Articles related to leadership, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

Remaining Positive When Your Project Is Taking a Turn

We’ve all been there. That point in a critical business project where the outlook appears grim. Even though you planned out the project, you engaged your stakeholders, and you analyzed what you thought were all the risks, but unforeseen challenges arose. As a project manager, it’s your job to rally your team. So, how do you accomplish that without appearing overly optimistic? Find out here.

When Promoting Change Costs You

There is a lot of conversation on social media (and in coffee shops) about the latest Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. Ours is a nation divided. Divided by ideals, when the mission of this country is clear…liberty and justice for all.  The early settlers and founding fathers came to America fleeing persecution of their ideals, namely their freedom of religion. They established a nation of principles, the preamble states it clearly: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Our nation was founded on the principle of sacrificing for just beliefs. Of standing up (or sitting down) for what you believe in. And the recent Nike ad is promoting that ideal…”Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”.  As a Christian, I can relate. Studying the early church is a history lesson in when the belief was justified, but the sacrifice was heavy. Lives and freedoms were lost to advance the Gospel. Fast forward to advancing equality for Women and Minorities during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. The sacrifices of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, the Freedom Riders, and many others, created ripple of change that forever changed our nation. Lives and freedoms were lost to advance the value of justice and equality in America, and as a result, Black people were allowed to sit in the front of the bus and vote (and many other rights were granted).

In the aforementioned major cultural changes, people were made uncomfortable and felt “disrespected”. When I was a student at Texas A&M University, African-Americans made up less than 1% of the student body population. In order to address this disparity, the university enacted a race-based scholarship. Thankfully, I received that scholarship, but while I was a student, the administration announced plans to cut funding for the program for future students. I had helped charter and served on the board of the NAACP, so we felt we had to do something. We were well aware of the university’s history of discriminatory admissions, which allowed it to maintain it’s heterogeneous student body. We knew that we were in an area where the Ku Klux Klan still actively rallied, and added to the discomfort so many of us felt on campus.

So, on the day of the Rodney King verdict, we marched on the university president to demand that funding not get cut, knowing that doing so would negatively impact minority recruiting. I knew we couldn’t change that verdict, I couldn’t unsee the video of a black man being brutally beaten by officers in a parking lot, but I knew that I could help change things locally. I also knew when I was making that sign, that the protest I was participating in could cost me…it could have cost my job at the university, my admission, or even my freedom. But I was willing, because even as a college student I knew that standing for a just belief is more important than the discomfort of the person(s) I’m challenging. I didn’t have the national platform the Kaep had, but my fellow students and I knew that to impact change, we had to be bold. We had to ruffle feathers, we interrupted his meeting, we had to “disrespect” the president. We insisted that he talk to us and hear our concerns. The scholarship remained, minority enrollment improved, slowly. Change happened.

Colin Kaepernick was moved to act because of images similar to those that catalyzed my action in college. The very real injustice that occurs when people of color are either brutally beaten (or worse, murdered) during a police encounter. He saw that he could use his platform to bring attention to the root cause which is an unjust and discriminatory justice system. And he knew that he couldn’t politely ask for change, he had to make people uncomfortable. And as long as he, and others united in his cause, make the nation’s leaders uncomfortable, change will happen.

Change is never easy. And sometimes leading change can cost you. Are you willing to pay the price?

(Photo courtesy of Nike, Inc.)

Drift Happens – 3 Lessons About Sticking to Your Goals

Even the most disciplined people find times in their lives where they drift away from their goals. Life is consistently inconsistent, and it’s those people who catch themselves before they drift too far off course that excel and achieve their goals. I especially notice this when it comes to health and wellness. Over the course of my adult life, I’ve participated in several 5k and half-marathon races. During the training seasons for those events, I have found myself laser focused on my goals and motivated each day to accomplish them. But in the absence of an impending race, I become inconsistent. Runs turn to walks, and workout intensity drops to a minimum, and sometimes nothing at all. High performing athletes have an off-season, but it doesn’t mean being “off” from training. And because how we fuel our bodies plays a large part in overall health, I’m also mindful of what I eat (physically and spiritually). I generally eat healthy, but all I need is a birthday, vacation, or festive moment to throw caution to the wind. And in the summer, all of the above happen in a matter of a month. June babies rock!

