leadership incorporated blog

September 23, 2012

The Re-entry Phenomenon: Coming Back Strong After A Crisis

It’s been one tough summer.

In the last several months, my family has supported both my force-of-nature mother-in-law and incredibly strong father-in-law (and our dear family cat) through intense illnesses and facilitated them in passing on in the most positive, loving, supportive environment possible.

In the middle of all this, we also moved our eldest off to college and have facilitated him through a series of life-rocking transitions. And I had some surgery to solve a neck/shoulder problem.

Now, after several months of immersion in family life, it seems that the crises have passed, the fog is lifting and we are surveying the damage and realizing that it’s time to come back to our lives in progress.

Maybe you’ve been here before. Sometimes events beyond our control pull us away from life and work as we know them and immerse us in another reality. Then —often suddenly — the emergent circumstances wrap up and we find ourselves changed, contemplating a new normal and trying to figure out how to integrate ourselves into it.

My wonderful husband, Michael Leventhal (of MC Squared Law & Consulting, a digital media law & business consulting firm) and I have talked a lot about what’s changed, the challenges facing us now, and how to approach our comeback. We realized that this “re-entry phenomenon” in its broadest strokes also applies in other situations:

  • Having a baby
  • A significant illness or injury
  • The loss of a client
  • The loss of a job
  • The loss of a business partner
  • The end of a project

Can you relate?

A few of the biggest, most common challenges:

  1. You’ve formed new habits that aren’t compatible with normal life. For example, our sleeping and waking patterns have shifted in ways that are inconsistent with normal working hours.
  2. Residual feelings flow over you in unpredictable waves. Seemingly unrelated comments or images trigger powerful memories. Sadness, loss, guilt, stress can take you by surprise and leave you feeling exhausted and in need of a nap. Not exactly a great recipe for productivity.
  3. You have fear stories and other thoughts that get in the way of getting back to work and life. You may worry that people have felt underserved or needed to move on without you. You may believe that you have lost your momentum and don’t know how to get it back. These stories can shake your confidence, and paralyze you from taking even baby steps that lead back to life.

The power of ritual. In the Jewish tradition, there is a three-phase process prescribed for mourners. First, you immerse yourself in mourning for a week. Over the next month you begin to incorporate normal activities at a reduced pace while refraining from certain aspects of life.  For the rest of the year that follows, the balance shifts again: more normal life, yet you keep some practices that create a structure that enables you to make a gradual and supported return.

Whether or not you believe in the religious or spiritual, this is brilliant from business leadership and coaching perspectives.

We need to process. Those who don’t have religious traditions may find themselves pressured by the world to skip some necessary steps that help us to honor what needs honoring, clear what needs clearing and rejoin our lives in a gradual way that allows for predictable discomforts and challenges and makes them acceptable and natural…thereby supporting us in our return.

How many of us force ourselves to come back from a profound break too soon and too abruptly? What is the cost to our well-being? What is the cost to our effectiveness upon our return?

In strategizing our returns, Michael and I sketched out a few practical rituals (spirituality optional) that I thought might be useful to you someday. Here they are:

Process, process, process: Talk, write, think, read, explore and otherwise immerse yourself in what you have just been through for a focused and limited time, say a week. These thoughts and feelings need to be exposed to the light. Grow with them. Don’t stuff them.

Connect and Reconnect: Your relationships are the most powerful path back into your life. Reach out to people. You don’t have to talk about what you’ve been through with everyone, perhaps only a select few. More importantly, find out what’s been happening with them.

Be of service: Shift your focus from self and family to others. How can you assist clients, colleagues, staff, friends? Rediscover your purpose and value to others.

Create with words: Get back into the language of what you do. Make a plan. Use words to talk and write about what you want to do next.

Replace habits one at a time. Prioritize the habits that will make the biggest difference, but don’t try to change them all at once. Gently, yet firmly, go one at a time. Remember it takes about 21 days to create a new habit. Be sure to reward yourself in healthy ways for success.

