What Actors, Speakers and Leaders Have in Common

Last Friday, I had the privilege of learning from Steve Lowell at our CAPS Annual Speaker School.   In his session, Steve presented his adaptation of Patsy Rodenburg’s Three Circles of Energy.  Patsy developed these three circles while studying the difference between actors that had ‘it’ and actors that didn’t.  As Steve outlined how these three circles of energy also applied to speakers, I started thinking … this also applies to leaders.

Actors, speakers and leaders are all in the communication business.  It is our role, our responsibility to communicate a message, to create a vision, to inspire and effect change.  Our ability to do that successfully is dependent on the circle of energy we are working from.

First Circle

A lot of managers start here.  This circle is defined as uncertainty and lack of confidence.  Managers in this circle find it difficult to address conflict or make timely decisions.  They focus on themselves; what do others think of me? Am I respected? Do they like me?  Am I doing a good job? Will I get fired?  Managers in this circle provide hints as to expectations instead of clear direction because they fear being perceived as bossy or controlling.


Third Circle

The reason I am putting third circle next is because many people swing from first to third, before attaining second circle. The third circle is defined by directives and command.  Managers in this circle don’t ask for advice, input or suggestions.  They know exactly how and why tasks and responsibilities are to be completed.   Many times their intention is to help by imparting their wisdom upon their subordinates.


Second Circle

Second circle leaders are confident and self-assured. They speak directly and ask lots of questions. They value and respect the contribution of everyone on their team. They look for and recognize people who have strengths in areas they are weak in.  Second circle leadership is about shared experiences and opportunities.  The team succeeds and fails together. They learn and grow together.  Second circle leaders are willing coaches and mentors.


As a leader, it may be appropriate to step into circle one or three in some situations.  There are times when tough calls and decisions must be made; when time or safety constraints means putting on the mantle of control.  There may be times when taking a big step back is appropriate, even if it seems like too much is being given or taken away.  Strong leaders assess each individual situation as one piece of a much bigger picture and know when to step out of the second circle for a short time.

The key is that when moving out of second circle, it is done with purpose and with intention and only for a short time. Ultimately, we connect and communicate most effectively when we look at goals, purposes and challenges from a shared perspective.

What do you think about this?  What are some signs or clues that indicate which circle of energy a manager (or speaker and actor!) is in?

Was My Face Red: Handling Embarrasing Moments

Blunders, stumbles, errors in judgement, and just plain “I can’t believe I said that” moments … we’ve all had them.

Some of our DOH moments are embarrassing but in the end, the only thing that gets bruised is personal pride.

Sometime those “I can’t believe I said that” moments are more serious.  Sometimes our words or actions are hurtful.  We act out of character and, in a moment of weakness, don’t speak up for someone when we should.  Perhaps we are given an easy out of a challenging situation and take it, even though that meant a colleague took our share of the blame.  Perhaps we snap at a team member because our kids are stressing us out at home.  We are embarrassed and ashamed of our less than exemplary behaviour.

It would be nice if we never stumbled and fell, but we all do.  When we do, we have two choices. We can either own the moment or disown it.

When we disown the moment, we:

  • Pretend it never happened in the hope others will just forget about it.
  • Make excuses for bad behaviour
  • Punish anybody who was witness to or speaks about the moment

The problem with disowning the moment is that it doesn’t go away.  Ignoring it, quashing any and all references to it or making the hole deeper by continuing to make excuses, keeps it front and centre.  It creates rifts in relationships, breaks down trust and blocks effective communication.

When we own the moment, we:

  • Acknowledge it happened.
  • Laugh, if appropriate.  Laughing at ourselves helps take the sting out of an embarrassing moment.
  • Apologize, if necessary.  When you mess up, say you’re sorry.  No excuses. Period

Owning the moment takes courage.  It says “I’m not perfect.”  Owning the moment builds trust and opens the door to meaningful communication.

Acknowledging and owning blunders, stumbles, errors in judgements and just plain “I can’t believe I said that moments” makes leaders approachable.  It builds respect and trust.

What do you think?


Five Leadership Lessons from Santa Claus

The jolly man in the red suit is doing something right.  For hundreds of years Santa has delivered toys to boys and girls around the world, on schedule each and every year.  And unless I missed a news report, it’s all been done without disgruntled, under-appreciated elves refusing to show up for work.

Santa and his team are under a lot of pressure.  Can you imagine the disappointment if he missed a house, a city block, an entire city or heaven forbid, decided he’d been doing this whole toy thing long enough and decided to hang up his hat? Santa and his entire team of elves and reindeer understand just how important their job is and thanks to Santa’s leadership, the job gets done each year.