Another place I see the drift effect is in my home office. Even the best systems require you to stick with them consistently. Letting papers pile up and not putting things where they belong will destroy any semblance of organization. Overflowing mailboxes, unpacked suitcases, out of order desks can all rob you of focus and productivity.

So as I’m working to restore my spiritual, physical, and workplace discipline (again!), I’m reminded of a story my pastor recently shared about being out on a lake fishing. He paused to fish and later looked up and realized the boat had drifted far from where it was originally. As I reflected on that example, I thought about the principles I’ve learned along the way with some realities of life. There are 3 important lessons to take heed of when sticking to your goals:

Drop your anchor, it will hold you steady – Ultimately, you want to prevent drift from occurring, and this requires an anchor. You need your consistent days to far outnumber our inconsistent ones. To do this, you have to establish habits that focus on what’s important, that keep you inline with your purpose. Exercising daily, eating a healthy, balanced diet and finishing important tasks on time will prevent the drift. Having purpose-driven goals, a rooted faith, and daily discipline will keep you from drifting from your goals.

Even in a boat, a little goes a long way – Working your plan requires you to take small steps daily. These tiny victories add up and keep you from having to fight your way back. The struggle comes during extremely busy seasons when there are limitations on your time. The key here is to put in a little bit each day, preventing you from having to start all over. Exercise minimally (but keep that body moving), maintain moderation in eating even while on vacation, connect with God while away from your place of worship, and create simple on-the-go organizing steps that reduce clutter. As long as you’re paddling your boat a little bit each day, you won’t drift too far of course.

You can’t control the water, only the boat – There are times when your routine is disrupted and you can’t focus on your goals. This could be because of a vacation (a planned disruption), or a family medical emergency (an unplanned disruption). Regardless of the cause of the pause, give yourself grace, commit to a restart day, and adjust your plan. Be grateful for muscle memory, go on a cleanse, and refile those loose papers. In reality, some days we can’t paddle because we have to fish. When that happens, drop your oars, and paddle as hard as you can. And as long as those gaps aren’t too far apart, you won’t have to paddle back too far.

Excellence is a daily practice, and successful people understand that. Focus on your goals, establish strong habits, and stay the course. But don’t let go of grace, because remember, drift happens!

Every Chameleon Knows Its Color: Being Adaptable AND Authentic

When I was in college, I worked at a pet store in the mall, and I fell in love with a cute little chameleon. I wore my hair in a bun on top of my head at the time, and I would place him on my bun and he’d hold on while I walked around the store greeting customers (talk about your conversation starter).  I got a kick out of placing him near my brown apron and watching him change colors…sometimes. When he wasn’t clinging to my bun or my apron, I would observe him in his terrarium.  As I watched little “Charma Chameleon”, I wanted to know more about those fascinating creatures. As someone who moved around a lot as child and adapted to repeated change, I could relate to my tiny friend. And as I reflect, I see that we have some important characteristics in common. We both knew:

Being adaptable doesn’t mean not knowing who you are.  Chameleons change color only as needed. If they are on a leaf, they are green if they need to be green, and if they are on a branch, they are brown if they need to be brown. But when it’s not near anything it needs to adapt to, it knows what color to show. The chameleon was aware of his authentic self and comfortable with who he knew himself to be.

Adapting is a conscious choice – Chameleons change their color to reflect their moods and to camouflage themselves. It is both a communication tool and a defense mechanism that allows them to survive. When our communities, organizations and world undergo change, it is those who choose to adapt to the change that thrive in it. Ultimately, a chameleon knows why he must adapt and that understanding keeps him from making arbitrary change.

As leaders, we need to be adaptable AND authentic. Like chameleons, we know who we are, we know our values, we know our “true colors”. But we also recognize the value of adapting to changes in our environment.

