Positive Influence = Leadership

A few weeks ago I was teaching a workshop for a company experiencing big changes. I love working with organizations, because in addition to improving the lives of individuals, I have a great passion for improving workplaces. Call it the HR geek in me, but I truly love transforming organizations into “cultures of inclusion,” a place where all employees feel valued, respected, and supported. We spend A LOT of time at work, and wouldn’t it be great to work at a place where you feel valued every day? Respected on the basis that you are an employee within the organization? Supported to do your job? Yes. Yes. Yes.


During one of the workshops, a participant raised her hand and said, “Colene, that’s great and all, but I don’t have any power to make any changes. I’m just a [insert title here].”


I hate the word “just.” “Just” implies limits. “Just” diminishes worth. “Just” is nothing more than an excuse to not do the work.


I called her on it. I asked, “Do you mean to tell me that there is absolutely nothing you can do to improve the culture of your organization?” She responded with, “Well, I’m not the CEO, or even a director, what am I supposed to do?”


Here’s a secret about leadership within organizations, yes, it starts at the top, but the leaders who are there day in and day out making the workplaces better, often don’t have a title to match. You don’t have to be the president or CEO to lead effectively. In fact, and this is not to diminish the value of any CEO, but you can probable be a more effective leader if you’re not the CEO.


The biggest misconception people have about leadership is the belief that leadership comes from having a position or title. There is a belief that you can’t lead if you’re not at the top. Leadership is not in position, it’s in influence.

What I wanted this participant (and you) to understand is the person with the most influence is the one who wins. If you can gain influence amongst your peers, you will have genuine leadership, regardless of your title. You can lead others from anywhere in the organization, and when you do, you make the organization better. Leadership is a choice you make, not an office you sit in. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he or she is. All of us have the ability to impact our workplaces for the positive.

So how do you do it? You learn to develop your influence wherever you are in the organization by becoming a holistic leader. You learn to lead in all directions (up, down, and across).


The best way to gain influence is through building relationships. I’m not suggesting you become BFFs with every person within your organizations, but I am suggesting you talk to people about stuff outside of the scope of their job.


WHAT?!? Yes, I know it’s shocking to remember that outside of the time you see your co-workers, they have actual lives, and do things with other people. Maybe, you could ask them about that. Show that you notice them as an individual as well.


Now, because I spent the greater part of my HR career investigating harassment complaints, I do want to offer this tiny disclaimer… Don’t be creepy! Don’t ask anything too personal. Don’t cross the line.


Building relationships starts with communication. Building relationships at work also builds trust (something I think is missing in a lot of workplaces). Building relationships builds influence. Remember, (positive) influence = leadership.


So, the next time you think you don’t have the power to change anything at work because you’re “just” a [ title], remember, you can always build influence, and you can always build relationships. Start where you are.

What's Your Dream Career

Ask any kid ages four through 10 what they want to be when they grow up and they will give you no less than five answers. They are full of imagination. They are full of promise. They are completely unaware of any limits. The sky is the limit.


Ask any 30-something what they want to be when they grow up and mostly the answers are full of, “I don’t know.” I get it. We put all kinds of limits on ourselves, and before we know it, we can put ourselves in a very small box of possibility.


Often times we wake up on a Monday and ask ourselves, “Now what?!” Whether you’re in a career you thought would be a dream, but the reality is more of a nightmare, or if you “fell into” a career that makes you look around and say “Who’s life am I living?” (I’ve been there, done that, too!), there are a few things you can try to help you get back in-line with your purposeful and passionate career.


Ask yourself the following: What would you do, if you lived without the fear of disappointment?


Really, so many of us don’t follow our dreams because someone told us it was crazy. Maybe it was a parent, maybe a teacher, maybe you started to doubt yourself. If you could do anything, and know that no one would feel anything but pride in the sheer fact that you are following your dream, what would that be?


·         Maybe you’ve always wanted to teach art? Maybe you’ve dreamed of snorkeling the barrier reef? Maybe you want to teach hip-hop dance or be a baker? Or, maybe you’ve always dreamed of being the next Oprah (not that I know anything about that dream). Write down what your dream job is, and then own it!