Reassess. This is a great time to look at what’s working, get rid of what isn’t and refocus yourself on what really matters. Create new opportunities. Nothing is as re-energizing as what you really care about.

Work the dichotomy of patience and encouragement: Allow yourself extra time and be understanding and gentle with yourself if you aren’t adapting as fast as you thought. At the same time, strongly encourage yourself to get back on your game. Most of us tend to do one or the other. Finding the balance between these two makes for the smoothest possible re-entry.

Ask for what you need. If you share, you’ll probably find that people relate. The most surprising people have stories just like yours. And if they don’t yet, they will. That’s life.

My request: I want to reconnect with you. How are you? What have you been doing while I’ve been gone? Please let me hear from you.

March 6, 2011

When leaders don’t know they don’t know.

One evening (about 15 years ago), my infant son who’d been playing quietly with building blocks suddenly began to scream. I looked up to see that he had grabbed a handful of his own hair and was pulling as hard as he could. The harder he pulled the louder he screamed. He couldn’t see the connection between what he was doing and the pain he was feeling.

I see this in business all the time.

This week, I coached the leader of an organization who thinks everyone around him is stabbing him in the back. He is suing one client. He has just terminated another. He’s fired one employee and thinks the rest of the staff are taking advantage. He recently stormed out of a professional association because he felt ripped off.

I see him entering new relationships already angry and expecting the worst. As a result, he doesn’t communicate well. He is so worried that he is not going to get his fair share, that he ensures he doesn’t get what he needs. At the first hint things aren’t going his way, he blows a gasket. He feels he’s given and given and he isn’t going to give anymore.

The best clients experience him as angry and demanding and back away from doing business with him. Retention of clients and staff is a problem.

He goes through his life and work screaming and screaming — not realizing that he has the power to change what he’s doing and get different results.

Before we judge him too harshly, let’s be honest. We’ve all had times when we’ve had a metaphorical fistful of our own hair in hand and haven’t made the connection that we are causing our own pain.

We are particularly vulnerable to this in stressful times, during change and even growth — when we are overwhelmed, exhausted, scared, frustrated, depleted, and low on resources.

Here are a bunch of TO DOs — and a few TO DON’Ts — that can turn it around:

TO DON’T: Ask “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?” This question tends to keep us stuck and feeling and acting like victims.

TO DO: Ask “What might I be doing to cause this?” And “What could I do differently to produce a different result?” It might seem subtle, but there is a huge difference!

TO DON’T: Blame others or yourself, even if wrongs have been done. Blame doesn’t get us anywhere.

TO DO: Take responsibility for creating the results you want and need to see.

TO DON’T: Give in to the urge to hyperbolize. Even though it may feel like it, it’s just not true that NOTHING is going right. Or that EVERYONE is against us.

TO DO: Turn your focus to what is working. See how you can leverage that.

TO DO: Remind yourself of your vision and purpose

TO DO: Prioritize

TO DO: Get your focus off yourself and onto being of service to others

TO DO: Find the opportunity in the crisis.

TO DO: Control what you can, let go of what you can’t.

TO DO: Laugh. At yourself. At the situation. Find the humor. Trust me, it’s always there. And finding it makes a real difference.

TO DO: Go outside, take a walk and clear your mind

TO DO: Remember what’s really important

TO DO: Breathe

TO DO: Delegate

TO DO: Ask for help

Finally, here’s an exercise that can help you to spot where you may be part of the problem. Simply answer the following questions:

  1. Identify the undesired results you are currently experiencing. Be specific.
  2. Do you truly want to change the results you are getting in this area?
  3. Are you willing to be completely honest with yourself?
  4. Flip it:  Imagine you WANT TO create these results, how would you go about it? Make a list. Go for volume. Have a sense of humor. Ask others.Brainstorm every possible way you could create the results you are currently getting.
  5. Now look to see what on this list you may be doing — intentionally or unintentionally.
  6. Now that you see your situation in a fresh way, turn it around and brainstorm ways to create the successful results you actually want.

