Leadership Move: How to Shift from Criticism to Feedback

A man holds a sign: Advice $.50. Good advice $2.00.

If you’re not clear on the difference between criticism and feedback, you could be missing out on your best coaching and developmental opportunities. I’m going to illustrate how this happens by sharing a particularly cringe-worthy error from my past but first let’s define what we’re talking about.

The Difference Between Criticism and Feedback

Criticism is easy to identify when you’re on the receiving end. Nobody likes it. It makes us feel bad — like we missed the mark. We blew it. On the other hand, feedback usually makes us feel better, more hopeful. We’re ready to try again. What differentiates the two? Continue reading “Leadership Move: How to Shift from Criticism to Feedback”


Entrepreneur, Solopreneur, Intrapreneur — Which Are You?

Entrepreneur Solopreneur Intrapreneur illustrationDriven business leaders are not created equal. Each of us possess separate and distinct superhero talents. When we develop self awareness, we realize there are certain situations in which we thrive.

Have you thought about the type of business leader you are, or might become? Let’s look at three driven types: Entrepreneurs, Solopreneurs, and Intrapreneurs. For each, I’ll give you a formal definition, then my definition, and finally, a blog you might enjoy reading if you fall within that personal leadership style. I hope you won’t mind that I’m going to ask you to do me a favour at the end of this article.


Formal definition: A person who sets up businesses and takes on risk in the hopes of profit.
My definition: You know you’re an entrepreneur when…

  • You see opportunity everywhere — even when your eyes are closed.
  • You see failure as a temporary setback — an investment in education.
  • Your favourite words are “What if…?”

A blog entrepreneurs might like: Both Sides Of The Table


Formal definition: A solopreneur is an entrepreneur who works alone; one who runs a business single-handedly.
My definition: You know you’re a solopreneur when…

  • You tell people you’re the CEO, the Accountant, or the company’s Administrative Assistant – depending on who’s asking and what day it is.
  • You know your daily receivables balance to the penny. By heart.
  • You can reconcile banking statements, bang out a killer proposal, and reprogram your computer… in a single morning.

A blog solopreneurs might like: The Solopreneur Life


Formal definition: An intrapreneur takes responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product within the confines of an organization; one who challenges the status quo within a company to build a better future.

My definition: You know you’re an intrapreneur when…

  • You’re the first person people look at when they need to solve a complex problem or initiate change.
  • You see connections where others see none; you’re able to think 3 and 4 steps ahead before a new process is initiated.
  • You work 60-70 hours per week because you’re building the business, not because anyone might notice and think more of you.

A blog intrapreneurs might like: Savvy Intrapreneur

I’m an intrapreneur. Which one are you?

Icons by Delekat

Recruiting: Doing Well By Doing Good

Updated June 2014

Few professions have a bigger impact on business than recruiting.

Banner: Love your recruiterYou can have the best processes, the best product, and the best pricing strategy, but without the people to deliver, you’re nowhere. That makes recruiters’ output a critical business function.

Your company’s future is tied directly to your recruitment strength. But companies aren’t the only beneficiaries. Candidates also benefit greatly from working with recruiters. Who else will give you candid feedback on your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and coach you on your interviewing skills? A recruiter with an eye for talent can be the bridge leading to that first really good gig. While we’re recognizing all the good that recruiters do for companies and for candidates, it’s good to take a moment to think of recruiters’ needs. They deserve all the training and mentoring we can come up with.

Here are some recruiter training resources:

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Leading Out Loud – Inspiring Change By Transforming The Leader

LeadingOutLoudTerry Pearce’s revised edition of Leading Out Loud: A Guide For Engaging Others In Creating The Future is a welcome guidepost for today’s leaders feeling pinched between the need for organizational change and a workforce that’s tired of flavor-of-the-day management.  To sum it up in a few words, the book is about inspiring change by communicating with personal authenticity.

Pearce identifies four steps leading to personal awareness: discovering what matters, emotional awareness, connecting with others, and letting the authentic voice come through in written messages. I was happy to see the focus on writing. What a waste it would be to gain clarity and purposeful direction, only to relegate the important written communications to the marketing department.

The author suggests that all positive change starts by stepping back to draw on the leader’s values – and these stem from personal experience – something each of us has in abundance if we will take the time to examine our own life lessons.

The well of human experience is indeed deep. But the treasures are worth the effort of going into this water, especially if you want to have a conscious and meaningful impact on the world in which you live. You don’t need to sit in a cave for twenty years; at least some of the treasure is accessible in your normal life’s context. Once you discover the themes that matter most to you, you can convert them to inspiration for others–but only if you are courageous, disciplined, and emotionally attuned enough to do so.

Each chapter is full of real life stories and experiences to make lessons easy to grasp and immediately relevant. The stories lend a nice balance to the material which is, at times, a bit academic in style. I particularly enjoyed reading about his selection process for management candidates. Read this question and decide how well you’d do on this one: “What have you done, in the last 12 months, with your own money and on your own time, to develop your capability to lead?” Wow. Let the stammering begin.

