professional development

Leaders Engage!

04 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

Leadership is so much more than doing tasks; and so much more than being a charismatic cheerleader.  It’s about leading people to Greatness – regardless of your specific goals, and in order to meet those specific goals.

Have you had someone who has pushed you to Greatness?  Who has helped you become a better or stronger person personally or professionally?

School was always easy for me and I greatly appreciated the professor who pushed me to not only take a full credit load my senior year in college, but to add a few more classes, including an independent project, work with him to publish two papers, present at a conference as the only undergraduate, and network actively with alumni in my field.  And the hardest part of the tasks was not the considerable time I spent, but the fears and shortcomings I had to overcome to do those things – most of those activities were well outside my comfort zone.

Do you have a comprehensive strategy for pushing your team members out of their comfort zone, supporting them in the process, holding them accountable for taking the first step, persisting through obstacles and growing into new areas of skill and ability?

With a good team, you can run a company successfully, make a profit, minimize turnover and keep customers happy without ever achieving Greatness in your team.  But, people on your team, and your company, are capable of so much more!  Typically, we will not move outside our comfort zone without prodding from someone.

If you find yourself saying that you don’t need prodding and that you are always looking for the next way to challenge yourself – realize that that may be true because you are the entrepreneur or business owner.  Even business owners who thrive on new opportunities have comfort zones.  Maybe sitting down to connect with employees in curious conversations is outside your comfort zone because it doesn’t move fast enough for you.

Based on your goals, what do you really want your individual employees to be able to do or do better?  Are you ready to set some ambitious individual goals for employees, get them talking about how they will reach them, and help them determine the first and next steps?  Then are you ready to walk with them on a journey of professional improvement with a series of accountability coaching conversations?

This requires a level of engagement form you as the leader that many leaders will never display for one of a few reasons:

  1. Their drive to move the company forward and seize new opportunities is so strong, the thought of employee development, especially at the deliberate pace it takes to connect with someone in order to be able to lead them to Greatness, is not appealing.
  2. They delegate the task to a middle/front line manager who doesn’t know how to coach the employees.
  3. It can be exhausting.  People don’t change easily, even in exciting, new and upward directions.  Overcoming fears and areas where one lacks confidence are tough things to do and not all leaders can stomach those conversations.
  4. The leader thinks the employees should do it on their own.  They probably will do some professional development, but I may never have thought of publishing the two books I did if I hadn’t published papers in college – pushed by my professor.
  5. Sadly, some leaders do not have a genuine interest in the professional development of their individual employees.  They can create good companies, but never great ones.
  6. They just don’t know how.  It’s a very specific set of skills that very few people are just born with.  I certainly wasn’t.  If you want to develop these skills further, give me a call and let’s talk.

Finding a Mentor

21 May
by Bridget DiCello

You may have many successful people who inspire you, share insights and who you learn from.  But, how do you find a mentor with whom to build a more concrete relationship?

A mentor is successful – let’s look at what other qualities are important:

1 – They have accomplished what you want to accomplish such as position, certifications, wealth, social stature, and also life balance, spiritual or emotional growth.  In order to identify this person, your goals must be clear.  You must focus on more than just one goal –  we are all much more complicated than that.  Make a list of 50 things you want to accomplish this year and 50 more you want to accomplish in ten years.  Think beyond immediate goals to what you really want  to accomplish.

2 – Have you ever had a successful person offer to help but none of their advice seems to apply to you?  Equally as important as their success, a mentor needs to be someone who has overcome similar obstacles and struggles that you currently face.  To achieve any goal, people take many different paths and you utilize a mentor to successfully navigate your path and overcome your challenges.

3 – An effective mentor is also a coach.  A good coach is interested in helping you access your potential and your greatness – and pushes you to do so.  They care enough about your success to learn about you – your strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams.  You build a relationship of trust based on their focus on you and your best interests and your appreciation of them and diligent hard work and putting forth your best efforts.  It goes well beyond getting and giving advice.

As you look for mentors in your life, look for someone who:

1 – embodies the success you want to achieve, both professionally and personally

2 – has overcome the struggles you face

3 – cares about you enough to focus on the success you desire more than the success their believe you should achieve based on their experiences and success

What other qualities do your mentors have?

What’s in your Job Description?

11 Mar
by Bridget DiCello

When is the last time you looked at your job description? Do you have one? If you’re a business owner, you may never have written yourself one beyond, ‘Chief cook and bottle washer.’

When job descriptions are written, typically it is in an ideal bubble, where someone thinks through what needs to be done, and who is the best person to do it.

Then reality hits.

Ambitious employees keep very busy doing what needs to be done and what they are asked to do. This is admirable and necessary in the short term. But, continuing this way will create a very reactionary culture in an organization. Being too busy becomes the excuse for staying in urgent mode, and never moving to the more strategic and important components of the job.

