Being Your Own Advocate

In a conversation recently I relayed to my husband that I was having some anxiety over our son’s interest in learning. I said, I want him to enjoy learning….and I want him to be his own advocate and ask for help and take initiative on things. My husband quickly squelched my anxiety by reminding me that our son is only eight and in the second grade. That while he may put up a great deal of resistance come homework time, he does ask for help when he needs it. And as far as interest in learning, “Didn’t I recognize that he reads with a veracious appetite. Like can finish a chapter book in an afternoon appetite.” Finally, he added,”Maybe he doesn’t always know when to ask for help.”

At this statement, a lightbulb went off and I realized my husband was right, it is my job to teach my son how to be his own advocate. Now to be real, being your own advocate is not something I learned at age eight in the second grade. In fact, it was something I learned much later in life, like my mid-30’s late. That if I wanted or needed something, I needed to actually ask for it. Up until adult-hood I think I just maybe assumed that people around me, namely adults, had osmosis and knew exactly what I wanted and needed. I mean my parents just seemed so good at knowing what and when I needed something that I think I took it for granted that all adults had this special skill for reading my mind and circumstances.

As an adult I learned the hard way. That if you don’t actually ask for the salary you want, you’ll get the salary you don’t want. If you don’t actually request a raise or promotion, you’ll just stay where you are. If you don’t ask for what you need in a relationship, you’ll just get what the person is willing to give you, regardless of whether that’s a working relationship, romantic relationship or friendship. Once I figured this whole advocating for self thing out, boy was it on! Now I was advocating for myself like all the time, and maybe for things I really didn’t even deserve. But the point was, I knew that no one was going to just give me anything I didn’t ask for.

Sometimes the hardest thing about advocating for yourself is figuring out the ‘what’ and then narrowing down the list to what’s realistic and deserved. However,  the biggest thing I’m still learning how to do is advocate for help. The very thing I expect or want my 8-year-old son to do, I still have a hard time doing at my 42-years of age. In this, I realize my son and I have something very much in common. We don’t not ask for help because we don’t need it, we just don’t want OTHER people to KNOW we need it. Somehow we have equated asking for help as equivalent to admitting we don’t know the answer, or can’t figure something out on our own. My son literally will not use scratch paper when doing math because he thinks he’s smarter if he figures it out in his head. What he’s learning is that regrouping (that’s new math language for carrying a number) is not so easy to do in your head. And he discovered he can get to the answer more efficiently if he works it out on paper. I’m discovering that too. Not the regrouping thing, though Common Core math drives me nuts!  No, that asking for help is more efficient then not asking for help. I get what I need faster when I ask for help.

These days, I’m making an attempt to be more transparent about what I don’t know and asking for the information, help, or connection I need to get what I need. And I’m finding that, eureka! it actually works. People actually like to feel like they can be helpful, and they don’t think you’re an idiot for asking.   I’m doing a much better job at getting what I want, by asking for what I need.  And hopefully in the process teaching my son it’s okay to ask for help, so he doesn’t have to wait till he’s 30 to learn how to be his own advocate.


Embrace Discomfort and Unleash Your Power

I saw this quote the other day that said, “Do something that scares you every day.” I love that quote because it reminds me that when you sit in your comfort zone, you don’t grow. You don’t learn anything new. You don’t change much of anything. But when you step into something that feels uncomfortable, maybe scary, you discover new things about yourself, about others, and about the environment you move in.  This new information actually gives you power. If you sit back in comfort, you only have the things immediately in your reach and that’s limiting.

In a coaching conversation I had recently, a client was describing how she was purposefully holding back her ideas and opinions in an effort to not ruffle any feathers. As she was describing what she was doing to avoid uncomfortable situations, she started to get choked up. I could tell, and she later affirmed, that averting uncomfortable situations was actually causing her the very distress she was trying to avoid. She didn’t feel challenged, or like she was being her authentic self, instead she was just going along to get along and that was depleting. Not moving into discomfort was actually holding her back.