If You Want Something Done Right…

I was guilty of finishing this sentence incorrectly; the common way: If you want something done right, do it yourself!.  But that is a sure fire way to end up overwhelmed and frustrated, surrounded by demoralized people. I grumbled it in the kitchen to my children (and my husband) and I said it to more than one colleague at work. Ouch! Thankfully, I learned not only to not say this out loud, but to not believe it in my heart. You see, even if you don’t utter these words, they will ooze out of your pores like the venom from rare toads in the Amazon. It reflects a heart condition of pride, piousness, and perfectionism. The proper way to complete this phrase is “If you want something done right, teach someone how to do it”. Now there is an impactful statement. Consider the following points as you begin to impart into those in your charge:

  1. You’ll have to repeat what you said – I was looking at the cooking utensils in my kitchen one day, and I wanted to complain about the improper placement of them. But instead I gently called for my youngest son and offered a “refresher orientation”. I would like to think that he would remember all the details I had meticulously taught him before, but then I remembered that repetition is a key principle in education…so I repeated the lesson. And, as a result,  I continued to have a helpful kitchen aid. Teachers don’t just teach on the first day of school.
  2. Not all teachers use a chalkboard – When we hear the word teach, we often think lecture and instruction. But don’t underestimate the value of modeling what and how something should be done. It took me years to realize that I was scrambling eggs wrong (to my liking) and it took watching my husband without instruction to realize that consistently perfect eggs require low heat and constant stirring…who knew?! Apparently, he did, but instead of lecturing me on the proper way to scramble eggs, he simply did it the way it should be done, and I caught on. Our actions speak volumes in the “classroom”.
  3. Consider your “student” in the lesson plan – Whether your student is your child, your spouse, or a member of your project team, you will get the best return on investment (ROI) of your time if you include them in the lesson planning. Consider their learning style: are they auditory (learn by listening), visual (learn by seeing), or tactile (learn by doing). This will make a difference in how they respond to you and should dictate your delivery…because as animal trainers say, “it’s never the animal’s fault”. Taking ownership of how the lesson is personalized will inspire your pupils to learn.


You can’t do it all…right! – There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything yourself. You can try, and you may even succeed in some areas. Anyone adopting this attitude is going to find themselves burning the candle at both ends. They won’t be able to keep up with the demands on their time, and their own quality will suffer. At work and at home, you may be able to do it all…but you can’t do it all right! And isn’t that the point?

Speak Up and Be Like Rudy!

When I was in the fourth grade, I was the new kid (again!), and this time it was close to the end of the year, so I wasn’t going to bother making new friends. Well, to my surprise, my parents bought me a 64 pack of Crayola Crayons! This made me an instant hit in the classroom, and one girl, Esther, always wanted to borrow my crayons. The problem was, she kept breaking them! One day, with palm sweating and heart racing,  I mustered up the courage to tell her she couldn’t use my crayons anymore. She didn’t yell, but through clinched teeth she told me she was going to beat me up after school. And she was apparently a woman of her word because she did just that…slapping me right across my face!

Scared and upset, I boarded the bus and when an older girl named Rudy got on, she asked me what was wrong. I told her what happened, and she stormed off the bus to go find my assailant (it was a city bus, so the driver was, well, a driver). Rudy told the bully in no uncertain terms that she would regret it if she ever touched me again.  Suddenly, my tears dried up and I started chanting, “Rudy! Rudy!” The rest of the bus caught on, and she humbly signaled for us to stop. To her eager onlookers, Rudy simply said “I can’t stand when people mess with my friends”. And just like that, she showed me how to use my voice for someone else. Esther was never a threat to Rudy, she didn’t speak up for her own interests, she spoke up for some else. She demonstrated what the Prophet Isiah said: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed…”

And while I was just a kid whose feelings (and cheek) were hurt, if Rudy had remained silent, I would have a very different memory of that day. Because of Rudy’s courage, I saw the power in using my position and voice for others.  As a result, the bully was neutralized, and I gained a script to use for future conflict. And, I was able to finish the school year without any more broken crayons!

