How Being A Working Mother Made Me A Better Leader

My second son just graduated High School and heads off to VA Tech next Fall. He’s the last one out of the nest and it’s got me thinking about the first half of my parenting life – the half where they are children. I’m grateful for so many things about being a parent, not the least of which is having two fine young men to show for it, but I’m also grateful for what they taught me – about leadership.

I’d like to say that it was my worklife that taught me to be a good parent. After all, I was working for over a decade before I had kids. But looking back on it, I really wasn’t all that great a manager or leader in my 20’s and early 30’s. Putting “work” before “life” meant I was still trying to figure it all out on the job. I wanted to be a “cool” leader that everyone looked up to, but I failed as often as I succeeded. I felt too competitive with my staff; I overworked myself and resented my staff when they didn’t follow my lead.

Parenting was the force that made me grow up – at work and at home. Here are the two key lessons in leadership I owe to my kids.

Tough Love is Love Continue reading

Stressed? Practice the Art of Saying No

The holidays are upon us and this means – increased stress!

We all “know” that when things get busy we need to be gentle with ourselves and that one of our best strategies is to say “No” more often, and preserve more of energy for the highest priorities. We know it but we often don’t do it. I want to encourage you to make this holiday season the time where you master this important skill – because it not only helps you stay sane when things are crazy – it helps you position yourself as a leader all year round. Combined with learning the art of setting intentions, these are two of the most powerful skills I know for reducing personal stress and being perceived by everyone around you as a leader, capable of playing in bigger leagues. Continue reading

3 Reasons Good Ideas Aren’t Good Enough

There’s a particular skill that middle managers who will become more than middle managers learn, and it’s not something that is taught in business school. It’s one of the reasons that we all benefit from good mentors, who really understand “how things work.” This particular skill is the ability to understand the human dynamics of the business, office or industry well enough to navigate a good idea up the chain. It’s a proclivity for “politics,” by which I don’t mean running for public office.

Many people “hate politics” and struggle to master the human skills inherent with understanding and working within the agendas of all the people who can help you succeed. But over the years I’ve noticed that some people, many women among them, struggle even more with this kind of “politics” because they feel like the deck is stacked against them. They want the quality of their work to speak for itself without the need for them to champion it and risk its failure. They want to win every time. Continue reading

Joe Paterno & The End of Paternalistic Leadership

This week I’ve talked to and read about many men expressing profound disappointment, sadness and even despair at the Sandusky-Paterno affair in the wake of the Tiger Woods mess. Not being a football or golf fan, at first I didn’t get it – just another set of pedestals and their icons fallen, right?

No, not right. After listening beneath the words of my friends and the media beginning to tell the stories of many men affected by this sad story (by which I don’t just mean Sandusky’s victims, but male victims of coach and priest abuse as well) I believe that the fallout from this tragedy is going to continue for some time.

And as sad as I am for the victims – the boys and men who experienced the abuse and those millions of others whose heroes have fallen recently – I’m glad our sports heroes are being exposed for the human beings they are. Why? Because we too easily accept that money and greed breed cynicism. The fall of Wall Street and political icons is something we’ve come to expect; but the fall of sports icons to something other than financial greed makes it impossible to ignore the simple fact that abuse of external power can happen everywhere and lead to greater harm than simple financial ruin.

My husband said a wise thing to me when we were discussing this recently, and it has vast implications for leaders and those of us in leadership development. He said, “When are we going to understand that there are no heroes? Only heroic deeds?” Continue reading

Success is Messy

Buddhists and psychologists alike tell us that non-attachment to outcomes is the key to success. There is tremendous value in thinking this way – and it’s a key component of my executive coaching work on speaking truth and building your internal power. Non-attachment from the culture around you is critical to establishing your InPower – your personal power base (first becoming aware of the distinction between “you” and “culture” and then learning to use and change the culture intentionally.)

BUT, being a human being fundamentally works against this principle. Why? Because humans are wired to care. Continue reading

The Ironies of Failure

If we’ve read one “fail fast” article lately, we’ve read a million. Failure is an option! You can’t succeed until you fail! The Lean Startup goes so far as to encourage experimentation on your customer base, with the goal of failure, so you can turn it around into success quickly.

There’s merit to this approach, of course, and I happen to believe in the value of failure in the leader’s repertoire of success tools – in part because we simply can’t avoid it. But it’s no wonder the average leader does their best to avoid and ignore failure when it happens.

We all love a good failure

The business press loves nothing more than to haul out any public failing and shout it from the rooftops. Continue reading

An Open Letter To Bully Bosses: Steve Jobs’ Greatest Failure Should Be Your Greatest Success

Yes, Steve Jobs changed the world. He was brilliant, fearless, courageous and undeniably successful by all measures but one. See these HBR laudatory reviews? I agree with them all.

But, in his most blatant imperfection, I see great opportunity for you. Continue reading

Business Leaders – What Don’t Your Employees Tell You?

Bosses, Do you know what’s really going on in your organizations? According to the Speak Truth to Power Survey I fielded last month, no. You’re often not hearing what your people really think.

According to my unscientific-but-interesting survey, almost half your potential workforce (48%) indicated they are actively withholding their truth in the workplace more than 25% of the time. But guess what? The Corporate Executive Board found scientific corollary data that’s even scarier. Continue reading

Leadership Tip: Find the Limits of Empathy

Early in my career, empathy was my ace-in-the-hole management technique. I was all business when it came to helping my team on technical, process and performance issues, but if they had an emotional reaction or issue, I reverted to empathy because it was the easy thing to do. I learned that when I was empathetic, people liked me more, and early in my career, I really wanted to be liked. In retrospect, there might have been a correlation between my empathetic management style and the glass ceiling I smacked my head on the first time around, but then again maybe not. One of the folks who got the job I wanted was a woman… (though now that I think of it, her management style was anything but empathetic.)

Empathy didn’t work on everyone, though. I remember Employee B at a subsequent job. He just pretty much hated me and did everything including lying to my face to try to undermine me – despite the fact that I was the one with the VP title. I was flummoxed and pissed off. I kept trying to empathize in order to connect and failed, time and again. I never did figure out Employee B.  I rejoiced when he transferred to another department and to this day I consider him my biggest management failure.

Continue reading

6 Dynamics of Transformation – for Your Business and Your Life

Good leaders need to be reasonable managers, able to make sure the important stuff gets done from day to day, but a true leader’s potential is discovered and exercised during times of business transformation.  It is in those times that the leaders truly change the world. The words “change and transformation” are used a lot interchangeably and I’ve come to believe their meaning has pretty much been lost in modern business. “Change and transformation” don’t just mean “different than the way things are today.”

What is business transformation?

I love Chris McGoff’s distinction of CHANGE VS. TRANSFORMATION in The PRIMES. Change is improvement on the past (e.g., better, faster cheaper, ______er.) Transformation is something else altogether – a new thing, designed to achieve a vision of the future that isn’t here yet and is waiting to be created by us. Continue reading


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