When we have a sense that we are in an uncomfortable situation, sometimes it IS wise to walk away. But I like to encourage people to do a gut check on their discomfort, especially in professional settings. Understand if the discomfort is in response to a real threat, or something else…

Is the discomfort really nerves around a moment where you need to call up your bravado? You are about to challenge someone more senior on their ideas….Or, you feel the need to speak up in a public setting on an important or controversial issue.

Are you feeling anxious because you recognize an opportunity right in front of you?
Someone is asking for a volunteer to lead some effort and you know you’re the right one for the job, all you have to do is raise your shaking hand….Or, you can see something going the wrong direction and you know the right way to go, you just have to convince others of that.

In these examples we are talking about challenges exhibiting as discomfort. There is some uncertainty, or risk involved in this situation that makes you uncomfortable e.g., stomach is churning, you’re getting flushed, and the pace of your breath is accelerating. Note the same symptoms are associated with adrenaline rush. Maybe you’re not uncomfortable, maybe you’re thrilled, excited and feeling like something big is about to happen!  I challenge you to pay attention to situations where your gut instincts are calling on you to make a courageous move. Assess if the situation is actually an opportunity for growth, and then go for it! Push past your initial feelings of discomfort and I’m betting you will find moments of transformation on the other side.


5 Tips for Self-Promotion and Why Women Should Brag More

For more times than I can count I’ve heard that women who want to lead should build their confidence. Every time someone gives this advice, I always want to ask, “And how does one actually go about building their confidence?” Is there a ten-step program? Is there a course you take? Recently it dawned on me that confidence is not something you work towards, it is something you gain as a result of stacking up your successes. Every time I accomplish a goal, my confidence naturally increases. I stand a little taller. I speak a little louder. I volunteer more often to take on the important challenge. The accomplishment is validation that I am good at something, that I am smart, and capable. And it’s not someone else saying you did good that counts, it’s when I recognize the success for myself. When I claim the job well done, that’s when my confidence is boosted.

When people say women should build confidence, what they are really saying is that they need proof that you are capable. Now most men, don’t have a problem with this. Men claim success before it actually happens. They often proclaim how amazing they are even without evidence to back it up. However, for women proof is often required. But unlike men, women tend to lean towards humility. We often do not claim publicly when we have done a good job. Women just expect that someone will notice their hard work and successes. Unfortunately, there is a lot competing for our attention these days and unless you toot your own horn your success might go unnoticed. The truth is that accomplishments are the proof that others–bosses, colleagues, team members– need to believe that you are confident and have the capacity to lead.

I know raising your own praise flag can be difficult. It may feel arrogant to brag, we are often embarrassed when we self-promote. But if you wait for others to acknowledge your successes, you may be doing yourself a disservice. So here are a few tips on how to ease into self-promotion.

Keep a log of everything you accomplish in a year, small and big, and make sure you include those wins in your self-evaluation on the year-end review.

3. Acknowledge others in your win.
When you have an opportunity to showcase something, say in a staff meeting, go ahead and claim the accomplishment as yours first, and then thank those who helped you. Sometimes this feels a little easier because you may be bragging but you’re also shining the spotlight on others. Your team will appreciate it too. Example, “I successfully [fill in the blank], and I want to thank Sue, Joe and Mary for helping me get it done.”

3. Leverage the accomplishment as experience.
When someone asks if anyone has experience doing x, y and z, or if specific expertise is needed and you have direct success in that area, use it as a way to a) show off your accomplishment and b) volunteer for the task. Example, “I worked on a similar project where that skill was needed, the project was successful in this way (provide details). I would be happy to bring that experience/expertise to help solve this problem/challenge/opportunity.”

4. The email brag.
If you’re easily embarrassed by self-promotion, email is an easy way to publicly promote without actually physically being in the public. Don’t use email too frequently or it might start to get a little obnoxious and scream “self-promotion”. Save the email and social media for the big wins.