Being a leader often means standing up for those who can’t. Bullying is not just a schoolyard problem, but one that permeates offices, families, and communities. Whether it’s in your workplace, family, community, or school, speak up for others and be like Rudy!


Listen…Then Lead

One of the challenges seasoned change leaders have is entering a new environment and still being respected as a leader. This can come as a result of a re-organization, a job change, or life as usual for consultants (we’re always the new kid on the block). The first thing any new person to a team must do is LISTEN. But the new kid will hear a lot of noise, so below are the critical factors you should listen for when entering a new environment BEFORE you lead:

  1. To hear the status quo  – One thing most change leaders don’t like to hear is “we’ve always done it this way”. But that piece of intel can unlock methods and  motives behind the way things are currently operating. Don’t be so quick to dismiss this information, it can save you from re-inventing the wheel, and it will let your team know that you’ve done some homework. You can later use the information as a baseline for your strategy of where you’re going next.
  2. To understand the relationship dynamics – To lead change in an organization of any size, you need to gather your allies, and size up your challengers. Listening attentively for relational disharmony can keep you from stepping on a landmine. Also, when you pay attention to the behavior styles of the team, you’ll be better equipped to help them move their cheese.Everyone on a team has a part to play, but they may not all know their role. Listen carefully for signs of role ambiguity (people and/or team members not knowing their roles).
  3. To hear the REAL problem  – Often the people or processes you are trying to change aren’t what really need to change. When embarking on a new initiative, you have to look and listen for the real issue. This requires crafting questions that help get to the root of things. Ask “why?” multiple times (I like the rule of thumb to ask it at least 3 times). The goal is to probe and listen so you can hear past the symptoms and deal with the root cause.

THEN (and only then) can you objectively create a change strategy. This Listening Assessment is useful for implementing new business processes, or even for getting a teenager to improve their performance in Algebra. Whatever the change you’re spearheading, be sure to Listen…Then Lead!

What You Focus on Grows

I love the old adage “What you focus on grows”.  It speaks to investing our time and attention to the things that matter. And in return, you’ll get dividends. Most times, people intend to focus on the important relationships, tasks, and projects in their lives, but it can be difficult. There are so many things vying for our attention, competing for our energy and focus. This can be especially frustrating when we talk about goals. Making goals is important, but sticking to them is even more vital. Here are a few ideas you can consider as you put your goals into place for this year:

  1. Put First Things First – As Dr. Covey states in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. Put the important things in your life (or day) at the top of your to-do list. Focus on getting those finished first, and THEN dive into something else.
  2. Drown out the noise – Distractions are all around us. Even the best laid out day can be filled with calls, emails, and other matters that take your focus away. Try methods like the Pomodoro (which has an app for your phone) to time your productive times. You intentionally focus during that interval and then take a break. This did wonders for me and kept me from chasing squirrels in my mind!
  3. Make a visual plan – I like vision boards, but they only remind you of what, and not when. OK, you’re saying “here goes the project manager” …but honestly, creating a visual timeline of tasks and goals will help you stay focused. There are tons of tools that will let you create something electronically, but what’s even better is to PRINT it out, put it somewhere visible and mentally check in with it.
  4. Setup an Accountability system – That visual plan you created is useful for keeping you accountable, but sharing its contents (milestones, etc) with someone else is the key to accountability. Whether it’s your spouse, a friend, a prayer partner or a mastermind group, sharing your goals (the what and the when) will help you remain focused on the promise you made to yourself. As you setup your goals, be sure to add some accountability to keep you focused on achieving them.

So, what do you want to grow this year? Whether it’s your health, your wealth, or your relationships, you’ll need to focus to make them grow. Because if you don’t…they won’t.