Feel free to let me know how it goes.

Wishing you an inspired week.

August 30, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: : 9 Ways Smart Leaders Lose Peoples’ Respect and Loyalty

This week I observed as the leader of an organization in a team meeting made a series of common mistakes that are practically guaranteed to annoy, offend, alienate and otherwise reduce the likelihood of building loyalty in the team.

I can’t imagine that she had anything but the best of intentions. Yet, these common behaviors are likely to undermine her objectives.

Here are some guidelines that may help you to not make similar mistakes:

DON’T be deceptive about your purpose. When you lead people to expect one thing and deliver another you erode their trust.

DO think about how your words will land with others, what those words will lead people to expect. When in doubt, get feedback.

DON’T focus more positive attention on long-time members. This is just as true in a business as in a membership organization.  It’s easy to think that you want to honor your most valued team members first and most and that this will encourage others to get involved.  However, what this really does is create separation and often makes newcomers feel as if there is a closed circle to which they are not welcome.

DO welcome newcomers first. Make them feel special. Give them the opportunity to introduce themselves or share. Then when you honor those on the team, it feels inclusive and not exclusive.

DON’T make assumptions about the motivations and knowledge base of the team. People come to your business or organization with a wealth of experience and know-how. And they each come with their own motivations. When you assume and get it wrong, they will feel they don’t belong.

DO be aware of your assumptions. Check with the group to see what they know, what they want, what they have to offer.

DON’T bring limiting beliefs into the mix, if possible. Others may not share these beliefs. Nothing will alienate someone faster than a mismatched belief system.

DO work to become aware of your own limiting beliefs, especially in areas relevant to your organization.

DON’T hold yourself up as a role model. Even when you have accomplished miracles and it would benefit people to follow your lead, standing at the front of a room speaking about yourself as someone to emulate is a turn-off. This doesn’t mean you can’t share your experiences and knowledge.

DO be a role model. However, focus your attention and energy on your audience and not on yourself. Know that there are other possible paths to success than the one you followed.

DON’T hold yourself as separate from the team. This is closely related to the last point. When you hold yourself as a role model, you see yourself as being ahead of or better than those you are leading or hoping to lead. They will feel that separation and the best among them won’t follow.

DO see yourself as part of the team. Recognize the value others have to bring, and not just selective others, but each person present. When you acknowledge the possibilities in everyone, many more people will step forward to own and create those possibilities.

DON’T make a negative example of someone in the room. This makes everyone feel uncomfortable. And diminishes trust. If you do this to him today, you could do it to me tomorrow. It will make people hesitant to speak up.

DO make positive examples of people in the room. If a negative example needs to be made, fall on the sword yourself, telling a story from your past. Or generalize, making it clear that many people have made this mistake.

DON’T parent people. Forcing them unnecessarily into actions, not giving them choice and autonomy will do one of two things: It will send the independent thinkers running, it will encourage the rest into co-dependent relationship with you.

DO invite people to experiences. Create a safe space for them to learn and grow and participate. It may take some people longer to step forward than others. Or they may contribute in other ways. When you create the room for all kinds of people and all kinds of participation you will also create incredible respect, loyalty and new possibilities.

DON’T speak down to people. Don’t use your position, authority or celebrity to make them smaller. No one wants to feel small.

DO think the best of people. The excellent book The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (see link below) suggests that you “give people an A.” Assume the best and most of the time, you will both be better for it.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

August 2, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Do you recognize resistance when you see it?

So, I’m trying to lose some weight. And I notice that the days that I declare to myself, “No sugar today,” I end up eating sugar earlier than ever. I actually forget that I have even made myself this promise…usually until just a moment after the sugar is melting from my tongue.

Can you relate? Maybe not in this area, but we all have places where we do not keep promises to ourselves. Where do you do this?

Not following through on commitments is a form of resistance. You can probably see clearly how this resistance might sabotage my efforts toward my goal.