·         After you own your passion, then I want you to write down any and all excuses you can think of as to why you can’t do it. I mean get it all out.


·         Done? Now, take that paper and destroy it! Burn it, shred it, throw it, do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.


·         Now, grab a new piece of paper, and write out a new list of not why, but how it can happen. List the big and small steps you would need to do to start seeing your dream job become a reality. Let’s say you’ve always wanted to be a baker. Do you have to rent a kitchen, open a store-front, and pay thousands of dollars for advertising all in one week?


Absolutely not! Maybe, you could just start by baking your signature cupcakes and taking them to a fire station with a thank you note. Maybe you could post a picture of your cupcakes on Facebook to let your friends know how much of a cupcake queen/king you are. You can start somewhere. Start with the easiest, and keep moving.


One of my other favorite exercises is to set a timer (2-5 minutes), and write down all of the things that people thank you for or tell you that you’re good at. Then, reset the timer and write down things you think anyone can do. Please don’t censor yourself… there is no such thing as something stupid or not “career-worthy”. (Note: I made a ton of extra cash in college pet sitting for people when they went out of town. Anyone could do it, but I actually did it.)  Anything is possible.


Use both of your lists and look for common threads. Do you get acknowledged for having amazing handwriting, and think anyone can write well? I have terrible handwriting, so if you have amazing handwriting, totally own it! See if there might be a way for you to monetize that skill. People pay good money for someone to beautifully address wedding invitations, or create hand-written pieces of art. Do some research, and see if there is something you can do that’s based on something you’re:  

1. Good at,

2. Like to do.


Then start doing it. Again, don’t over-think this, just get going. Regardless of where you are in your journey, it’s never too late (or too early) to start to discover your passion and turn that into a career. Yes, it requires some work. Yes, you’ll have to dig a little deeper, and do some serious soul-searching, but I promise you, it’s totally worth it!


So, tell me, what’s your dream career?


Accepting Change

One thing I am asked a lot is how to deal with change. Change in relationships. Change at work. Change in mindset. Change with family. Change is universal. I’m a champion for change. I truly believe we all have the capacity to make changes to create an experience we desire. But, I know, change can be hard.


The last few months I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my professional field. To name a few: new leadership, new styles, new initiatives, and a new boss. I’ve had to give myself a dose of my own medicine and a million pep talks to navigate through these changes. I thought I’d share some of my best tips for dealing with any change:


1.     Accept the reality. Sometimes change happens outside of our control. There are some things you cannot change. Instead of burying your head in the sand (I tried it, it doesn’t work) just accept that the change is happening. Note: this does not mean you 100% agree with the change, just that you are aware of its existence.

2.     Be emotional. I’ve cried a lot the last few months about the changes. I’ve said not nice things about the changes to my support system. I’ve journaled about it. I’ve processed it. I bought a really expensive purse thinking it might help. I’ve worked through a whole series of emotions. What I learned from doing that is no emotion is more valid than the other. They all have their place in the process. I’ve also learned not to judge myself for the emotions I’m having. Feeling anything less than joy doesn’t make you a bad person… it makes you human.

3.     Be logical. Right along with the emotions, there is a sense of logic that has to play a part. This is where I see a lot of people fall when they are going through change. So, don’t just quit your job because you don’t like the change if you don’t have some kind of back-up plan… that’ll lead to a whole different kind of change that is even less fun. Have some sense in the actions you take, but don’t be so logical that you won’t take a risk… a calculated risk. Set goals. Create an action plan. Give yourself a deadline. Whatever it takes to add some logical sense to your mindset.

4.     Breathe. I spend a lot of time and energy trying to be very intentional about my breathing. It calms me down. It gives me space. It gives me the opportunity to respond instead of react. Breathing is your friend during change. It will support you in ways you can’t imagine. Your energy comes from your breathing. The first thing I learned when I started practicing yoga was learning to control your breath can teach you how to have more control in your life. I practice a simple 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in through your nose for four counts. Hold for seven counts. Breathe out through your mouth for eight counts. I do four rounds of this, and it is a game changer. PS- I also use this when I can’t fall asleep!

