What’s Important…

“Look for three things in a person – intelligence, energy, and integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.” ~ Warren Buffet

I love this quote from one of my favorite authors on leadership. It includes two of my favorite values…integrity and energy. I define integrity as doing what you say you’re going to do and energy as doing it with some emphasis and enthusiasm!

But I would modify the first word or add to the quote, especially when talking about leaders. I’ve learned that leaders who are also intelligent about the people they work with are the most successful. Emotionally intelligent leaders who understand themselves and how their behaviors impact others are definitely worth the bother.

Inhale Integrity, Exhale Deception…
Inhale Energy, Exhale Passivity…
Inhale Emotional Intelligence, Exhale Unconsciousness…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe
#Leadership

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Emotions

Our emotions are there to tell us something about the way we’re processing our experience. How we respond to our emotions says a lot about who we are…we get to choose.

Positivity is one of my strengths and I usually choose to be positive. Not always, but I work on it. I do things that fill me up, like getting still to pray and meditate and getting physical through exercise and eating healthy. I try to limit my exposure to negativity…be it people, experiences, or lies masquerading as news.

And when I do experience negative emotions, I process them. I cry, I read favorite passages…I get still to feel what I’m feeling. I go to my favorite healing places, like Lake Michigan or when it’s winter in Chicago, I listen to the sounds of the ocean and imagine I’m on a cruise ship or lying on a beach. I let the emotions flow through me like water…and then I focus on the blessings in my life.

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” ~ Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Inhale Emotion, Exhale Stoicism…
Inhale Feelings, Exhale Repression…
Inhale Awareness, Exhale Numbness…
#JustBreathe…

Reflections With Renita

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It’s NOT Always about You…

A few years ago, I got a protective hairstyle to guard against the Chicago winter and let my stylist talk me out of my plan and into longer hair. I immediately realized my error and went back the next day for a corrective cut. In response to a query from another customer, I explained that long hair did not fit my life style, which she interpreted as a knock against HER long weave.

It is human nature to interpret external data through our personal lens, but it was fascinating that a person I did not know would react to my decision about me as somehow reflecting on her. I immediately thought of the second of “The Four Agreement”s by Don Miguel Ruiz:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

Inhale Perspective, Exhale Personal…
Inhale Global, Exhale Naval-gazing…
Inhale Universal, Exhale Individual…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

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Three Ways to Create a Culture of Engagement

Savvy business owners know that employee engagement has to start at the beginning of an entrepreneurial effort. It has to be a part of the culture created, communicated through the hiring process and cultivated in how employees are developed and how their engagement is encouraged.

Reesheda and Darrel Washington know this, which is why last week, after their brand new business closed its doors for the evening, L!VE Café and Creative Space was open for team development. I was privileged to facilitate the training and witness firsthand their intentionality about creating, not just a coffee café, but a transformational and inspirational space for “courageous, authentic and abundant L!VING” for their customers, the larger community and most importantly, their crew.

The L!VE crew was as engaged and open as I expected, so much so that the training spilled over the allotted time. Toward the end, one team member asked an unexpected question of the owners …”Why are you doing this [training]?

I found the question poignant because it implied so many more questions…
Why do you care so much about your employees?
Why is it important to know the individual and collective strengths of your team?
Why is the development of your staff so important?
Why were you working so hard to create a team?
Why are you submitting yourselves to training you could conduct?

Why…?

The question also implied the behavior was abnormal, which unfortunately, it is. Many companies claim customer service is a top priority. Many claim to care about their employees. Many claim to want more engaged employees but they don’t prove their claims with actual action.

The way Reesheda and Darrel answered these questions reflect so much about their desire to live their purpose using their God-given talents. It also indicated their understanding of how their employees’ engagement impacts their bottom line. Here’s what I heard:

Get to know and care about your people.
People know when you care about them. We have a sense from the oldest part of our brains about who is safe and who is not, who has our best interests at heart and who is looking out for himself/herself only. And we are less likely to be enthusiastic about the latter! So find something that you can celebrate and appreciate about each member of your team.

People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~ Either Teddy Roosevelt or John Maxwell!

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission.
This is one of those lessons I was first exposed to at my very first Air Force assignment. It made sense to me then because I wasn’t the one doing most of the work!

I saw the Washingtons demonstrate their understanding that, as the leaders, taking care of their people entails much more than providing the resources needed to get the job done in a relatively safe physical environment. They are actively providing their team opportunities to grow, providing recognition for a job well done, providing honest feedback when needed, and providing an opportunity to do something else when necessary! In other words, they are actively and deliberately developing their team.

Demonstrate your culture.
Teams tend to model behavior based on behavioral cues from the leader. And there is nothing like taking the time to participate in a training session to demonstrate the importance of individual and collective development to your team. In this instance, the fact that the Washingtons submitted themselves to training they could have conducted themselves, also powerfully demonstrated their dedication to their own continuous growth and improvement.