He makes an interesting study of relationships that must be considered before launching any change initiative.

  • The relationship between the leader and the message
  • The relationship between the leader and the constituents
  • The relationship between the constituents and the message

Pearce defines the ultimate task of the leader like this:

To edit the story of the organization to change the ending, to infuse a new plot line into a story that has become stale, lifeless, or irrelevant.

Effective, sustainable, worthwhile change begins with caring for others and building trust. He lays out questions to help the leader find their best point of empathy.

  • What am I truly thankful for, with regard to this chance to communicate or to those I will interact with?
  • On whose shoulders do I stand?
  • What are people likely to be thinking and feeling about this issue?
  • What emotional and mental resistance will others have to this change?

I recommend this book for anyone in a leadership position. Executive coaches will also enjoy this book as it facilitates identifying one’s values and incorporating those values into a teachable point of view. You’ll emerge a better leader for having invested the time to work through Pearce’s discovery points.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book by Jane Wesman Public Relations in exchange for writing a review.

Surviving The New Job

Great recruiters are like hurdle racers

Hurdle racerChanging jobs at the leadership level is tough territory. Part of the challenge is that new people see the work environment through a different lens than those who have been around a while. Fresh eyes may bring new ideas but they can’t fathom the awards, the wins, and the battle scars that make up the proud past.

That’s the situation I found myself in a year ago. After working with the same company for more than a decade, I was navigating the uncharted waters of a new organization. That may sound a bit overly dramatic… It isn’t. The success rate for people in their first new job after a long stint with the same employer is abysmal. Good thing I’m stubborn.

I’m also thorough. Never one to do things halfway, I jumped right in and enthusiastically made every mistake known to man within the first six months. Fortunately, each of these “opportunities for improvement” were sufficiently packed with learning that they need never be repeated.

What I find most amusing about this transition is the qualities that helped me succeed in the past – namely adaptability and resilience – actually tripped me up and lengthened the painful period I now lovingly refer to as “the gangly teenager days”.  The more I forced myself to adapt and fit in, the stiffer I appeared. I do believe there was a period of three months where the deer-in-headlights expression never left my face. Hopefully, there will be some kind of karmic payoff for those weeks of facial paralysis. After all, my heart was in the right place. I’m thinking that something like less wrinkles around the eyes would be reasonable compensation.

Lest you think I am able to magically rise above every difficulty all on my own, I have to point out there were times my mentor pulled me out of the fire, brushed the ashes off my singed butt, and said ‘never mind’. Don’t underestimate the value of having a mentor. You need a safe place to talk about your screw ups and your successes so that you’re always driving the business forward.

As I round the corner and make my way toward the twelve month mark, what has my attention is alignment and playing a bigger game with the awesome people I get to work with (AC, JT, RA, ST – you know who you are). They say life is a series of finish lines. I can see the next one — it says in big bold letters: This team is a force to be reckoned with.

For readers considering a career change, make sure you’re ready for a hurdle race. I recommend spinach and multivitamins.

Zooming versus Micromanagement

Boardroom table

Boardroom tableSomewhere, somehow, we got the idea that leaders shouldn’t bother with the finer points of running a business; that staying high level is the mark of true leadership. That’s dangerous thinking that can slow down the development of a business unit.

When I interview management candidates, I like to have them describe their leadership style. The reason I do this is to see if their thinking has graduated beyond clichés and into the realm where they truly understand their gifts and the personal development cycle that was necessary to get them where they are today. I’ve noticed there are certain clichés that, when offered, often represent the full and total understanding of the person in front of me. In other words, they’re stumped to come up with any kind of example or deeper conversation on the subject. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it just underscores that they are at the beginning of their leadership journey rather than a seasoned manager.

“I have an open door policy” can be an example of one of those statements. Another common one is “I hire good people and let them do their thing.” But the one that bothers me – and this is the only one that does – is this line: “I’m not a micromanager.” The reason it bothers me is that the word micromanagement is not well understood, therefore it’s easy to misuse.

Attention To Detail Is Not Micromanaging
Great leaders have the ability to toggle their attention between high level and detail according to business needs. It’s a skill that requires flexibility and a keen understanding of how everyday tasks impact the longer-term vision. If something doesn’t look right, it’s the leader’s job to dig in and understand what’s happening. You’ll have to decide each time if this is an opportunity to delegate, or something you should handle personally.

Here’s what I wrote in “Zooming For Effective Leaders“:

I think part of the problem is that it’s not sexy to wallow through the muck of a gnarly problem. It’s messy and it can be frustrating. Some call that management hell – I call it being midway to a solution.

What Is Zooming?
Zooming is a highly desirable leadership trait where the leader consciously steps away from higher level activities to “zoom” or deep dive into detail to assess a situation or satisfy curiosity. These leaders see things that others miss — and this comes from their unique ability to connect the day-to-day minutiae with how well or how quickly the team will achieve big picture goals. And for that reason, their teams are often among the higher performers in the company.