My resistance is brilliant. It continually takes new and different forms and is quite good at disguising itself and finding new ways to outsmart me. Your resistance is brilliant, too.

Resistance will keep us from achieving what we want and need. Worse than that, resistance has the power to sending us and our businesses careening in exactly the opposite direction.

Whether you are a leader in an organization or in your own life, anytime you find yourself in a change situation, you will find resistance. If you don’t, you are not looking hard enough. It is the way of things. You will resist. Your staff will resist. Your boss will resist. Your clients will resist.  Potential employers will resist. Your family will resist. The higher the stakes, the more resistance you will find.

If we are not aware that resistance is at work, resistance wins. But only 100% of the time.

Your only hope of overcoming resistance is to expect it. But even that isn’t enough. You also have to value it and embrace it. You have to work with your resistance, not against it.

You have to get intimate with resistance. And that starts with recognizing it. Here’s what you want to look for:

Obvious resistance is  easy to spot:

  • Refusal
  • Arguing
  • Disruptive behavior

The most powerful forms of resistance are usually much more subtle:

  • Not being available
  • Not getting started
  • Getting distracted and not completing
  • Offering misleading information
  • Bringing up other issues
  • Becoming very busy with something else
  • Getting sick
  • Anger
  • Irritation
  • Frustration
  • Confusion
  • Criticism
  • Silence
  • Feigning acceptance, without asking necessary questions or working out the details
  • Finding reasons to be removed from the task
  • Surfing the web
  • Compulsively checking your BlackBerry or iPhone

Oh yeah, and forgetting.

Which of these do you do? Which do you see the people you work with doing? Which do you see in your clients? Start noticing the signs of resistance in you and the people around you.

Remember resistance is very creative.

Next week, we’ll talk about a few ways to work with your resistance.

July 26, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Is this the reason you’re missing opportunities?

Let’s say you’ve just met someone who could be a good potential business
connection for you
and this person says, “I’d love to know more about you. Let’s get together.”

Do you:

A. Say, “Great. I’d love to do that. I’ll call/email you.”

B. Say, “Great. I’d love to do that. Let’s set a date.” And pull out your calendar.

C. Hurry to tell them about everything you do right then and there.

Several times in the past few days, I’ve been with people who’ve chosen C.

Short of screaming “YES, I’M TOTALLY SELF CENTERED AND DESPERATE FOR WORK RIGHT NOW!!” C is about the worst thing you could do.

Yet, at some point, and probably the time when we had the most at stake, we’ve all chosen C.

Choosing C is an indicator of a larger and more widespread mistake — which most people make — and which stops success in its tracks.

Let’s back up a moment. In fact, let’s back up to the moment in which this most recently happened and look at it from the receiving end. I was at a networking event and was truly interested in the person in front of me. I had sought him out at the end of the meeting to open the door to a subsequent conversation. It was the end of the meeting and time to get back to my workday. I had just listened intently to about 30 people, each sharing information about themselves and their businesses. I was very clear in my communication: “I’d like to get together with you sometime to learn more about what you do, because I think there might be some interesting synergies between our businesses.”

He launched full-force into a seemingly endless mouth race to tell me all about himself and his business before I walked out the door. He didn’t take the time to learn anything about my interest and expressed no interest in me. As he didn’t know what the basis was for my interest, he didn’t set any kind of context for the information he was vomiting out. He both oversimplified and spewed far too much disjointed information at me.

After a few minutes I fatigued on trying to pull all the pieces together. I started to wonder when he would stop talking. I left the situation thinking he was desperate and self-absorbed and would probably not be a good business partner. I left far less interested in knowing more about him.

In a flash of reactiveness he, perhaps permanently, destroyed the sincere interest I had felt just 3-5 minutes earlier.

Have you ever been on either side in this kind of situation?

