Lead and Let Love

On Valentine’s day I took a yoga class with Ally Maz at The Distrikt (if you don’t know her or the studio, you should). I went in hoping for a bit of an escape, but walked away with much more. Likely by design, the practice was a series of heart openers, some gentle and some wild, all set to a very compelling musical play list. At one point in the practice I felt as though I was about to cry. It wasn’t fear or sorrow, it wasn’t pain… it was (do I say it?) love. I caught glimpses of other red eyes around the room and I knew that there was an emotional contagion being created in the studio. This got me thinking about the power of love (excuse the cheesy song reference), and the extent to which we let love in… I am especially curious about this in the arena I play in: the workplace.

Here’s the thing about love: Love is part of our emotional fuel tank. It’s a resilience builder. It’s what keeps us above the line. Love and joy combined are what give us vitality, strength, and ultimately performance at work. (If you can’t get past the word “love”, think of it as care, compassion, connection and respect). Love is what helps us build connection, and from a leadership perspective, connection is your currency6941127-heart-love

True leadership is about cultivating trusting relationships while also maintaining your own sense of values and beliefs. It’s the ability to take a firm stand for what you know to be true or right (which is an act of courage), while doing so in a way that builds relationship (an act of love).

Love gives us a healthy home base from which all the other ranges of emotions can be felt in their most productive forms. Anger from this home base brings a gift of clarity, motivation and direction, rather than destruction. Fear brings gifts of being deliberate, thought-out, having a sober second thought. Shame, from a home base of love, brings a true gift of humility, rather than all-consuming feelings of unworthiness. And all of these feelings are what make us whole and human. As leaders, our ability to access a wide range of emotions, is a key component of emotional intelligence, and emotional intelligence is a key driver of organizational performance.

Love is needed and necessary to be at our best. Love is seeing the potential of others, and believing in the potential of yourself. So, if you find yourself with low resilience, or feeling stressed or burnt-out, ask yourself this: What can I do in this moment to bring me more love and joy? Fill your emotional fuel tank. You won’t regret it, and the people around you will thank you too… you’ll be a better leader.





Unstuckness… There She Flows Again.

How connection, challenge, being witness and courage got me unstuck.

Last year was meant to be a year of exploration. New partnerships, new clients, learning about parenting, and re-establishing my consulting brand after another stint as a senior leader. Sounds fun, no? It was a very productive year, yet for some reason, I’ve found myself getting less creative and less in-tune with my big vision. I blamed it on parenting. On being busy. But the truth is, I have been getting in my own way. I have been playing small, and got stuck as a result.

Today I went for a hike in the rain with my dog. I was looking for connection this morning, so reached out to a few people to join me… timing didn’t work, so I went on my own. Turns out it was exactly what I needed. I started the hike thinking about what is emerging in my business (more on that in another post! Exciting stuff on its way). My mind was on fire… a flow of thoughts that I haven’t experienced in some time. Then, half-IMG_0110way up Seymour Mountain, I felt it. A popping open. A sense that I am so on the right track and 2016 is my year to sow and to harvest… To put a stake in the ground – with intention – for the difference I want to make. With the mountain under me, and miles behind me, I felt my step getting lighter. A playfulness overcame me. I felt connected. This morning I was looking for connection, and I found it within myself.

Outside of today, it has been a series of events getting me to this point:

  • I recently came back to yoga. I needed both a place and the space to get quiet with myself. To hold myself lightly, and to challenge my potential. I’m only 4 classes in, but there is a difference in me already. I feel it.
  • Back in December I had coffee with a new connection – with the intention of meeting more like-minded people doing cool work. Within 30 minutes she challenged me to live like I mean it and to give my own brand the value it deserves. How is that for a kick in the pants?
  • On the Winter Solstice a dear friend lost her dad after a short and intense period of ill-health. Being witness to the struggle, the pain and the love that death brings was humbling and precious. And, it was a deep reminder of the value of life… again: Live it like you mean it.
  • A few weeks back, my biggest champion and best bud presented me with an opportunity to “go big” in my work. She knows my vision, and in her sly and supportive way she kicked me out of complacency and into courage and started my process of re-discovery.

So here I am. Rain-soaked, muddy and oh-so-ready to live 2016 like I mean it. There is big stuff coming from erin sills consulting… work with impact and meaning. If you’re a leader, particularly a leader inspired to join my movement to re-humanize organizations, you will want to hear more… stay tuned.

Authenticity – Is it Enough?

Many organizations these days are talking about AUTHENTICauthenticity, seeing the value in people bringing their whole selves to work. But is authenticity alone enough?

I’m here to tell you it’s not. Imagine this: Bob is a leader who drives for business results. He’s so intent on hitting his numbers that he pretty much ignores anything that gets in the way of his financial myopia. If his team isn’t performing, he yells at them. When he gets the results he wants, he raises the bar higher. His people are burning out, and attrition on his team is high. His excuse? “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the fire.” Is Bob authentic? It could be that he is. Perhaps he’s just authentically an asshole.

Let’s use Disney to level set: is Captain Hook any less authentic than Peter Pan? Both had a cavalry, both were imperfect, and both were leaders in their own right. The difference was they each had different intentions and different impacts. And when it comes to leadership, impact is what counts.

Rather than authenticity alone, Authentic Leadership combines the ability to be fully oneself with a keen awareness on, and accountability for, impact. That is, impact on business results and impact on people. Authentic leaders have the courage to take a stand for what’s important to them: their values, their beliefs, their dreams and fears – and the compassion to understand that leadership is a social arrangement. You can’t lead if you don’t have people who follow you. These leaders also bring deep curiosity, constantly seeking to uncover their blind spots – those behaviours that might be getting in the way of their full leadership potential.