Certainly, there is a need to be somewhat flexible and adaptable, since not all tasks, scenarios and activities can be foreseen in a job description, and being the person to jump in and get things done is very valuable. However, strategic activity is what moves the company forward through and out of the day-to-day of today and into future and greater success.

Take a moment to think about the key strategic roles that you need to play in your current position:

  • What needs to get done consistently, but often gets pushed to the back burner?
  • What are the things that you’d like to be able to do in your role, but rarely find time for?
  • Who would you communicate with more routinely if you had the time?
  • Where, or to whom, should you give more feedback?
  • For what meetings or milestones would it make sense to spend more time preparing?
  • In what areas would it make sense to measure current performance more accurately?
  • What are you doing to make things work better and more efficiently?
  • Strategy is by nature forward-looking and focuses on improvement. What is your role in improving systems and processes, beyond routinely executing them well?
  • What are the most key components of what you do that impact your customers?
  • When do you spend time on activities that impact future operations?
  • What is your role in consistent improvement of operations, which continues when cash flow is good and things are running smoothly, AND when times are tight and crises are occurring?
  • Which components of your job may not be noticed if you don’t do them, but detract from overall success of the organization if they get pushed aside? (safety committee, staff meetings or daily huddles, improving a process that isn’t broken to stay ahead of the competition, team building activities, and professional development for strong employees – all may be included in this category)
  • Look at your individual professional goals for 2013. Do they reflect the strategic components of your job? Have you made more progress in those areas or on the goals that revolve around routine daily activities?

No doubt you’re busy, doing important work and doing it well. At the same time, ask yourself what strategic components of your job description have you let slide, and what priority will you put on bringing one or two back into the forefront?

The Coaching Conversation

14 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to help them access their hidden potential to achieve greater levels of success.

-          Bridget M. DiCello

It is essential that you have both “Conversations on the Go” as well as “Undivided Attention Meetings.”  When you see acceptable or unacceptable behaviors, sometimes you need to address them immediately for greatest impact.  Other times you need to get both the employee and yourself focused on their improvement in a planned meeting where you have each other’s undivided attention.  In which meeting you bring up an issue depends on the urgency of the needed change in behavior.  If you wait as an unacceptable behavior continues, your frustration increases as does the employee’s resistance to change – which makes the conversation more difficult when it does occur.

Conversations on the Go:

1.  You bring up the unacceptable behavior and get them talking.
“I’m concerned about… because…  What Happened?”

2.  Then you talk.  Explain current unacceptable behaviors describing them specifically.  “Your bad attitude” and “your lack of initiative” are not specific behaviors.

3.  Get commitment to precise, doable action from the employee.

4.  Determine a follow up date – it may be your monthly meeting with them.

Undivided Attention Meetings – Monthly meeting where each of your direct reports prepares for and attends a meeting with you.

This is not about how you can help them or what they think you or the company could do differently.  This is about them reporting on their progress and challenges.

According to set agenda both you and they have prior to the meeting:

1.   They report their successes first – according to goals you have set

2.  They report on set metrics, projects, goals, status

3.  They identify the areas where they have fallen short and what they will do differently.

4.  You compliment them on successes you’ve seen

5.  You comment on their performance that can be improved. (using specific examples of unacceptable and acceptable behaviors.)

6.  Get commitment to precise, do-able and measurable action.  Help them come up with action items and strategies.  This is not easy and may take time.  Dig in and really find a do-able action.  Use Clarifying Questions like, “Can you give me an example?” and “Can you be more specific?” and “What have you tried in the past?”  Watch for Smokescreens and Tangents. 

7.  Determine a follow-up date and follow-up.

The only way you can help your team to really access their potential and therefore move your team to a higher level of performance is if you coach them.  Even the best employees need your coaching.  Michael Jordan had a coach who pushed him to excel!


Learn from Leaders who Fail as well as from Leaders who Succeed

04 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

If you wish to become a more effective leader within your organization, it makes a lot of sense to study great leaders, read what they write and what others write about them and talk to them if you can get the opportunity.

However, it also makes sense to study and talk to the leaders who have tried and failed, and to successful leaders about their failures.  It’s powerful to learn from mistakes others make, especially from those who have been in positions of leadership, stressful situations and under great pressure.

Ask them to share with you not only what not to do and but learn also what to do instead.  It’s very difficult for anyone to focus only on what not to do.  It’s important you gain from these leaders what they would do again if they had the chance to do it over again – hindsight is a powerful 20-20 view.

David Burkus has a great story on his blog about the power of studying failure – by looking at the bullet holes in an aircraft.

To learn from a leader’s experiences, Ask Questions.  Just because a leader’s approach was successful in their situation, their advice may be hard to apply to your world.  Dive into their decision making processes as well.  Ask how they decided to take the path they took in their particular situation to become successful in it.