Do you see the bigger mistake he made? Can you see how he went on autopilot, fell in love with sound of his own voice, fell in love with his own stories and forgot there was another person standing right in front of him, open to a real and potentially mutually beneficial relationship. He was unconscious to the truth that there are two parts to every communication, what is said and what is received. And if we want success we must be mindful of both.

When we go into unconscious reaction mode, we lose more opportunities than we will ever know we lost.

I know this because I used to spend a lot of time in unconscious reaction mode  (and I can still go there occasionally). When I started to intentionally become more conscious and thoughtful with the person in front of me, amazing things started to happen.

It is so incredibly simple (yet, maybe not easy) to change this. Here is the secret:

Listen. Really listen. Listen very literally to what is said. But also, listen for what is not said. Listen for what’s important to the person in front of you.

Almost no one listens. And people want to be heard. People want to work with people who listen to them. If you just take a moment to listen, you’ll see a huge shift in the opportunities and successes that come to you.

Hope this inspires you this week.

(Note: by the way, the best answer is B. If you want to know why, just think about how often people who’ve said they’ll call you later, actually do it.)

April 26, 2010

Inspired To Succeed: with dysfunctional people

What kind of dysfunctional people are you dealing with?

I’m hearing a lot lately about challenges working with clients, co-workers and particularly management who:


Can’t communicate


Are clueless

Never shut up

Don’t listen

Worry incessantly

Are paralyzed by fear

Have a hidden agenda

Lack an attention span

Are in-denial

Make stupid decisions

Say one thing and do another

Build obstacles

Plant road mines

They take us by surprise, catch us off guard every time.

They make us mad

Throw us off-center

Trigger our self-doubt and insecurity

They confound us

They turn us into people we don’t want to be. And get in the way of doing business.


Wrong. Actually THEY don’t do any of this. WE do it to ourselves in their presence. And we can change that.

But if we’re not mindful, we can find ourselves doing exactly the thing we hate that they do.

They don’t listen and we find ourselves jumping in and not listening.

They scream and we end up yelling back.

They lie to us and we lie back to them and to others.

We become the thing we despise and don’t even notice it.

Here are 7 ways for leaders to be effective with dysfunctional people in business:

1. See how predictable they are. Plan for how you will respond — not react — when they do what they do.

2. Prioritize. Know what’s most important to you and what doesn’t matter. Pick your battles. Be intentional.

3. Take responsibility for your own pace. Choose not to get caught up in their energy.

4. Listen deeply to them. Listen for what’s underneath what they say or do.

5. Check your assumptions. Ask them “is this what you’re concerned about?”

6. Be honest with yourself.

7. Tell them the truth — without emotion and ask permission first. “Can I give you my honest perspective?” When they say yes (and they almost always will) tell them how you see the consequences of their behavior. “When you talk over me, you’re missing some important information.” OR “When you scream, it makes it harder for me to hear what you are trying to tell me.” OR “When you direct us to do X, it appears counterproductive to Y.”

Give them the space to process the information and be as patient with them as you’d want them to be with you in tackling your area of dysfunction 😉

Have an inspired week and feel free to let me know how it goes…

January 25, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: A success secret from multi-millionaires who once had nothing

I recently interviewed 11 extremely successful business leaders and philanthropists, each of whom had just made a gift of a million dollars or more to a particular charitable organization. For most, this was a small gift.

While there were many points of difference, each of these leaders had made their own success, had come from having nothing. What struck me most was that they each, unprompted and in their own words, said something to the effect of: “I receive much more than I give.” One put it best:

“If people understood how much you get by giving, everyone would give.”

My first coach told me, “Whatever you want, give it away.” If you want money, give money. If you want Introductions, give introductions. If you want success, help make others successful. Want to be heard? Try listening. Want to be appreciated? Appreciate.

Most important and most difficult: do this without attachment. Don’t give saying, “Here’s your client, now where’s mine?” This is not true generosity.

Sometimes direct reciprocation takes years to arrive. Often the client, the money, the appreciation you receive comes from somewhere else.