Most importantly, authentic leaders have the resolve to stay the course. Many senior leaders face pressures from the systems they operate in – deadlines, shareholder expectations, Board requirements. Resilience is constantly tested. But with eyes cast intently on impact, authentic leaders can weather most storms, while also making a lasting imprint on their organizations.

Back to Bob. I’ve seen lots of his type in organizations. If we settle for authenticity alone, we might be inadvertently tolerating poor leadership behaviour. Let’s instead set our sights on higher aspirations. Leaders who take a stand for what they believe in, while staying connected to others and aware of their impact are the leaders we need for the future. Join me in a leadership revolution and ask for more from yourself and from others.

Let the Process Model the Outcome

A few weeks ago I was hiking with a friend who is leading a large culture project for her organization. She’s in a high growth, successful retail operation with an established brand in the markets it serves. They believe that if they are to accomplish their lofty goals of expansion, their culture will be a key enabler to their success. Any time you’re in a service business, your culture is a direct manifestation of your brand. Duh, right? Not exactly. Many companies and many leaders still fail to see the direct correlation between strategy, culture and leadership. Culture is sometimes seen as a nice-to-have at best, and fluff at worst. The problem lies in how we define culture. It is shaped by values, but is quite simply the way people in your organization act and interact. It’s supported by people practices, and deeply rooted in underlyingslide-no-one-is-looking2 beliefs and assumptions that your workforce holds on themselves, each other and the company.

Now back to my friend and that high-growth company. My recommendation to her: Start with definition. What evidence would you expect to see if you created and amplified a culture that would fuel your strategy? Culture cannot be defined in isolation. Then, go to your people. Engage them. Find out why your people work for you. What do they want to achieve while they’re with you? What are their biggest aspirations for their careers? Then do the best you can to create the conditions where these people can do and be their best for the time they are with you. Culture in an established organization cannot and should not be defined by the top, or by a select few, unless the culture that you’re trying to create is autocratic and top-down. The act of defining culture should best represent the culture you want to create. Let the process model the outcome.

Once you determine and define the culture you need to fuel your strategy, then you can begin to take stock of your current state and create plans for closing gaps. The key lever to close the gaps is leadership. The quickest way to derail a culture initiative is to define your culture one way, and have your leaders behaving in ways that are counter-cultural. Watch for this behavior, especially from leaders at the top. We all know how well the “do as I say, not as I do” works. (Hint: it doesn’t). And on the topic of leadership, while engaging the masses is a must, so too is ensuring top-level sponsorship. Off-the-side-of-the-desk projects never have the desired impact. To ensure a culture initiative is successful, run it like a project with a clear sponsor who has the power to make decisions and the authority to approve budgets.

If you’re starting a culture initiative in your organization, here are some quick tips:

  • Start with definition. What is the culture you need to get the best results, in alignment with your strategy?
  • Engage your people. Get their input. Consult early and often.
  • Model the behaviour at the top. Leadership is a lever for results. Tap into it.
  • Take stock of current state. Identify the things that must be protected in your culture, and identify the things that need to evolve. Again, engage others. Your people know best.
  • Create plans. Start closing gaps. Chart your course. Identify what people-practices and processes need to change or evolve to support the culture you want and need. Ask about everything: “How does this align with our culture and strategy?”. If it doesn’t, change it.
  • Reinforce and reward. Find your role models. Celebrate them. Connect with your people on an emotional level. Emotion drives behaviour (it’s true – check out some of Daniel Siegel’s work on the brain and behaviour).

Culture, leadership and strategy form the magic triangle that when married in an integrated way can be a strategic advantage. For my friend’s organization and yours, it means that you have the right people in your organization focused on the right work, and working together in a way that achieves remarkable results. Who can say no to that?

Culture – to create and protect

After a brief hiatus from this blog to have another baby and get life organized, I’m back!

Things happened this week at work that have got me thinking (more than usual, which is already a lot!) about Organizational Culture… That nebulous, intangible atmosphere that surrounds all of us in our workplaces.

Many people say culture is synonymous with your values, that it’s set from the top and that it’s represented in everything from the office layout, to your approach to problem-solving.

In my mind it’s simple. Culture is co-created by everyone in the system. It’s the way we act and interact with each other and our customers. It’s reinforced through people practices, and modeled by leaders… but no one person has the power alone to set or transform cultureCulture.

This week we lost one of our leaders… A passionate, kind man who for many was an inspiration. He left on his own accord, and for his own reasons. The reaction in our system was varied. Some people understanding and supporting the need for new leadership, and others feeling hopeless with the loss. He was instrumental, after all, in helping to shape the culture and signature sense of community that we all hold dear.

But what I know is this. Emotions, connection and community run deep. Far deeper than any one person alone can create or destroy. My want for our system as we go through this transition is to allow everyone to tap into their own power around creating culture; to identify those things that they will fiercely protect through this change and the inevitable others to come; to own our culture as their own; and then to act and interact in a way that aligns completely with the culture we’re building.

I’m biased, but we are creating something special together. That’s what makes us peers in the deepest sense of the word… Friends, collaborators, co-conspirators in our quest for the extraordinary.

If you had to pick 2-3 things in your own culture to fiercely protect or amplify in the spirit of excellence, what would you choose?