5.     Gratitude. I normally write three things a day for which I’m thankful. In moments of change, uncertainty, and chaos, I write a full page. This allows me to focus on all the great, wonderful abundance I already have, and also opens me up to receiving more. On one particularly rough day, I wrote three pages. Focus on the good, and you may even be surprised when, one day, the change you’re going through shows up in your gratitude journal.

6.     Recognize change is an opportunity for growth. When you are experiencing change it gives you an opportunity to evaluate your values. What do you want from your life? Is this bringing you closer to your goals or further away? When you look at the change through your values, it can often show you a more positive outcome. Use the change as a catalyst to become more of the person you want to be.

7.     I always have a choice. This one is really powerful. You are not a tree. You are not stuck. The reality is: you can always make a different choice. Sometimes that choice is changing your mindset. Sometimes the choice is rejecting the change and moving on to something else. Sometimes the choice is accepting the change. Or a million other choices in between. You always have a choice. You may not always love the options, but the choice is always yours.


Change is inevitable. Misery is optional. For me, misery isn’t even on the table. So, I’m doing everything in my power to move through my changes as proactively as possible. Change has a way of waking you up to the life you’ve been living, and making you more aware of the life you could be living. As I’m working through changes in my life, I hope that it provides some insight on how to navigate your own change(s). What one tip can you implement today?


Kind is not a four-letter word

I’m an observer. I love nothing more than to sit back and watch things unfold. I like to see if I can predict outcomes by simply objectively observing. I studied Anthropology because I loved the idea of gaining understanding through observation. Because of this, I have a pretty keen ability to read people and situations. I can gauge actions, reactions, best approaches, and pivot my engagement for success. Because of my training, I’m always surprised when I see people walking into a proverbial lion's den of emotions without being prepared for it or without knowing how to best manage the energy.


I see this happen in all kinds of places: shopping, at the doctor’s office, etc., but where I see it illuminated most is in workplaces. Most of the time I want to run in and scream, “Just be Kind.” I know we all have a million things going on in our lives, but if we became intentional about our kindness, we could not only improve our daily interactions, we would improve our lives. Kindness separates the good from the great.


A few weeks ago I was in a meeting with someone who really wanted to get their point across. Their approach was to take a hard-nosed, serious approach. They sat in this meeting and appeared to be scowling at anyone who asked a question or wanted additional information. As I sat there, I debated on if I should slide a note over that just said, “Relax. Be kind. It will be okay.” I didn’t, but as the meeting progressed this person’s approach became even more disconnected from the outcome for which I’m sure they were hoping. By the end, the individual was yelling, and everyone else had completely shut down. Why could they not see the impact their attitude was having on the meeting?


I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing individuals who are leaders in various industries. I learn a lot from these leaders; with every interaction comes a deeper understanding of what makes them great. The traits I admire most in leaders are those who deliver fairness, strength, and effectiveness, while being kind. Here’s why: A few years ago, a boss told me I was too kind and that trait would cause me to be less successful as a leader. It shocked me. How could being kind diminish my ability to lead? I’ve always considered it one of my strongest attributes, yet this individual saw it as a weakness.


Kindness just means to take into consideration the other individual(s) in the situation. Could you imagine how our daily interactions would improve if we all operated from a place of kindness? I’m not suggesting we all become Disney characters and smile and nod our way through life. There is a difference between being kind and being nice. Kindness is being helpful, humane, or considerate. Niceness is always being agreeable or pleasing. You may not always agree with someone, but you can always be considerate of them and their perspective. You may not always be “pleasing” to others, but you can still treat them humanely and be helpful.


Kind is not a four-letter word. Kindness is not a weakness. Kindness doesn't mean silence or not speaking your truth. Kindness does not mean that everyone will agree with you or vice versa. Simply, kindness just means you give a damn. Not just about yourself, but for others as well. Kindness can improve our humanity, and we seem to be in desperate need for a dose.


Think back to a situation in your own life where if you had chosen kindness, the outcome would have been improved for the better. I challenge you to intentionally incorporate kindness into your life and see how it changes.