5. Linked In.
Accomplished something big. Got a promotion. New client. Add it to your profile or list of expertise and let Linked In do the self promotion for you.

How do you brag or self-promote? Comment below…


Is it Possible to Overdo Your Strengths?

Is it possible to overdo your strengths? Think about it…

Overdoing your quick to action mode, can mean you’re overlooking all of the possible scenarios for strategy.
Overplaying your analytical skills, can lead to in-decisiveness.
Overdoing confidence might lead to arrogance and the inability to see other perspectives.

So yes, we can overdo our strengths. The goal is to find some balance. If you know what your strengths are, then you can pay attention to when you are over extending into the places where you are most comfortable. On the flip side, knowing your weaknesses can help you develop your capacity in areas that might counterbalance your strengths.

For example, one of my strengths is innovation. I like to create new things, generate ideas. The challenge there is that if I lean too far into innovation, I will constantly be reinventing and never see an idea to completion. Believe me, it happens all the time. Knowing I have this tendency, I have learned to sit with my ideas longer, take time to analyze their potential of an idea before I launch into a new endeavor. As a result I have fewer experiments floating about, and the things I do decide to take on are more fruitful.

Make a list of your own strengths. How might you be overextending and where you can spend focused time on developing in areas where you not as strong to create some balance? Not sure what your strengths are? I encourage you to take the Strengths-Finder assessment, here. This assessment will provide you with your core individual strengths.

How do you find balance between what you do well, and where you need to develop? Comment below.


Diversity and Inclusion is More Then Just a Number

I don’t know why anyone is surprised that the diversity numbers for the tech sector continue to be abysmal. Of Facebooks’ 1,231 U.S. hires in 2013 only seven were black. In 2015, just 18 percent of Google’s technology jobs were held by women entering, up a mere percentage point from the previous year. The rest of them were filled by men who were mostly white or Asian.

Diversity and inclusion, if you really value it, is about more then just hiring numbers. You can make huge shifts in hiring women and people of color and throw money at organizations focused on getting more girls and young people of color interested in STEM and coding, but the true test of diversity and inclusion is not reflected in these strategies. An inclusive workplace is one where principles of fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy are promoted and engrained in organizational goals, culture and behaviors.

If you drop the newly hired black woman software engineer into a culture where black women are not respected, supported, or given equal opportunity for advancement and leadership than A) black women will not thrive or survive and B) your organization is not achieving diversity and inclusion.

Recently technology companies have committed tens, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in education and training to ensure they have a diverse and skilled talent pool. Apple just announced a $50 million investment in historically black colleges. But that future workforce is at least a decade removed from the present. So what are the Googles, Facebooks and LinkedIns doing now to ensure that their companies are walking the talk of diversity and inclusion, and not just delivering a well crafted sermon?

Now without a doubt, culture shift in an organization is hard work. In fact it’s the hardest work. It requires a significant commitment from leadership to put in place practices and policies that enforce the envisioned culture. Like all significant organizational transformations, if there is no motivation or incentive for behavior change, then there is no behavior change.

If companies are really interested in diversity and inclusion here are some things to consider:

1. What’s the goal? If your company has not articulated hard goals for diversity and inclusion, then what’s the roadmap? How will you know when the organization has made progress or even achieved success?
2. What do we value? Does your organization have stated and written values around diversity and inclusion? If yes, how are those values reflected and enforced in policy and practice? Has someone examined how hiring, promotion, training and leadership development practices align with espoused values?
3. Are underrepresented communities involved and leading the solution? If the goal is to create an environment and culture that supports women and people of color then solutions can not be led by white men. Sorry white men, I know you’re well meaning, but it’s not about you. Effective solutions should reflect the experience and voice of those who are ultimately going to be impacted the most by those solutions.
4. What’s the bottom line case? Hey, I get it this is a business and you’re about making money. Well considering that women, Blacks and Hispanics outpace whites in their use of social media technology (Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook) by in some cases as much as 72%,  it’s safe to say their in your target market. Therefore, it seems a no-brainer that you would want people who can grow and influence your target market making up a more significant percentage of your companies employ and leadership.

