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Creating Successful Leaders

Category Archives: Leadership

Sarah Cooper cartoons

We have to laugh, otherwise we’d cry. The workplace is often still a difficult place for women to navigate. We struggle to be heard, position ourselves as authority figures, and give constructive feedback to others without being seen as “too aggressive” or “threatening.”

Author and former tech executive, Sarah Cooper, finally had enough of tiptoeing around her male co-workers, just to make them feel validated. Her response: A series of satirical cartoons depicting how women can appear “non-threatening” to men.

The cartoons show female leaders in various situations—sharing their ideas, setting deadlines, finding mistakes—and how they can react to them in “threatening” vs. “non-threatening” ways.

Though the cartoons are hilarious on the surface, they portray a sad truth: women leaders are still fighting an uphill battle to gain recognition, authority, and respect.

How will you change your language so that you’re more assertive and less apologetic?

How will you stand up for yourself?

How will you make sure your voice is heard?

Your actions will set a precedent for how you’d like to be treated, and you will also help pave the way for future female leaders.

To read Sarah Cooper’s article and see her cartoons, please click HERE.


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Halloween and leadership

Happy Halloween, everyone! For today’s post, I thought I’d do a fun one. Let me know if you have other ideas, or if you think there are ways Halloween actually DOES resemble good leadership.

In the past, I’ve talked about how the MN State Fair and Independence Day teach us lessons about life and leadership, but today we’re dealing with a much different event: Halloween. When I think about all the qualities a good leader should possess, I see very few of them in Halloween–that holiday of monsters and ghouls.

How is Halloween the antithesis of good leadership? Here are four ways…

1. It revolves around fear.

Capable leaders do not need to lean on fear-based tactics to get what they want. They don’t need everyone beneath them quaking in fear, wondering when the next outburst or disciplinary action will occur.

Instead, capable leaders put their hearts first. They care about the wellbeing of their team; they take the time to get to know and understand others; they make sure they assign tasks that are well-suited to individuals.

Leading with your heart does NOT make you a softie. Rather, it demonstrates thoughtful leadership and respect for others. Of course, there will be times when you, as a leader, will need to deliver tough news or discipline a team member, but those occasions should be few and far between. Your team should be incentivized by common goals, not fear.

2. It disguises who you really are.

Good leaders don’t wear masks. They are brave enough to let themselves be vulnerable and let their true selves shine through. That means communicating clearly and authentically, behaving according to core values, and being transparent.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be more formal in certain situations and more relaxed in others. Being authentic has to do with the crux of who you are. There are some values, behaviors, and beliefs that make you you. Stand by them. Don’t wildly alter your personality or your opinions to please the crowd–this kind of behavior will only make others question your authenticity and lessen their trust in you.

3. It is greedy.

Good leadership isn’t about collecting as much “candy” as possible and hoarding it for yourself. Instead, it’s about understanding that your accomplishments were not achieved alone–others deserve credit (candy) too.

When someone goes above and beyond their work duties, recognize that individual. When your team delivers, reward them. That doesn’t mean you should dole out “candy” willy-nilly; it means you should pay attention and give others credit when credit is due.

And remember: you rarely accomplish big things on your own. Recognize the help you’ve received along the way.

4. It doesn’t provide vital nutrients.

Candy can’t subsist you forever, and neither can gimmicky reward programs or activities. Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s a great idea to have team parties, cookouts, and competitions. HOWEVER, if those fun activities are not supported by key core elements, they are meaningless.

In short: Who cares if you have a weekly office party if there is in-fighting or poor communication between staff?

Make sure the bones of your operation are solid (there’s a skeleton reference for you!) before you start adding extras. Are your employees comfortable with their assignments? Is there an open line of communication between leadership and staff? Is there a safe, effective way to voice complaints? Are employees being treated civilly and with dignity? Is office gossip clouding relationships?

Yes, it’s wonderful to have friendly competitions and parties (just like it’s wonderful to enjoy the occasional chocolate bar!). Just make sure you prioritize core office values first.


What do you think? Is Halloween a metaphor for poor leadership? Let me know your thoughts!

