No one says,

“We were so excited to learn that our daughter tested ‘average’ in math! Next stop Engineering School!”

We love to think of ourselves as “above average” because average is boring and below average is downright despicable.


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Leveraging Your Past

Life Below Average Can Make You an Above Average Leader

My leadership and vision become crystal clear at the extremes. We learn how to really live and truly lead at the extremes, and often that means extreme failure or disappointment.

My life is a case study:

  • In my first major swim competition, my coach remarked I looked like I was taking a bath at a retirement home
  • I flunked organic chemistry in college, flushing my dreams for med school down the drain
  • I failed a blood pressure test for my application to the Naval Academy
  • In college English my first writing projects were awful (go figure)
  • Broke my foot just before senior year, losing all hopes to be a regular starter in college football
  • Lost 5 elections to a campus organization, taking second place each time
  • Was virtually fired from a dream job assisting the CEO of a top bank – I say virtually because I quit when I got wind the SVP was about to fire me
  • I failed at fund-raising for a new venture I was helping a team launch, and could not get the organization off the ground
  • Led a discussion group with 4 participants and, in just 6 weeks and with great skill, I was able to grow that fledgling little group to a whopping total attendance of … ONE!  Just me at meeting 6.
  • My first speaking engagement to a large group was a flop and I was raked over the coals by the organization’s top leader

Listen to the wisdom of Winston Churchill.

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts….Success is going from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.”

The Rest of the Story

During each of my decidedly “below average” experiences, I found something far above average was taking shape.

  • My swimming failure led me to football, where I excelled and guided a team to an undefeated season
  • Failing Chemistry kept me from doctoring and thrust me into business and ministry, both of which I have enjoyed
  • Failing a blood pressure exam –only time– changed my educational trajectory from military science toward the humanities
  • My writing disasters led me to seek coaching from an editor, and now I write professionally, and love it  (See how I be a much more better writer? Hah!)
  • Leaving my bank job was the nudge I needed to explore ministry, something I was starting to love but was afraid to investigate
  • In that small group I “grew” from 4 attendees to 1, I discovered the keys to what makes a group or team thrive, and have become an expert in the field
  • My public speaking debacle confirmed my passion for communication but humbled me; I needed coaching and hard work to excel at the craft
  • Initial failures at starting an organization gave me insights for later starting my own business with greater confidence and wisdom

I now realize that living “below average” was a launching pad, not a landing zone, for my leadership.

Leadership Lessons from Being “Below Average”

  1. It can make you work harder when you ought to
  2. Below average work experiences can make you move on when you need to
  3. Below average performance can open your mind to new ideas and catalyze emotional and spiritual growth you otherwise would miss
  4. Sometimes pounding the same nail creates a desire to change nails and leave the carpentry business
  5. Having below average performances does not mean you will become a below average leader; these can be the fuel for greater success
  6. Many below average leaders are just 5 minutes and 1 decision away from seizing an above average leadership opportunity, if they are willing to persevere

Failure is not always good, but it can be useful. This article; “Failing by Design” by Rita McGrath in HBR is very reassuring. A good leadership read.

So how about you? Make a list of your “below average” experiences; they might be the foundation blocks for living an above average life and becoming an extraordinary leader.

Where did failure motivate you? How did disappointment bring clarity to your future? When did you realize that a below average living was actually the seedbed for extraordinary achievement later in life? I would love to hear your story!


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Dr. Bill Donahue
Dr. Bill Donahue is President of LeaderSync Group, Inc

Bill is a professor at TIU and a Leadership Speaker and Consultant
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3 Great Ways to Scare Off Potential Employees

I Quit

Here are three sure fire ways to not only lose the people you have but also scare off any great potential employees.

 3 Great Ways to Scare Off Potential Employees

1. Use Layoffs as a Way to “Meet the Quarterly Numbers”

Although proven time and time again, somehow organizations STILL use layoffs as a tool.  Layoffs are NOT a good tactic to remedy short term budget crises.

More than anything, layoffs — and the potential for layoffs — causes a sense of panic within the employee base. ~ Mr. Van Gorder, CEO Health Scripps

2. Don’t Allow for Flex-Time, Working from Home, Job-Sharing or Other Alternative Work Arrangements

Somehow during economic programs like flex-time, working at home or alternative work weeks seem to lose their luster.  But why?  Is it because they are less effective?  No.  Most organizations see these types of work arrangements as “perks.” But they are not perks.  They are the new way of work and actually work to INCREASE productivity.