Comments: What are your thoughts about what companies can do to be more authentic in their pursuit of diversity and inclusion? 


Why Supporting Other Women Is Critical to Your Leadership

Sometimes women just don’t support each other. I’ve experienced it myself. I’m sure we all have. Instances where women go out of their way not to congratulate you on a success. Having a woman undermine your ideas and opinions in mixed company. Or having a woman bear witness to the disrespect of another woman and remaining silent. If you were an emerging leader you might start to believe that the secret to success is to adopt the crabs in a barrel mentality…every woman for herself.

As women, we sometimes get so caught up in a system of patriarchy, we buy into this idea that there is only room for one at the top. But the truth is, when we don’t support each other we actually reinforce and normalize the very system that is meant to keep us out of positions of power.

How does supporting women actually help all women win?

Five Ways Supporting Women is a Win/Win

1. Let Other Women Shine
When there is an opportunity to give public praise and credit to other women, do it! Acknowledging women’s successes in public normalizes the idea that women are capable by solidifying the accomplishment in the mind of observers. It also gives other women permission to celebrate each other, knowing a win for one of us is a win for all of us.

2. Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open for Opportunity
Not every leadership position is a good fit for your skills or experience, but it might be perfect for another woman you know. If you hear of a position and know a woman that would be a good fit, clue her in or even nominate her. We often don’t get a chance to throw our hats in the ring simply because we are not aware the opportunity exists. So take a minute to make sure you get the word out about opportunities and positions to your network of women.

3. Give Other Women Respect
When other women speak up and out. When they offer up a great idea. When they challenge the status quo. Acknowledge them. Show your respect for other women by reinforcing their contributions with an aptly placed, “I second that or I concur!”  Spread their ideas and always give them credit for it. Again, it is about rooting the belief that women are capable, smart and valuable contributors.

4. Call out Sexism
Have you ever been in a room where someone makes a sexist statement? Ever experienced men “manterrupting” when a woman is speaking? I LOVED when at SXSW Judith Williams, Google’s Global Diversity and Talent manager publicly called out Erick Schmidt (Google’s Executive Chairman) for repeatedly interrupting U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, the only woman on a panel about corporate diversity. It was so brilliant you almost could have imagined it was staged for the sole purpose of making a point. And the point is, if you are a woman and you see sexist behavior it is your job to call it out. It is easier to dismantle sexism, patriarchal and racist practices when we shine a light on their existence.

5. Treat Women Like Family.
We can learn something from men about the way they have each other’s back. They network, they clue each other in when the shit’s going down, and they go to bat for one another. As women, we must do more of this. I try and treat other women, especially in professional settings, like I would my mother or sister. I look out for them. I never throw them under the bus. I give them honest feedback. Keep it simple and obey the Golden Rule, treat other women how you would want to be treated, always.

Question: Have you ever had a woman go above and beyond for you? Thoughts about how supporting women has benefitted you? Or how you support other women? Comment below.


Four Tips for Taking Risks in Leadership

76291a81bceb13423f000b1d4e727556Often stepping into leadership means taking risks. Pushing for the uncomfortable conversations. Starting something brand new. Doing something completely different from the way it’s been done. However, taking a risk doesn’t mean you have to totally jump out on faith. Sometimes it’s easier to take the risk if we prepare for the possibilities that follow.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for risk-taking:

1. Analyze all potential outcomes. What is the worse case scenario? What’s the best? Often just knowing what can possibly happen, helps ease our fear and instills more confidence in our choice.
2. Understand mistakes will be made. It’s inevitable. Knowing what could go wrong (step #1) will help you figure out a plan B to right the mistake(s) if they come.
3. Identify some allies. Taking risks become a lot less scary if you have people who support your effort and will inevitable have your back, even if things don’t go as planned.
4. Quick risk assessment. Sometimes we have to take a risk in the moment and there’s not a ton of time for prep. Doing a quick assessment of the gains and losses, will help you make an in the moment judgement about how or if to take the leap.