Have a fun, safe Halloween.


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leadership and continuous learning

Strong leaders are avid, continual learners. They don’t stop seeking out new opportunities after they’ve graduated or once they’ve landed a job; they treat everyday as another chance to acquire knowledge and skills.

Why is lifelong learning so essential for leadership? How does curiosity and exploration build character, aid in personal development, and position you as a leader? Read on…

1. Continual Learning Preps You For Inevitable Change

In order to remain a relevant leader, you must learn and continue to learn. Just because you earned a leadership role 10 years ago does not necessarily mean you’re equipped to lead today. Each situation you encounter presents new challenges that can only be accomplished with an appetite for new knowledge. There’s a reason why medical doctors are required to continue their specialized education long after they graduate from medical school. Could you imagine going to a surgeon who was using standard practices from the 1940s?

The same is true in any office setting. Standards change; innovations occur. Capable leaders stay on top of those changes, adapt, and guide others to adapt as well.

2. Well-Rounded People Make The Best Leaders

To be well-rounded, you need to learn a wide array of subjects, disciplines, and areas of expertise. You don’t need to be an expert at everything, but it’s important to have a working knowledge of the world outside your niche, as it gives you a greater sense of perspective and maturity. Go outside your comfort zone; read history or philosophy if you’ve always been a numbers person. Take public speaking classes if you’re shy (Toastmasters is a great club for this). Learn a language. Focus on areas you’ve told yourself that you’re bad at, and give it another go. You may surprise yourself.

3. Learning Helps You Problem-Solve

If you’re constantly making an effort to learn new systems, programs, ways of thinking, etc. you’ll be more creative when it comes to problem-solving. If you train your brain to perform many different tasks (no matter what they are), you’re enabling yourself for outside-the-box thinking.

4. Your Actions Will Encourage Others to Keep Learning

As a leader, you set the standards. Your pursuit of innovation and discovery will encourage your team to also prioritize continual learning. Demonstrate that you’re willing to dive into uncharted territory, get your hands dirty, and make mistakes. Your example will help create a team that is willing to get creative, take a few risks, and figure out how to overcome obstacles.


How will you commit to continual learning? What will you do this week to help expand your horizons or learn a new skill? Start today!

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Every leader has their strengths. You might be an excellent idea-generator or public speaker. Maybe you’re great with details. Or, maybe your team considers you a trusted confidante. Whatever the case, it’s great to celebrate and emphasize your strengths…but it’s also a good idea to identify your areas of opportunity.

No leader is perfect. There is always room for growth. But how can you get started with self-improvement? Isn’t that a bit daunting?

It doesn’t have to be.

By assigning certain personality traits certain colors, it’s easy to identify the areas where you are lacking. That is precisely what the Insights® Discovery program does. According to the Insights® color model, each individual has the capability to embrace and utilize all four color energies, but we typically only emphasize one or two. In essence, the color system breaks down like this:

The basic traits of each Insights personality. Everyone has a little of each color in them!

(For more information on Insights® Discovery, please visit my website!)

So what happens when, as a leader, you don’t tap into each color energy?

You may find that you’re not as well-rounded as you could be. For instance, if you lead with a lot of yellow energy, you may jump into projects feet-first without thinking through all the details. While this is great for motivation and could have positive effects on your team initially, the long-term effects may be disastrous if certain key factors were not taken into consideration (Oh…we needed to get permission from corporate before contacting that client…).

On the flip side, if you lead with a lot of blue energy, you may nit-pick the details to death and have trouble starting a project (let alone drumming up enthusiasm for it).

To examine this idea further, take a look at the following chart. Which areas in YOUR leadership need a boost? How could “Fiery Red” be useful at times? How could green? Yellow? Blue?

Insights Leadership Colors Lacking

Coming from someone who is strongly yellow (with dashes of the other colors), I know the importance of tapping into my “blue side.” How will you call upon your under-utilized colors today?


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5 Ways Leadership is Like Camping

It’s the season of pitching tents and building campfires. Camping can be easy and enjoyable…or it can be downright miserable. In that sense, it has a lot in common with leadership! What else do they have in common?

