Human Potential and Pancakes

What does the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) have to do with being a leading lady? Everything.

“International” was the first multi-syllable word I learned to spell. I used to drive past an IHOP on my way to daycare and my dad had me spell it out daily as part of his “knowledge is everywhere, no excuses” campaign. I was four at the time. My father, who was a coach and a friend, was also my very first brand strategist; teaching how my culture, history, and gender – my story – were competitive advantages. I grew up being encouraged to educate myself because it was the one thing that could not be taken away from me by a man or an ineffective leader who didn’t align with the way I chose to show up. I believed I could do or be anything I wanted to, as long as it was rooted in my identity and values, and honored service to others along the way.

“When I grow up I’m going to be the Indian Oprah. My mom said I could.”

My parents have always been my role models. They came to Canada from East Africa in the early 70’s on the last plane out of Uganda in the Idi Amin era and relinquishing their retail businesses to a socialist government in Tanzania. They were in their 20’s and supported their families, sacrificing a formal education to make ends meet. At the age of 35, my mom single-handedly ran a new business and raised a newborn + two more children under the age of 10, while nursing my dad back to health from a quadruple bypass. The woman with the stylish knee-length boots and cape atop a skyscraper, wielding a certificate in secretarial studies and saving the world…is my mom. Being born and educated in the Western world with a Master’s degree, what excuses do I have? Apparently plenty.

My honorary degree in excuses.

I’ve had many of these uninvited houseguests in my head. Some excuses were engineered in the design studio of my mind– I’m not smart enough, thin enough, good enough or I need to be more like so & so. Some have been born from real experiences of marginalization based on age, gender, color or socio-economic status. It didn’t stop me, nor did failing remarkably many times. I’ve learned to “fake it till you make it” and that being underestimated is powerful because it always keeps you one step ahead.

Do we still face barriers as women of all backgrounds and cultures? Yes. We read stories about women who had to be pregnant in secret as they pitched their tech platforms. Or about leading ladies who are acknowledged more for their appearance than their intellect or achievement. While we may still get grounded in unhelpful ways like a plane delayed from takeoff, we are certainly more grounded today in ways that allow us the freedom to live our truth as women and leaders.

It’s taken me a few decades to stop hoarding excuses. To recognize that there is no direction but upward, outward and forward and that every path to meaningful success starts with looking inward. The journey has helped me realize that now is always the right time to ‘Show Up, Be Curious and Raise the Game’ ©. Today, I’m getting ready to share this with leaders and organizations to help them elevate their human potential in the 21st century.

“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” – Oprah Winfrey

Me too Oprah, me too.

This post was originally published on HR-Toolbox as part of the “Leading Ladies Series”.

Leaders, Time to Get Your Shift Together

In a time of scarcity, the greatest abundance is the plentiful of being more of who we already are.

Today’s leaders own a lot. We are responsible for a continuum that has the bottom line on one end, and on the other, cultivating conditions for the organization to thrive during times of uncertainty. We must empower our people to reach beyond the boundaries of imagination to enhance the customer service experience and develop innovative products and services. 21st century leaders are tasked with engineering an ecosystem of hope in the workplace and beyond. This is challenge of the new engagement paradigm.

In the new engagement paradigm, conversation is the catalyst for every shift

I believe designing a space that betters organizational and individual life while driving business excellence requires 5 key shifts.

1. Openness → Truth

Open-door approachability is no longer enough. Leaders must shift engagement from providing opportunities for autonomy, to creating a culture of authenticity. Once we recognize our truth as leaders – who we are when at our best, and we own it, we can begin to understand how to consciously influence engagement in a way that matters.

2. Values → Voice

It’s time to stop talking about what connects us, and to start talking to each other about why we’re connected and exploring how it shows up as a strength in the workplace. This shift is a trust-building exercise.

3. Performance → Play

Employees are hired to perform on time and on budget in agreement with the essential job duties they signed up for. This also grooms them to have one foot out the door. The leadership call to action is to be in the relentless pursuit of emotional, spiritual and financial profit. Happiness improves the bottom line.

We must empower our people to reach beyond the boundaries of imagination to enhance the customer service experience and develop innovative products and services.

4. Dream → Dare

The impetus for implementation is shifting from creativity to bravery. Thanking your talent for being bold enough to push fear of failure aside is just as important as ideating. Curating courage to do things differently is what organizations need to transform brainstorming to building.

5. Embrace → Exchange

If we look at adoption to change as a physical action, it’s opening our arms to invite and welcome. However, as we seek to grasp and hold onto this new way of being, we end up using our energy to guard and protect what we’ve learned. It’s just as important to find ease in extending our willingness to share, as it is in accepting knowledge. Organizational resiliency lives in these exchanges that harvest collective intelligence.

Hope is not the expectation that things will turn out well, it is the belief that there is meaning no matter how things turn out. –Vaclav Havel

 

In the new engagement paradigm, conversation is the catalyst for every shift. It starts with the one you have with yourself (personal truth), then with your talent (leadership truth) and with your customers (brand truth).

When you are clear on your truth as a leader, tell it to five people outside the boardroom and empower them to pay it forward to another five. As this exercise unfolds, the circles of truth will begin to overlap and the dotted lines will disappear. What will emerge is a sense of community weaved together through storytelling, ownership and trust. This is where the organic flourishing of an ecosystem of hope begins.

The new engagement paradigm starts from within.

This post was originally published on the Switch And Shift blog in the “Winning Employees Through Engagement” series.