Change We CAN Control – It’s YOUR Attitude

Life always boils down to choices, and when it comes to dealing with difficulty, we really have two. As the famous poet Maya Angelou put it, “We can change our circumstances or we can change our attitude.” I am a proponent of changing circumstances, no matter how difficult they may seem. But even the most aggressive overcomer can’t change everything. So, what do we do if a situation is beyond our control and we can’t change it no matter how hard we try? That’s when we focus on changing our attitude. These three strategies will help if you need to change your attitude:


  1.  Choose to remain positive. John C. Maxwell said, “Remaining positive in a negative situation is not naïve, it’s leadership.” As leaders, whether we are leading ourselves personally, leading a team, or leading an entire organization, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to remain positive. A positive attitude is infectious, and that is what you want to infect the people around you with. It’s not a matter of smiling or faking through difficulty, but choosing to not grumble and complain can make a huge impact on how you endure the situation. I can’t remember the last time a bad attitude changed the outcome of a dilemma anyway.
  2. Look at the trial as a lesson. Everything that we go through has a purpose in our lives; whether it is difficulty at work, a project that failed, a relationship that failed, or even the loss of a job. Those hit us very hard and can be deeply wounding. But what they all do is that they help us grow by giving us lessons. And every time that we’re in a situation, especially things that are beyond our control, we have to ask ourselves, what is it that I can learn from this situation? Why is this happening? Why was I given the opportunity to learn in the situation? When we encounter our obstacles that way it helps us maintain a productive outlook. The most beautiful flowers are those that have had the most fertilizer!
  3. Prepare to share the lesson. Finally, and in my opinion, most importantly, you want to look beyond you. It’s one thing for you to learn a lesson. I always say, “I don’t lose, I learn.” But every time we learn we have an opportunity … There’s something else that we’re able to impart to someone else. When we share our lessons learned we grow personally, but we grow our community immensely. So, when we take those opportunities to look beyond ourselves, to find the purpose in that situation, the purpose behind that pain. Whatever trial that you’re dealing with, find a reason for that too, not just be about you because it never is just about us anyway.


So, remember, if you can’t change your circumstances, you can change your attitude…it’s yours. Keep this in mind as you prepare your goals for next year. Some things you can (and should) change, while some things you need a change of heart toward.

Delegation Done Right

Fountain Pen, Text, Leave, White, SpringAs a project manager, I have found delegation to be one of the most valuable tools in my toolbox, but it is one that I have seen often misused.

Why is it misused? Well, quite simply because often times people don’t understand the difference between true delegation and just telling someone to do something. Anyone can tell someone to do something, especially the “bossy” people, but can you properly delegate a task to someone? We’ll take a pen for instance, if I pass a pen to someone and say, “Here, you take this pen.”, that’s me telling them to take the pen, but I’ve not told them what to do with the pen and when I would like to see the results of what they’ve done with the pen. If I throw them the pen and say, “Here’s a pen and I would like you to write a one page letter on your life and I need that by Friday at noon.”, then that is clearly delegating.

The difference is in the detail. The amount of detail that I gave to help the person understand what it is that I’m asking them to do, but then also for myself to understand and to clarify what I need them to do so that I can remember what I’m holding them accountable to. Because the key in delegation as well, is that I’m delegating  not just the task, but the authority along with the task. Who’s going to write that letter? The person I delegated it to. Who’s going to return the letter? The person I delegated it to. So, the key is that all authority had been granted to the person who is now responsible for the task. If I come following up on a Wednesday for something I’ve asked to be done on Friday, I’m then questioning the authority that I’ve given them.

The beauty of delegation in a team environment is that it is empowering. It empowers the team around you to contribute to the greater good, to contribute to the project as a whole, but the only way that that can  effectively take place is if you have properly delegated the task with the necessary details and that those necessary details are understood by both myself, (the sender) and by the person doing the task (the receiver) because we all know what happens in communication. We’ll follow up with that later, but for right now, the whole point is how do we make sure that what we have delegated has been clearly outlined so that everyone understands not just what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. That deadline is very important and helps people remain on track and hold themselves accountable to what they’ve been asked to do.

If you’re a leading a team, I encourage you to think about how you delegate. To think about the level of detail that you’re providing and a level of detail that you’re getting back. Remember, you’re delegation should be a two-way conversation, so as you’re communicating with people on your team and delegating to them, ensure that they have responded in the affirmative to understanding what task has been delegated to them. By doing so, you will improve the performance on your team and you’ll see a return in your time investment in the people around you.