Five leadership lessons we can learn from Santa are:

  1.  Santa has a clearly defined focus and target market.  Santa and his elves work 364 days a year preparing for one thing and one thing only; delivering toys to children, the demographic that believes in him.  He understands that when he makes his believers happy, the adults who don’t believe in him will be happy too.
  2. Santa makes sure his elves have the tools they need in order to do their job.  Have you seen his workshop? Every tool you can imagine is in there.  As children’s requests have changed from wind-up cars to video racing games, Santa has kept on top of the trends to make sure he’s ordering the right supplies for his elves. He realizes asking his elves to make do with outdated equipment reduces efficiency and productivity and increases frustration and stress.
  3. Santa trains his elves.  Elves used to need to know how to make simple rag dolls. Then the dolls needed to be able to say “mama”, had to come with multiple outfits and even walk.  Today, those dolls need to be interactive.  They need to smile or cry on cue, wet their diaper on cue and talk on cue. And when the dolls talk, they need to have a vocabulary that includes complete sentences. Santa doesn’t replace the experienced, but less tech-savvy elves with younger elves.  Sure he’ll hire the younger elves, but he’ll also retrain the experienced elves so that they can continue to do what they love.
  4. Santa recognizes individual strengths.  Dasher, Dancer and the rest of the reindeer team are strong and fast. Without them, there is no way Santa could get around the world in such a short time.  It took Santa to realize how valuable Rudolph could be to the team.  Sure, Rudolph is a little guy and doesn’t make a big difference in how fast they get around, but without him, there is a good chance a house may be missed in the dark and a missed house would damage Santa’s reputation.
  5. Santa doesn’t leave things to chance.  Santa is a list maker and before heading out to deliver his toys, he double checks the list to make sure it’s right. He also doesn’t wait until the last minute to start making toys.  Santa and his team have developed a schedule and they stick to it!

Bonus Leadership Lesson: Santa walks the talk.  Santa understands that if he wants his elves and children to be good for goodness sake, he has to lead by example.

As 2012 comes to a close, why not take some of Santa’s leadership practices to keep your workshop abuzz in 2013.

Happy holidays!

5 Ways to Influence at Work, with or without a Title

“Those who lead in the business world don’t get followers just because their title says they should.”  Nan Russell

Some supervisors, managers and executives are still under the impression that the title on their business card means they are automatically bestowed the privileges of leadership as well.

The reality is that a title doesn’t guarantee anyone will follow.  I recently had the opportunity to read Nan Russells’ book The Titleless Leader.  It is chock full of practical suggestions on how to be an influence for positive change in the workplace, with or without a business card, a title or an office with a door.

Following are five take-aways I got from Nan’s book:

1. Leaders operate with trust:  A recent blog I wrote “What You Give is What you Get” really speaks to this.  Being a leader means trusting and respecting those you work with.  When you trust and respect co-workers, you are much more likely to get trust and respect in return.  Nan points out that the trust component also means trusting your intentions, your motivation and your integrity.  After all, if you don’t trust yourself, how can you expect others to trust you?

2. Leaders help others thrive:  Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  Leaders take the time to get to know the people they work with. Instead of trying to look good by partnering with people “weaker” than they are, they partner with people whose strengths address their own weaknesses. This not only provides a better end product for the company and the team, it also provides a co-worker the opportunity to shine and to focus on an area they are good at.

3. Leaders use the “Three Musketeers” approach – “All for one and one for all”:  Want the best for others on your team, bring your best to the team and when you do make a mistake, recognize the impact it has on the team, not just you.  Own the error and then work to fix it.  When you demonstrate you will stand by your team when times are tough, chances are they will also stand by  you. As Nan puts it “Being a musketeer builds relationship capital.”

4. Leaders make it purposeful:  Don’t just share the how or the when, share the why.  People want to know that what they are doing has more meaning than just simply getting the report done on time, without any typing errors. Why is the report needed? How will it be used?

5. Leaders are independent thinkers:  Take a look around. Why are things being done the way they are?  Could they be done differently?  Challenging assumptions demonstrates independent thinking.  It provides opportunities to explore new ideas.  Of course, leaders also allow others to challenge them and their ideas.  In fact, leaders encourage others around them to be independent thinkers as well.  The status quo generally keeps us exactly where we are.  Leaders look for the next opportunity.

In closing, if you don’t have the business card or the title, don’t let that stop you from taking on a leadership role.  And if you already have the title and the business card, don’t expect people to follow you: demonstrate you are worth following.

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Nan Russell’s book, The Titleless Leader.  If you are interested in the book itself, visit her website.)