Greensilkmuse's Blog


Growing Leaders: What Should Be Covered in a Leadership Development Program?

Posted in Leadership by greensilkmuse on June 4, 2010

Art pulled me in to help design and execute a leadership development program for a select group of folks who have the potential to succeed to the top jobs in their organizations.   We’re working with an advisory group to define the program and had talked about including both “hard” and “soft” skills training in the program.  At the end of the meeting, Art pulled me aside. He wanted to get my perspective and asked:

  “I hear about the hard stuff and the soft stuff.  We need both in a program that is supposed to prepare prospective leaders to become executive directors.  I’m in the kind of role we are training these folks to take on.  I understand what they need when it comes to the hard stuff – financial planning, budgeting, expense management, revenue generation.  I’m not sure, though, what sorts of ‘soft’ skills must effective leaders have?”

Top of the list for me is communications skills.   They are at the core of effective interpersonal relationships and leaders, to be effective, need to understand and work a variety of relationships.  Their communications skills are critical for articulating strategy and priorities, engaging and motivating people, and building relationships with key stakeholders.  An organization’s leader is its voice. 

A critical role of a leader is to engender trust.  This means ensuring consistency in words and deeds – displaying integrity.   Sometimes the best way to illustrate this point is to show what it looks like when it’s not done well.  A story in today’s New York Times on BP’s leader is a great example of what NOT to do —  The gaffe-prone CEO.

As Sydney Finkelstein, professor of strategy and leadership at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business points out:

“People want to know someone is in charge, that the right person is there, but someone who says the stuff that (this CEO) has said doesn’t engender confidence.”

In times of crisis or significant change, a big, bright, spotlight shines on the leader – dissecting every aspect of his or her message (what is said, unsaid, and how it’s delivered).   When messages are not consistent with reality, credibility is lost and, with it, respect for the leader.

Leadership Lessons I

Posted in Leadership by greensilkmuse on March 19, 2010

I had just come through the merger of JPMorgan and Chase.  I took the opportunity to change roles so that I could focus on organization development.  I knew that, in the longer term, I wanted to go back into consulting, and I was working on gaining experience and skills in this discipline. I didn’t take a leadership role at work.  Instead, I gained that experience in the community.

I was on the executive boad of the parents association at my daughter’s school at the time.  We learned that the school was to go through a merger, as well– with a sister school located in another building.  I figured that I could leverage my recent corporate merger experience to merge the parents’ associations of the two schools, and took on the job of co-president of the newly formed parents’ association.

We came together to create  the new entity – using the best of what each association had been doing for its’ parent body.  We got the ball rolling on setting up a new 501c3 and put together a calendar of community-building events and fundraisers.   Things seemed to going smoothly, until the 3rd day of school – September 11, 2001.

I was already at work when the planes slammed into the World Trade Towers.  Our nanny took the kids to school, which is located 7 blocks north of Ground Zero.   As everyone gathered in the yard preparing to enter the school building, they noticed an airplane overhead that seemed to be flying low.  The children were entering the school building when the first plane struck the towers.  When my sitter realized something terrible had happened, she quickly grabbed my kids, headed north, and commandeered a taxi to get them home to safety.

Those who remained at school were evacuated later that morning.  They were lined up on the street and heading north to congregate at another school building when the first Tower crashed.  We were very fortunate.  Everyone made it to safety.  None of our families suffered losses in the attack.   However, each and every person was touched in some way by the enormity of what had transpired — emotions ran the gammut and some were traumatized from the experience.

A few days after the attack, parents, children, and teacher came together in a school building in another part of town.  We learned that the school would operate temporarily from this new site – in available classrooms scattered about several floors.  We also learned that plans were being made for our return to the original school buildin, as soon as possible.

At that moment, my understanding of my leadership role shifted.  A parent approached me to say that the parents’ association leadship needed to be the voice of the parents and advocate for them – so that we could be active participants in the decisions being taken about the school and or children.  Many parents had concerns about the future plans, and we needed to provide a forum for them to air their views and discuss the issues.  This was nothing like the kind of interactions we’d had as parents before.  But then this was an entirely unprecedented situation.

I hadn’t thought that I had a lot to learn about leadership.  I had experience leading projects and teams.  This required a completely different kind of leadership.  It started with listening.

Yes, and…

Posted in Learning by greensilkmuse on February 22, 2010

Yes, and…

I’ve signed up for several workshops to get exposure to a range of techniques for connecting with others.  I attended the first session of “Creativity and the Entrepreneur” this week.  This workshop uses techniques from theater – principally improv — to help you listen better, tell interesting stories, and engage others.

I took Improv classes over the last couple of years to work on being more present/in the moment.  The idea was to bring more flexibility to group facilitation — to set aside the agenda when the group needed to take a detour.  I realize how important it is to continue practicing.   It’s easy to fall back into old behavior if you don’t work those new muscles.  It was good to get a referesher and practice with other professionals this week. 

The thing about taking Improv classes is most people aren’t doing it to develop as executive.  Typically, you’ll get people who are trying to launch their careers as stand-up comics or actors.  So they are trying to be funny.   Improv can be funny, but when people use it to promote themselves, you lose the team spirit. 

What Improv is really about is observing, listening, taking the offers others give you and building the story.  It’s not about you, it’s about the group.

Our homework for this week is to make a small change in our lives — perform something differently than usual.  Actually, I’ve been working on that for a few months now.  Trying to be lighter, fill with air and light (open the heart, as the yogis keeping telling us), smile a lot more.  I saw a product at the drug store called Frownies.  You put them on your face at night and they are supposed to relax the muscles that you tend to tighten during the day — it’s like training your face muscles to de-stress (kinda like braces — execpt for the face instead of the teeth).  I considered this, but decided I might end up with a very scary expression and, afterall, it seems like cheating — kinda defeats the purpose if you are smiling on the outside and rather than having it emerge from inside.

We’re also supposed to do something pointless.  That’s a hard one for me, since I tend to fill my days with a lot of purpose.  Of course some of what I set out to do ends up being pointless, but I don’t start out that way.  

Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself to me.   I gave my business card to woman who collects them.  That’s it.  She doesn’t use them, refer to them, make a collage from them… she just collects them.  She said she wants to get a case with pockets she can slip each card into.  Right now they are just in one big pile.   (I have a pile or two of cards as well,  just waiting for me to get around to filing them or tossing them.  Guess that’s a bit pointless too.)

We also need to practice “yes, and”.  This is probably the number one fundamental rule of Improv.  Listening to what others have to say and, rather than thinking about what you’ll say next or how you’ll make your point, acknowledging and then building on from what’s been said  — “their offers”.  It’s about listenting and going with what you’ve been given.  It’s not about you, it’s not about your agenda, it’s about “us” and what we make together.

The last bit of homework is to write down the story we want to start telling.  It could be how we want to introduce ourselves, our  history, a pitch for our business, whatever we want to say.  The idea is to color it and make it interesting.  So it starts, builds to reveal some conflict, and then there’s a twist – some sort of revelation or resolution.

Check back next week for my story.