If you’re a leader who is not intentionally creating an environment that encourages your employees to care about the company, I have a question for you …why?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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Aftermath

It’s been a week since the beginning of the apocalypse. I know many don’t see the election results in the same dire terns but many do; I’ve read some well-written, heartfelt pieces that have made me cry, some articulate, angry pieces that called me to action and of course, Awesomely Luvvie ‘cause she makes me howl even when she’s angry. Oh yeah, and the Joe Biden memes…much needed laughs.

But I’ve mostly been researching, reading and reflecting…and praying and planning. Because as Paul said, this is a life or death fight to the finish…

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” Ephesians 6: 13 – 18, The Message

Inhale Faith, Exhale Fear…
Inhale Belief, Exhale Grief…
Inhale Action, Exhale Inertia…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

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How is Your Leadership Impacting Your Team?

I once had a boss try to embarrass me in a meeting. I had been on the job about a month and was still trying to learn my way around.

I don’t really remember what she said, but I do remember hearing the roar of blood rushing to my face. I was stunned and momentarily immobilized. I managed to finish what I was doing (I think) but my emotions had been hijacked, rendering me unable to fully function. When I confronted her later, her response was basically, “Yeah, and I did it on purpose….”

Her action and response had a really negative impact on my desire to continue working for her.

Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman writes in Primal Leadership that the fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead and “that occurs when the leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people”.

The opposite of resonance is dissonance; a dissonant leader throws people off balance and negatively impacts their performance.

A dissonant leader creates employees who don’t want to be there. According to Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, disengaged describes about 70% of American employees and employee disengagement is costing the U.S. an estimated $450-$550 billion annually.

The great thing about being in the military is that you get to experience leadership changes frequently. Either you or your boss will eventually move to another location. So the occasional dissonant leader may make your life miserable for a time … that you know will pass. I decided early in my career to try and learn from the good AND not-so-good leaders.

This particular dissonant leader reinforced for me the truth of a tenet I learned as a young officer…

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission.Tweet

I understood it to mean I was to provide what was needed to the people I was privileged to lead so they could do their jobs. Providing what they needed wasn’t just ensuring they had the resources they required, a safe physical environment and recognition for a job well done. It also meant creating a culture where people felt safe to make mistakes and being honest when the mistake was mine.

Taking care of the people meant being open and transparent when, for example, a unit I was leading was being outsourced.

It meant not asking my subordinate commanders to drop what they were doing to attend an emergency meeting…that was not an actual emergency.

A leader who understands how to take care of her people is going to attract and retain employees who want the organization to be successful and are actively engaged in creating that success.

Do you know how your leadership is impacting your team?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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You Better Fix Yo’ Face!

I had an epiphany this week. It was during a conversation with a very successful woman business owner about a Huffington Post article on the second presidential debate.

Like the women in the article, we too have experienced disturbing behavior from men who try to use their physicality to silence us. Like most women, we were revulsed by Trump’s lurking, hovering, space invading attempts to intimidate Sec Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC). And as many women expressed on social media, we are in awe of her ability to refrain from physically attacking him.

And that’s when I had my “Aha” moment. HRC’s mastery at fixing her face may be a contributing factor to the widely held belief that she is a liar.

Hear me out! I’m not saying it’s the main factor. Most of the charges of lying stem from garden variety sexism levied at women leaders on a daily basis. HRC has had the temerity to be ambitious. She not only has definite ideas about how to do good in the world, she has implemented some of those ideas. She was the trail-blazing first First Lady to have a formal position in her husband’s West Wing. People across the political spectrum have attacked her for everything from her decision to stay with her philandering husband to how she wears her hair.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which was investigating the events surrounding the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others died.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which was investigating the events surrounding the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others died.

And of course, there are the multiple investigations, often launched as a result of fallacious charges, book-ended between the 8-year, $70 million Whitewater investigation, led by disgraced former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the $8 million, multi-congressional hearings on Benghazi.

There has yet to be a discovery of anything indictable but the impression remains that Hillary has something to hide.

The perception persists despite political fact checking organizations like PolitiFact rating over 70 percent of HRC’s statements as true, mostly true or half true.

Transparency loving Millennials have been particularly hard on her, calling her inauthentic. But what they view as a lack of authenticity could be the restrained responses of a woman, who, understanding how people react to powerful women, is trying to play within what is allowed even as she attempts to break this highest glass ceiling.

HRC has attained such mastery that she was able to listen to Trump’s incoherent and uninformed ranting for something she could actually respond to without laughing long and loudly. Can you listen to Trump without rolling your eyes?