After it’s all said and done, sometimes being a leader is just about bravery and the willingness to make a move.


Women For Fem’ Sake, Stop Apologizing!

Blah-Blah-BlahI was on a conference call with a group of smart, insightful, and capable women. I started to notice that every time one of the women on the call began to speak she prefaced her idea or thought with an apology. “I’m sorry, this may not make sense, but…” Or “I apologize in advance, my thoughts are not fully formed yet… Or “I’m sorry if this is not the right time to say this…”

As I’m facilitating this conversation, I start seeing this pattern of apology making and it’s like a contagious habit. I become so focused on the apologies, everything following starts to fade. It’s like I’m in a Charlie Brown cartoon, all of the women are the adults in the cartoon, and everything after the apology sounds like, “whaa-wwhaaa waaaa waaaa.” Finally, I can’t take it anymore. I bring it to the attention of the group. Not one of the women realizes this incessant apologizing was occurring. We all make a promise to be more mindful.

Reflecting on this experience, I started to wonder…how often do women do this apologizing thing. I started to pay more attention. In one-on-one conversations with women. In group conversations with women. In conversations with men and women. I quickly realized women apologizing is a FREAKIN’ EPIDEMIC! We apologize or say “sorry” all – of -the- time!

It’s not entirely our fault. We women have subconsciously inherited this belief our ideas, thoughts, and opinions cannot stand on their own. We preface our words with apologies. What we do not realize, is every time we do this we belittle ourselves and other women. We are sending a message that what I am about to say is not of value or importance. We undermine ourselves because we already believe our words are less than brilliant. Why do women do this? Have you ever heard a man apologize for his thoughts? No. Not even when the thing he said was amazingly stupid.

Let’s stop apologizing. Next time you are a part of a conversation pay attention to your own words. If you feel the apology bubbling up, stop it. Just say what you want to say.  The majority of the time [at least 51%] you’re going to be one of the smartest people in the conversation. Even if you feel less than brilliant; fake it until you make it. Just please, on behalf of all women, don’t say sorry!


Embracing Fear of Failure

failureWhy do we fear failure? Maybe you were taught at a young age that perfection is the only thing worth striving for. You must get perfect grades, perfect performance, and winning the game is the only acceptable outcome.

But, in ones pursuit of perfection you can become so tunnel vision on the end goal, that you miss the journey.  Failure on the other hand, well that is a journey. If you fail right, that is embrace the failure as an opportunity to learn, that experience is ripe with moments of clarity, lessons learned, and bright spots.

If you’re still stuck on perfection, then find solace in knowing that we can only get to perfection by making mistakes. The perfect solution, the innovative new program, the life-changing product, personal growth,  these things are born from taking advantage of failures to learn and improve.

Even small mistakes help us refine our path so we are better prepared to achieve our goals, to pivot when necessary. Let’s not run from failure, but leap into it. The rewards from the journey are great.


A Strong Tribe – Nonprofits’ Greatest Asset

Untitled designNonprofits often start their social media activity and presence with the belief that, “If we build it they will come.” But attracting an audience of people who believe in, benefit from, and have an investment in your vision and mission actually requires some leg work. The basis is of this leg work is finding your tribe. The good news, once you find your tribe, they can be your organization’s greatest asset.

TRIBE: ….communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect…

As you are seeking out members of your tribe, it’s important to remember that individuals are not as interested in connecting to your organization as they are connecting to other “people.” People that share similar interests, concerns and passions as they do.

Think of your organization, and your social media platforms as the vehicle through which you are connecting people and providing them with the space and opportunity to talk and share with one another. What you do on your social media platforms, whether they be Twitter, Facebook or your website, should be in service to your tribe.

Once you have a base of people that find your organization provides relevant, useful and valuable content that also connects them to others with similar interests and passions, you will find you are building a loyal and trusting tribe. And this is the kind of tribe that will become the donors and influencers your organization needs to meet its mission.