Here are 5 ways leadership can be a lot like camping:

1. You can weather any storm with the right equipment

Just like a quality tent and sleeping bag will help you survive the driving rain or bitter cold, so too can well-developed leadership skills help you handle even the most difficult situations. Some of these skills you might learn through time, experience, and trial and error, and others you might acquire through classes, like the Build A Boss program.

This “equipment” can prepare you for dealing with tough conversations, coping with major organizational changes, or tactfully approaching staff reduction. Leadership isn’t always going to be sunny days and clear waters. You’ll have to rely on your skill set to see you through some difficult situations.

2. It’s unpredictable

Camping can be wonderful and relaxing—filled with swimming, fishing, and campfires—or it can be rainy, cold, buggy, and just plain miserable.

In the same way, leadership has its ups and downs. As a leader, you might have days or weeks that are productive and inspiring…and then you might find yourself in a downward spiral of awfulness. As a leader, you have to ride those waves and use your ingenuity, adaptability, and drive to create strategies to overcome them.

3. It’s fun…with the right attitude

Have you been on a camping trip with someone who insists on not having fun? That person might complain about the dirt, the bugs, the camp food, the campfire smoke, the cold water and on and on…but they completely miss the fresh air, sunshine, and freedom.

Leadership is all about perspective. Leaders tend to face a lot of tough situations and difficult people, BUT they also have amazing opportunities. As a leader, you are given a chance to head up amazing projects and teams of people, you’re entrusted with big responsibilities, and you have the opportunity to be the face (or at least somewhat the face) of the company. Focusing on the positive aspects of your leadership and striving to create constructive change will help you realize that leadership can be rewarding and even (gasp!) fun.

4. It’s energizing

Paddling a canoe, hiking, setting up camp—it’s all invigorating and can give you a burst of energy. Similarly, leadership can be just as motivating. Just ask someone who has rallied a team of twenty people to work together on a unified task. Or someone who has helped amp up their company’s profit margin. Or someone who has mentored an individual and helped him thrive. Good leaders find energy in actions such as these and also strive to motivate others.

5. It leaves you vulnerable

Just like camping leaves you vulnerable to the elements, so too does leadership leave you somewhat bare. You are thrown into the spotlight; all eyes are on you and your example. What are you going to do?

Situations like these are common, and you have to decide how you will handle them. In my experience, it is better to be candid, transparent, and authentic than closed off and secretive. If you are open and honest with your team (within reason!), they are more likely to be open and honest with you when they have an issue or would like to talk over a bold new idea. This kind of open communication creates a healthy, humming work environment. Have courage. Be willing to own up to mistakes, be genuinely you, communicate with authenticity, and be a tad vulnerable.


This summer, I hope you have sunny days, refreshing afternoons in the water, and zero bug bites…but if you do encounter these things, I hope you’ll face them with the proper gear, a little ingenuity, and a lot of positivity.


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Be a caring leader

More and more evidence is emerging that leading with love, compassion, and authenticity is much better for building a sustainable, happy team than leading by force and intimidation. According to, many old leadership models were based on the military and have a tendency to emphasize leaders as people who should be feared.

It’s taken a long time to start changing this model, but it’s happening, slowly but surely. As managers of all levels are coming to realize that people respond to love and compassion, leadership tactics are changing and many people are opening up to the idea of love leadership. One in-depth study by Joe Ricciardi shows that, “A team member who feels ‘loved’ by his boss is significantly more likely to see his boss as a good leader. Leading your employees is a natural outgrowth of loving them.”

The study went on to find that three simple leadership approaches can greatly increase the success of your team:

1. Genuinely Care

Above all, be human. Get to know your work team, ask them questions (and genuinely listen to the answers!), and share a little bit of yourself. As in all relationships, getting to know another person is a two-way street and you have to have the courage to be vulnerable sometimes and open up.

It’s the littler things that make a difference–hand-written thank you notes, noticing when an employee goes above and beyond their responsibilities, remembering the name of a spouse or a child, recalling a co-worker’s recent trip or a hobby they enjoy. If your memory can be slippery, jot down notes in an excel spreadsheet (a sheet for each team member) and take a look at those notes before meeting with someone.