I’ve made generosity the foundation of my business. I am frequently awestruck by the incredible opportunities that come my way as a result.

There are many ways to be generous and most don’t involve money.

Be generous with your time, attention, acknowledgements, introductions, information, wisdom, and resources. Be generous by understanding what another person or organization needs and help them to get it. Be generous in your assessments of those around you, whether business or personal.

In a certain sense, it’s all personal.

In today’s economy, driven by fear, common sense says to tighten, contract, withdraw, cut. And as we cut our budgets and resources, we constrict everything else as well. We take fewer growth-oriented meetings. We cut off new ideas and new people. We think we can’t afford anything and if we can’t afford it, we can’t afford to hear about it. We limit our opportunities. And opportunities are exactly what we need right now.

Make generosity your policy. Invite new opportunities. Find ways to be truly generous this week.

Let me know how it goes.

January 11, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: What is CAN’T costing you?

This week, one of my clients, a leader in her company, was presented with a huge opportunity for her company and their client.

Her first reaction? We CAN’T.

Why not?

Well…in the past, stakeholders had not been open to similar ideas.

She couldn’t ask a struggling client to step up and do their part.

She felt timeline and resources would not support moving forward.

(In this case, money wasn’t the issue, but I often hear that one, too.)

She was ready to walk away from a phenomenal possibility, based solely on her own thinking about past circumstances and current conditions.

And she was angry, disappointed, resentful, frustrated and felt powerless.

She knew this could have been a very very good thing. If only…

Can you relate?

How many times in the past year did you not move forward with an opportunity – business or personal – because of the CAN’TS in your mind?

What did not moving forward cost your business?

What did it cost you personally?

By the way, the opposite of can’t is NOT can.


When my client shifted her thinking from can’t to how might this be possible? she came up with all kinds of potential solutions:

A different approach to presenting to stakeholders.

A strategy for approaching the client.

A way to negotiate the timing issues.

She involved others from this perspective and was able to:

• Effortlessly get buy-in from the team. How might this be possible? engages people, gives them ownership, generates ideas, creates new possibilities and improves morale.

• Secure enthusiastic involvement from the client.

• Creatively solve the time issue.

And from all this…another, even greater, opportunity presented itself, that no one could have foreseen.

This opportunity took the whole project to a new level, increased everyone’s excitement and commitment and is now offering the potential for tremendous financial reward.

Can’t shuts down thinking.

Can’t closes off possibilities.

Can’t keeps you stuck where you are.

Can’t is usually fear-based.

Can’t is inconsistent with successful leadership.

I’m not saying that just because you reject the notion that you can’t do something, means that you should (we’ll talk about should another time) or have to do it.

What is most important is to:

· question your assumptions
· get clear about your vision
· know what you are (and are not) committed to
· Become willing to step into the unknown to find solutions that make your vision possible.

This week, watch how often CAN’T comes up.

See what happens when you shift to How might this become possible?

Let me know how it goes.

Sharon Rich helps people lead the way to new possibilities for themselves and their businesses. For more, visit www.leaderhshipincorporated.biz

June 2, 2009

Devastating Mistakes Businesses Make in This Economy: #2

Forgetting the impact exiting employees have on the well-being of the company. Businesses can’t afford NOT to transition exiting employees. Why? • Disgruntled ex-employees can do a lot of damage to current client relations and retention, not to mention undoing all the time and money spent on building a positive corporate image. • The cost of litigation will always far exceed the preventive investment in outplacement. • Productivity of the survivors is dramatically affected by an insensitive layoff. • In times like these, a business needs its retained employees to rebuild. An insensitive layoff can cause them to jump ship or undermine from within. • A relatively small investment in a smooth transition can prevent much greater costs.

Solution: Retain external offboarding support. In general, employees who are leaving do not want to have conversations about their futures with internal employees and will often not take advantage of internal programs.  While large outplacement firms may be better able to service large numbers of employees, smaller firms can deliver more personalized service for a significantly smaller investment.

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