Companies are finding that flextime boosts productivity, and more and more of them, including Kraft Foods, Texas Instruments and First Tennessee Bank are taking advantage of it. When employees manage their own schedules, their stress levels decline and they focus better on their tasks. ~ Emily Schmitt, Forbes

Recently, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announces that employees can no longer work from home and must report to a Yahoo office by June. The stated reason was to create more innovation. The company has been struggling and Mayer thinks that this will help them increase business through innovative creativity.

However, there is a large group of people think that this move will hurt more than help. They simply point to Google.

3. Don’t Focus on Results

There are still too many organizations that operate under the misconception that working longer hours (night, weekends, through holidays, etc.) shows how dedicated an employee is.  Often, employees that don’t put in that “face time” are seen as “not dedicated”.  Unfortunately, there is nothing further than the truth.

Simply put, punching a time clock makes no sense for professionals. Their contribution is not the time they spend on their work but the value they create through their knowledge. – Robert C. Pozen Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School

All three of these facts indicate that employers need to start thinking of how to KEEP their best employees. What are you doing to make sure your best are not thinking of leaving AND you can hire the best when you need them?


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Anil Saxena
Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | (888) 999-0940 x-730

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8 Steps to Help Teams Master the Waves of Change

Crashing Waves

Helping your team thrive during change takes a plan that is certain and reliable. After all, change is difficult enough, so the best way to lead your people through times that seem turbulent is to provide them with a clear and steady road map.

Otherwise, they will feel tossed around in a sea of confusion.

A Sea of Change

I grew up on the beach (almost literally) in a small town in North Florida.  I remember being in the ocean with my sisters when we were children.  Sometimes it was choppy,  and the waves came down on us one after the next. They were so powerful – knocking me down and sometime stealing my breath.  But I would pop back up to face the next wave.

In this “post great-recession” world, change can pound us like the ocean pounds away at the beach.  We feel the erosion and we understand the risks.

We can’t keep up with the pace of change, let alone get ahead of it. At the same time, the stakes—financial, social, environmental, political—are rising.Accelerate ~ John Kotter

Change is the Only Constant

Leaders know that change is a permanent part of the business landscape. In fact, if you work in a large organization, you may be dealing with several significant change issues simultaneously. You are experiencing the waves, every day, with no end in sight.  You are also charged with helping a team of people navigate this ocean of constant change.

One of the best things a leader can do is help understand and develop the skills that will be required to be successful as the organization changes. After all, nothing kills the desire to try something new faster than the fear (or certain knowledge) that you will face the waves and drown.

People can’t do what they don’t know how to do.   – The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Mastering Change

Help your people build the skills they need master the crashing waves of change.  Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Identify skill gaps on the team

As a leader it is important that you know where your people have the skills to succeed and where they need development.

2) Ask people on your team what you can do to help them

People will share their thoughts on how they could best master new skills.  Start the conversation.

3) Be specific about the skills that are required

In a situation where people are facing something completely new, they may not know where to start.  Managers should be specific  about the new skills that are required for team success.

4) Shape roles and assignments to develop skills on your team

Powerful development happens on the job so maximize the opportunity for your team.  Provide support to help build skills in a stretch assignment.

5) Help people find resources to grow

Books, training and mentors are just a few options.  You may also consider local professional groups, higher education programs and cross training.

6) Commit the development plan to paper and hold each other accountable to work the plan

There are a number of good models for creating development goals.  It is a safe bet to focus on goals, actions and measures.  If you define these, you are off to a great start.

7) Provide feedback as people try new skills

Tailor feedback to meet individual needs.  Don’t forget to take advantage of “coachable moments”.

8) Maintain your own enthusiasm

Change is hard and your people rely on your to bring positive energy every day.  You must believe the team can be successful.  They will share your optimism.

Change Starts Within

Don’t forget to be committed to your own development. Leaders at all levels have an opportunity to be a true model of personal development. Talk with your team about your development plan and invite their feedback.

If you are working with a coach, let people know that you have one.  Finally, be open about both your success and your failures and make sure you address the important lessons that can be learned from both.

What are you doing to help your time thrive during times of change?  Are you working on developing any specific new skills?  Do you have a personal development plan? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
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