Your efforts will make others feel comfortable in the workplace and help them to actually look forward to coming in to work–something that leads to long-term retention.

2. Be Passionate

Your enthusiasm is contagious. Love what you do and demonstrate that love through positivity, a sunny attitude, and excitement. If you are looking forward to taking on a new client, tackling a new project, or meeting a certain goal, share that enthusiasm with your team. Let your positive energy shine through during team meetings, email memos, or one-on-ones.

And if you’re not loving your job? If you’re in a leadership role, that could be a genuine problem. Evaluate your discontentment and ask yourself what’s causing it. Work with a career coach to help you get to the root of the problem and then strategize on how to move forward. Leading with love means you not only show your co-workers love, but that you also love and embrace your leadership role. It’s hard to follow a leader who is unenthusiastic about their work.

3. Be Committed

Commitment is a big part of being a caring leader. Commit to the wellbeing of your employees. Commit to your team’s current projects. Commit to your clients/customers. If you’re truly committed to your team, you will be with them every step of the way, through both their successes and failures. Part of this responsibility means shouldering a good portion of the blame if something goes wrong. As former President Truman said, “The buck stops here.” Those are words to live by.

Part of being committed means investing in your team. Focus on individual and team development by making sure team members are involved in ongoing training. Also, make sure they have the chance to learn from each other (and you!) during skill share or mentoring sessions.


How will you step into your role as a caring leader? What can you do to show others you genuinely care, you’re passionate about the work, and you’re committed to both the team and their work projects? No matter how you decide to amp up your love leadership, the important thing is to DO IT. Start today and see what small changes you can make to commit to being a more caring, compassionate leader.


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more engaging presentation
Minutes feel like hours. The effects of your mid-morning coffee have long worn off and it takes every last bit of strength to keep your eyes on the presenter at the front of the room. You know how it feels to sit through a boring presentation. Perhaps the only thing worse is being the boring presenter yourself; watching the attention of your audience decrease exponentially. Luckily, there are ways to spare everyone the pain.

Here are five tips that will help you level-up your presentation game:


Take the main idea within your presentation and frame it in a narrative that contains a beginning, a middle, and an end. Introduce a flaw in the status quo, describe your quest for something better, and show the great potential of what you’ve found. This structure helps your audience feel invested, as though they’re right there with you, navigating the circumstances. A story format is easy for audiences to absorb, and they’re more likely to remember your conclusion.


“Short and sweet,” as they say. Keeping a presentation short means a greater chance that your audience will stay attentive the whole time. This means cutting out any unnecessary information or redundant data. Slides should be free from visual clutter. Too many bullet points means focus pulled away from the presenter’s voice and onto reading the screen. You are conducting your presentation, the powerpoint is not.

Images are your friend. This includes graphs/charts, but again, nothing convoluted or difficult to interpret.


Active involvement from the audience exerts spontaneity. People are more likely to stay engaged when there’s an opportunity for something unrehearsed to occur. The use of props, asking for a volunteer, leading an activity, doing a demonstration or initiating discussion are all great ways to lift up the energy in the room.


What if you could take information that you want to convey, and rephrase it in an enticing way? You can! Use the power of questioning to your advantage. Rhetorical questions work well as transitions and plant curiosity in the listener. You voice is a tool, use it! Exclaim important things! Find a section of your presentation that could use a boost and change your inflection.

Alternatively, take a power pause. A brief pause is an effective way to let a message resonate. It can also replace any dreaded ‘Um’ or ‘Uhh’s.


Don’t underestimate the role of body language. Engaging presenters stand confidently and use hand gestures that reflect the tone of their voice. Try making eye contact with someone long enough to finish a sentence or two instead of continuously scanning the room. Your movements are an extension of your words–your physicality can impact how your words are received.

Regardless of the topic or how experienced you are, following these tips will shut down the snore-factor at your next presentation. Remember that the more you believe what you’re saying is important, the better your audience will listen. Your ideas are worth hearing.



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