HRC declined to match her opponent’s negative energy and managed to maintain a measured tone, when responding to the moderators and to Trump. Would you have been able to stop yourself from screaming at Trump’s lies?

This emotionally intelligent mastery of self is something HRC has been doing for a while. During the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, HRC fixed her face for every public appearance and focused on the long term goals of a unique partnership rather than the short term satisfaction of calling her husband out in public.

Image from Full Frontal by Samantha Bee
Image from Full Frontal by Samantha Bee

Can anyone say, after the public humiliation of having the leader of the free world cheat on you, that you would have decided to stay in your marriage AND refrained from any “my side of the story” interviews?

Speaking of indiscretions of a sexual nature, many people suggested she should come out swinging after Trump was revealed to have bragged about sexually assaulting women.

But sensitive to the political baggage of her husband’s own infidelities, HRC has left the Trump takedown on Tape-gate to the more than capable hands of our current FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, who at a NH rally, unleashed righteous hellfire on he whom she will not name. Can you go high when others go low?

In every experience, every encounter, we get a choice on how to respond. It’s not always easy to do and it’s not always the most satisfying, but an effective leader has the self-control to respond instead of react in a crises or to negative stimuli or to a perceived slight. And isn’t the ability to be effective what we want in a leader?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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Leading Differences

My dad turned 80 last month…a blessing I’m grateful I got to celebrate with him. Longevity runs in the family so while we’re not surprised, it’s not something we take for granted. He and my mom are doing aging the way it should be done: engaged in life, enjoying the fruits of their labor, and exercising enough to keep their bodies able to move.

My dad’s celebration and a planned joint birthday party for both parents not withstanding, birthday celebrations are not something our family really does well. I don’t remember many (any?) birthday parties, just the occasional birthday present…unless you were born in December or January in which case you had to make do with a Christmas/birthday present.

As my brother says, if our parents and a majority of the five siblings acknowledge your birthday, it’s a good birthday!

My sister-in-law is appalled. APPALLED, y’all! She does celebrations in a big way with ALL the bells and whistles, so our birthday behavior, or lack there of, is different, foreign, alien to her.

This is the kind of difference that can cause conflict in any relationship. Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-love understand how our individual experiences inform our choices, what we perceive as normal behavior, and what we might judge as abnormal. They’ve opted to reserve judgment and strive to accept and enjoy their differences.

Our individual experiences inform our choices, what we perceive as normal behavior, and what we might judge as abnormal. Tweet this now!

Here’s the thing. We sometimes assume everyone has had the same experience, has the same perception and will react the same way as we do. Of course, they haven’t, don’t and won’t. Even in the same family… my brother is a decade younger and my experience as the first child born to young 20-somethings just starting out, is remarkably different from his as the youngest of five.

Now, if we could just silently “Bless their hearts” and keep our perceptions and judgments from outwardly affecting our reactions, our interactions would be absent of conflict. Unfortunately, when the other person doesn’t react in a way that is familiar to us, we often judge them negatively. Tweet this now!

“…man is so imprisoned in his type of thinking that he is simply incapable of fully understanding another standpoint.” ~ Carl Jung

On a team, negativity toward differences can stop differences from being expressed, create unresolved conflict and result in a team imploding. Tweet this now!

How can a team leader prevent differences from destroying a team?

Embrace the differences!

Differences in thought, experience, and perception are what give a team its edge. Tweet this now!

As the leader, you have to understand that differences are good, enthusiastically embrace the diversity of your team members and create a culture where they can be fully themselves.

Express differences!

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with hearing a difference of opinion. Maybe you equate disagreement with disrespect. Maybe you’re not sure the person with a different perspective is as committed to the vision of the team as you are. In my experience, however, the team member with a different perspective just wants to make sure the team has considered all possibilities when choosing a course of action. Tweet this now!

“Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?” ~ Oprah Winfrey

On a team, each member has the right, even the responsibility of expressing fully who they are, what they know and what they bring to the team. Tweet this now!

As the leader, you’re responsible for creating a safe space for your team to express their differences.

Explain differences!

It can be difficult for people to explain the origins of their reactions to their life experiences. Or maybe their knowledge in their area of expertise cause them to reach an obvious conclusion so it’s NOT obvious to them that an explanation is necessary. However, if the differences are causing conflict on your team, it’s imperative that you seek to resolve the conflict. If there is no explanation, ask for clarification!

It won’t mean the other person agrees with you or that you have to change who you are, but it can lead to deeper understanding and more compassion on either side. Digging deeper for a greater understanding, greater clarity can bring greater success to your team.

It’s the differences on a team that makes the difference! Embrace them, express them, explain them if necessary and, most of all ENJOY them! Tweet this now!