A successful leader probably doesn’t realize all the good things they did, just the more obvious or those about which they are most proud.  The more questions you can ask about situations where they were successful, and the more you can get them talking, the more knowledge you can glean beyond the things they would tell you if they only summarized their lessons.

These suggestions assume that you can have a one-on-one conversation with these leaders.  That is the environment where the best lessons are learned.  Because most of us cannot call Bill Gates and make a lunch date, you need to think of the leaders you know and ask for a bit of their time.  If you are prepared with intelligent questions, that you send them prior to the meeting, many leaders will be happy to share their insights and wisdom.

What insights have you learned from your failures?

Top 3 Myths of Motivating Others – Do you talk too much?

12 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

People motivate themselves.  However, there are things that leaders can do to facilitate the process.  But first, let’s examine a few common myths.

People get motivated by an energetic, enthusiast leader. Some people do, and some just find that level of energy annoying or downright exhausting.  (If you do, you’re probably an introvert who would find great information in reading The Introvert Advantage, a great book recommended by a friend years ago.)  This energetic leader may get others excited about what they are doing, but rarely will this excitement alone result in the person displaying lasting motivation.  And, it can be very difficult for a leader to maintain that enthusiasm level, when they are expected to be the fuel for everyone’s fire all the time.

People get motivated by fear of repercussions. I read once that people would much rather experience all kinds of terrible repercussions than go through the painful process of changing their behaviors.  And over and over I see that is true.  If it’s easy to change their behaviors just enough to not get fired, people may do that, but never will they be motivated by their fear to do any more than the minimum.

People get motivated by hearing how important it is to get things done. It’s true that people are motivated when they are excited about the expected results, ambitious goals and the vision and mission of the organization.  However, the motivation does not necessarily appear because they heard about the expected results or vision/mission.  Very few people will become motivated for longer than a brief time when they hear something.

Most people will agree that those who are motivated do things. defines motivating others as “to stimulate toward action.”  There is a long distance between hearing something and doing it.

Therefore, in order to get others motivated, you need to find a way to get them TO TALK and TO DO.  And ensure they experience success, however small, as a result.

To Talk and To Do:

1.  Stop Talking. If you want to get a message across, speak some and then stop.  Ask questions and have a conversation which includes getting the other person talking.  Talking about the importance of the project/task, the possible methods for getting it done, the obstacles they see, the fears they have and the first steps they will take.

2.  Make First Steps Happen. In order to get started, some people need to be “forced” to take the first step, possibly because of fear of the unknown or perfectionist tendencies which lead to procrastination.  Laziness is often a misnomer.  As their manager, you might have to determine the first step with them, decide on a deadline and hold them to it.  When they experience success, their motivation level will increase.

What successes have you experienced in motivating others?  What challenges do you face?  Do you talk too much in your efforts to motivate others?  Are you effective at holding others accountable?

Top 10 Productivity Tips – A Focused Mind

16 Jun
by Bridget DiCello

With summer officially ready to start next week, have you finished your spring cleaning?  Spring cleaning is not only about pulling out the cleaning products and getting rid of clutter.  These practices are great and can clear your workspace and make you more productive.  However, productivity also comes from a clear head which allows you to be focused and efficient.

Top 10 Productivity Tips – Try them and see if you ‘spring’ forward:

1.  Make the right decision every moment of every day. This is my definition of good time management.  It’s a realization that we make many decisions every day of how to spend our time, whether planned or unplanned.  The more we can make those decisions consciously, according to clear goals, the more productive we will be.  Most people welcome distractions to some extent – as a relief from something stressful, difficult or unpleasant.  Act very purposefully in each moment of the day and pinpoint those times you tend to make decisions to do things not in line with your goals, however small.

2.  Revisit your goals. Dust them off.  Clean them up – do the reality check and adjust the ones that are unrealistic, get excited again about ones that might be a stretch but that you are passionate about, tweak others given your knowledge of the year so far.   And if you never did write them down, do it now.

3.  Identify what must be done this month, this week and today/tomorrow to achieve your goals. One of the best ways to be productive and make the best use of your time is to be focused and plan.  I’m not talking about the strategic five year plan.  I’m talking about knowing the 3-5 non-routine things that you want to accomplish this month to ensure you are further ahead and closer to your goals than when you started the month.  Then, decide what 2-3 things you need to do this week to make that happen.  Then look at your plan for today or tomorrow and decide what 1-3 things you need to do in those 24 hours to move forward on the week’s goals.

4.  Know your Best Time of Day. We all have a time of day where we are most productive.  Are you a morning person?  A night owl?  You only really wake up at noon?  Observe your productivity and effectiveness.  What time of day are you at your best?  When you determine when that is, schedule your most important activities at that time.  Avoid doing trivial tasks or putting out fires during that time.