So the next time you’re curious about why something is the way it is — an invoice looks odd, fulfillment time seems too long, or you’re overhearing comments not in line with the usual banter — dig in. Share with your team what you learn.

And don’t ever let anyone use “I don’t know” as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Timeless Gems from Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker dies at 95
Peter Drucker dies at 95 (Photo credit: IsaacMao)

I’m hosting a leadership conference for a small group of very special people this week. This seems a great time to bring out some timeless gems from Peter Drucker.

  • “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”
  • “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”
  • “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Do you have a favourite quote or words of wisdom to share?

Change – From the Inside Out

Click photo for more on dealing with change

I write about change and change management because I love it. Testing assumptions and considering new perspectives is an activity that touches a pleasure centre in my brain (and yes, I do own up to the geek-ness of that phrase). Even when new information means scrapping plans and starting over, it feels good to know our adjusted path will take us even closer to the goal. I not only love change, I seek it out. If things remain static for too long you’ll see me moving the furniture around.

All that said, I can still be made uncomfortable by change

It takes a lot to make me wince – and it’s only happened twice that I can remember. You won’t see me struggle with an unexpected new boss or a sudden increase in expected output (here’s a tip: if you see your boss reading “Double Your Profits in 60 Days” buckle your seatbelt). I can handle moving to a new city to take on career challenges. I learned a second language as an adult and then intentionally got myself a job in a place where English wasn’t spoken (I could write for days about the lessons I learned from making some very unfortunate pronunciation errors). And I’ve successfully navigated many years of corporate course corrections (a nice term for flavour-of-the-day management fads). None of those were particularly daunting. I’m talking about a different kind of change. The kind that skips over skills and abilities and digs right down to the values level — to who you are as a person and how you show up.

I’m talking about serious reexamine-who-you-want-to-be kinds of changes.

I see these playing out in three distinct stages:

  • Developing awareness of the gap
  • Consciously deciding what to do with that awareness
  • Activating the decision

Developing Awareness
When we first become aware of a gap, we may not have a sense of the depth or breadth. It can start out as an intuitive feeling that something’s missing or odd. Stay with the feeling long enough to truly examine what’s behind it and you may find yourself peeling an onion. The deeper you go, the more layers become visible. Talking to others to gain multiple viewpoints almost always helps to round out understanding and perspective.

Knowing there is a gap is not enough. Now you have to decide what to do with it. You have choices. You can choose to make no change, or make some adjustments, or ask others to adjust instead. You may elect to take it on fully as a personal and professional developmental challenge. This is your pivot point. What you do next will impact you and those around you.

A simple gap analysis – declaring where you are in comparison to where you’ve decided you want to be – will reveal the steps required to achieve the new goal. Write it down on paper. Draw a picture if you’re a visual thinker. Now just do it. Don’t wait for it to be perfect. If you need an accountability partner, say your goals out loud to someone. Do whatever it takes to activate your plan. Get yourself over the hump of that very first action and you will find that each next step will be successively easier than the one before.

I’d love to hear from others who have consciously undertaken a personal change process. What was true for you? Or maybe you’re looking for an accountability partner. Add your voice to this post by leaving a comment.

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

I wish I could take credit for the title of this post but the words belong to John Maxwell, author and leadership guru.

We all know change is constant.  It’s not a matter of wondering if things will change as much as when. Nothing in life stands still.

If you hate change you might describe it as an assault.  If you love it, you might see it as unexpected opportunity.  Both viewpoints share one common truth: change, in and of itself, is not sufficient to produce growth. Here are, according to me, the required ingredients to turn turmoil into opportunity.

Be open.

I could serve up dozens of famous quotes to support this one. Here are two favourites.  “Resistance is futile.” – courtesy of the Borg.  A former colleague and awesome coach, Bev M. T. used to say in our management coaching sessions: “What you resist persists.” It’s no good fighting change. The more open you are, the more information you will have at your disposal when it comes time to make decisions.

Be curious.

You don’t have to be in love with what’s happening to come up with great questions. If emotions are getting in the way you might try to view the situation as a journalist. What would he or she need to know in order to formulate an interesting and fact-filled story?

Be honest.

Being open and curious during times of change doesn’t mean you can’t say you hate what’s happening.  When things suck, it’s ok to say so. The important thing is to understand what you are feeling and why.


Seth Godin on Leader vs Manager

Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper. Leaders, on the other hand, know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.

There’s a little more to his blog than those first two lines; you can read it here.

The whole leadership vs. management debate is a topic I love and one I write about often.  You can find past posts by using the search box on the home page (if you don’t see a “home” icon, click on the blog title).  Search on the words leadership, versus, or vs.  Here’s a quote from one of them:

If I have the vision and the leadership skills to paint a picture of a possible future for my team and get them inspired to action, I’d better also have the capability to measure execution and progress — otherwise all I’ve done is provided short term motivation and a pretty picture.  That’s where management meets leadership in my book.

You can read the entire post here.

You may also enjoy:  Flexing From Leader To Manager And Back Again.