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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The ONE THING You Can do to be a Better Leader

“Leadership is a privilege afforded to you, the leader, by the people you are privileged to lead.” Renita Alexander. Tweet this now!Tweet

Have you ever had a leader go off in a meeting? If watching your leader loose control felt scary that’s because it probably triggered some immediate, primitive emotions in your emotional center, the limbic brain. Your heartbeat may have increased; you may have felt stressed or even experienced an immediate need to leave the meeting. And if the outburst and your negative reaction to it impacted you for the rest of the meeting or even longer, that’s not surprising either; once your emotions have been hijacked like this, it takes concerted effort to reign them back in.

How you respond or react to any emotional stimuli is, of course, your responsibility; an emotionally intelligent leader tries to avoid YOUR negative reaction by controlling how HE perceives and reacts to input.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) guru Daniel Goleman writes in Primal Leadership that the fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead and “that occurs when the leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people”.

“The fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead.” Daniel Goleman. Tweet this now!Tweet

The ability to consistently prime the pump of positivity requires EQ competencies like self-awareness and control. The opposite of resonance is dissonance; a dissonant leader throws people off balance and negatively impacts their performance.

I once worked with a visionary leader, which is considered to be the most effective leadership style. Unfortunately, in a crisis or when his triggers were activated, this leader often TURNED ON and then TUNED OUT others. That prevented him from being able to hear what people were saying at the very moment he MOST needed to listen. He lacked the ability to recognize his triggers or the self-control to respond instead of react in a crises and instead of priming good feelings, frequently created dissonance among his team. The resulting culture was one where other team members were reluctant to speak for fear of setting off an explosion. I personally left many a meeting discombobulated, disengaged and unable to do what I needed to.

Dissonant leaders can be effective in the short term but the toxicity they create usually negatively impacts the forward movement of the team as well as the bottom line. You can avoid negatively infecting your team by learning to lead yourself!

The ONE thing, the most important thing, and the hardest leadership challenge is leading yourself.

The hardest leadership challenge is leading yourself. Tweet this now!Tweet

That requires some understanding of you! What drives you bonkers? What do you believe about leadership? Who are some leaders that you admire? How did your immediate, intimate leadership models make you feel? You CAN become a better leader but it requires some self-development and maybe some outside, objective assistance.

Follow these steps to leading a better YOU!

Step 1: Study YOU!

Before you can become the leader you want to be, you have to know the leader you are. Self-awareness is the first step to leading yourself so spend some time understanding you…what makes you feel elated…what makes you want to stick a pencil in your eye? How do you like to receive information? What do you need to make decisions? Are you empathetic? When talking to others, are you listening to what they’re saying or just listening for a break in the conversation?

Be cognizant of your triggers, the words and actions that set you off but understand ultimately, your reaction is all about you! Do people who play the victim role make you crazy! And then make sure you’re not projecting your own experience; are others really being victims, or are you seeing victims because of your OWN victim experience.

Step 2: Study Leadership!

What makes a good leader? Many entrepreneurs focus on a business plan, attracting capital, hiring employees with no thought as to how they will LEAD their enterprise. Leadership is an art that comes easily to many people, however it can be learned and even natural leaders can fine-tune their skills to be even better.

Leadership can be learned and even natural leaders can fine-tune their skills to be even better. Tweet this now!Tweet

We can only be really good at something we have a talent for so find out what leadership characteristics come naturally to you and focus on developing those. And then try to minimize the possible negative impact of any weakness in key leadership characteristics like communication.

I was blessed to be a part of an organization with a unique tradition of experiential leadership development. None of the military branches have the luxury of hiring a “CEO” at any level from an external source, so the leadership training starts early and happens frequently. As I young officer, I was exposed to formal training, informal and formal mentoring from my superior officers and the special “polishing” that can only come from the senior non commissioned officers! I learned what worked for me, what fit my personality and I looked at each new assignment as an opportunity to reinvent myself as a leader, to take the good and not so good experiences I created or witnessed and apply them with a new team.

Step 3: Listen to Feedback!

Your mom and MAYBE one of your grandparents are the only two people who believe you’ve never made a mistake, EVER. Everyone else has some constructive criticism, an observation, and some feedback they’d like to share about something you’ve done or said. If you truly believe they have the best interests of the enterprise at heart then try to listen to what they’re saying without judgment.

Feedback was an informal, then formal part of the leadership development I experienced in the Air Force. Sometimes the feedback was hard to hear but it gave me a glimpse as to whether what I thought I was projecting was actually being perceived in the way I intended. I had to work on not being defensive and just listen to the lesson and then decide if and how to incorporate it into my leadership.

Leading yourself well is the first crucial step to leading an any enterprise!

So be intentional about how you’re leading by learning yourself and learning from others.

Something to think about:

Do you know how your leadership is affecting your team or your enterprise?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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