5.  Schedule your day, week and month. Very few of us have schedules that never get interrupted or rearranged.  But, that is not a reason not to plan at all.  Plot out your month, schedule your week and map out your day.  Leave some “Wing it” time to fit in the little things that pop up.  Schedule a block of time to do the emails, phone calls, etc. that fill your day if you are not careful.  When at the end of the day you have not done everything you wanted to because of fires and interruptions, immediately reschedule the activities that you didn’t do for tomorrow or later in the week.

6.  Get rid of the Things to Do List. They haunt most of us.  Instead of putting something on the list, simply schedule it somewhere in your day or week.  If you cannot find anywhere to put it, that means it is really not important enough to you to get done, so don’t torture yourself with leaving it to haunt you on a list.  You may want to keep a “To Do Someday” List for those things that are great ideas, but are just not a priority right now.  Then, put it away and only look at it periodically.

7.  Schedule appointments to talk. If you plan to meet with another person and have a conversation, do it purposefully.  If you just ‘stop by’ their office or give them a call without a plan, you may end up wasting both of your time.  And they may do the same with you.  If you need to talk to them, plan a time and day and have an “agenda”.  More thoughts on that next week…

8.  Do a time log. After you have planned your month, week and day, and taken all the things to do list items and scheduled them somewhere, for just a few days – record what you actually did.  Compare your reality to your plan.  Maybe you need to adjust how you do what you do, become more effective, learn to say no, or delegate more.  Unless you have a good picture of what you are actually doing, it’s hard to have a basis for productive change.   And no, you really don’t know what you spend your time doing until you log it.  Try it and you’ll see!

9.  Stop Procrastinating. Many managers and leaders are procrastinators.  I never believed that about myself until I understood the connection between procrastinating and being a perfectionist.  For the perfectionist, it is rarely ever the right time or there is not enough time to do it right so, “Why do it?”  Not to say that perfectionists are not productive, just that certain things that are new, different or particularly important get put off for the more immediate, urgent and familiar tasks at which they can more easily succeed.

10.  Keep track of information. You may mistake being able to do a lot with being organized.  It’s amazing how much time we spend looking for something, finding information twice, having a conversation or part of it a second time, or sorting through the volumes of information we use to run our business.  Review your systems for collecting, sorting and using information in your business and to develop your team members.  Do they effectively support your mission or do they slow you down?

Comment here or join in our LinkedIn Discussion.

Decision Making – On Autopilot or On the Case?

31 May
by Bridget DiCello
We’ve all seen the steps to decision making:
1.      Identify the objective
2.      Define the situation
3.      Generate alternatives
4.      Gather information
5.      Weigh the pros and cons of each
6.      Develop an action plan
7.      Implement
8.      Evaluate the results

How many decisions did you make in this way in the past week?  Who in the world has time to? But, if we don’t how can we get out of a routine that may be unproductive?

We run into two main types of decisions that I believe we solve with two distinct solutions:  Intuitive Solutions and Investigative Solutions

Intuitive Solutions: This is where experience counts, and a good memory, attention to detail and ability to pick up cues and logical patterns is important.  These are problems, issues and situations where we really want to call on the experts in the business, the key employees who have been through it all, and the person who loves their job and knows all the ins and outs.  These situations cause us to say, “We must have faced situations like this before, what have we done in the past?”

Those people who are valuable resources run through past situations in their heads, compare them to this present dilemma, choose the best course of action and share it with the team to implement.  The decision is made quickly about how to proceed.  If the proper people with experience are consulted, there is rarely an error in carrying out this decision.

Do you have these people in your organization? Those who have the experience to be a great resource and can be trusted without weighing all the alternatives in a lengthy process?

What do you do to develop more of this ability in your team? These people are developed when after decision is made, a problem is solved or a situation is handled, there is routinely a debrief, an autopsy if you will, to look at what happened, what was decided and the success or failure experienced.  The lessons learned will enable those with the ability to learn the patterns that work.  This ability must be practiced and consciously developed especially because you don’t want to wait years for someone to develop it, and often turnover rates are high enough that something takes a good employee away before they fully develop.

Investigative Solutions: This is where those decision-making steps above make sense.  This decision steps into unfamiliar territory, requires the input of many experts, and is complicated to the point that past experience is helpful but must be pieced together in order to be most useful.

Do you have people who are good at this process in your organization? These need to be individuals who have the patience to work through the process, yet not someone who gets so bogged down in detail that it takes forever to come to a decision.

What do you do to develop more of this ability in your team? Even though you won’t need them to use this long process every day or even every week, the ability to move through the process is a mental exercise that can be applied to overall logical thought processing.  So, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend some time next time you need an investigative solution to work through it as a team, and systematically map it out in order to help them to understand this process and make it second nature.

What occurs most often on your team?  What “type” of decision makers are in your organization?