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March 2013

Staying On Your Current Path May Not Be In Your Best Interest

Taking a turn for the worse could be better than staying on the current path.

The expression “took a turn for the worse” implies bad news.  But what if staying on the current path was not in your best interest?

Getting to our family cabin during the winter requires snowshoes or skis.  When you arrive you have to shovel out the door, start a fire and make some hot chocolate.  But sitting in the cabin is not the reason we go.  Playing in the snow is the mission.  

My kids favorite activity was sledding down the steep hillside road.  On one trip, hearing their joy as they plummeted downhill was contagious.  We only had three sleds and I have three boys.  If I was going to experience a frosty acceleration I had to improvise.  That’s when the proverbial light went on and I retrieved the canoe.  The boys watched as their mom and I carried everything up the hill.  We climbed in, pushed off and I used my paddle as a rudder to guide us down.  

We picked up tremendous speed in a short period of time.  The boys cheered as we flew past them.  I was screaming in pure delight.  This was better then an old sled!

Now, as you reach the bottom the road takes a hard right turn and levels off in front of the cabin.  On approach I began to dig the paddle into the snow hoping to navigate the turn.  We didn’t turn.  Our momentum launched us straight off the road into a thicket of bushes and trees.   

The canoe did not slow down.  It pushed through the branches carving out an unexpected path.  The front edge of that fiberglass projectile suddenly found an object that would not move out of the way - a fence post.  I know what it means to come to a “dead stop.”  Well, the canoe stopped.  We continued forward and slammed into the front.  A moment later we rolled out of the canoe breathless, dazed and bruised.

The boys were laughing in hysterics.  The doctor laughed uncontrollably when she asked me to explain how my injuries occurred.  It’s funny now, but I wasn’t laughing then.

Unexpected turns happen.  You can count on it.  The surprise of those experiences and the consequences are not always pleasant.  However, most people will tell you that the “turn for the worse” made them stronger, more thankful, and closer to their family than before.  The turn became the catalyst for a change of heart or a reality check of what is really important.  

In business and leadership, getting caught up in our own success may divert us from the turns we really need to take.  The momentum we’ve created could become our worst enemy.  The current path might be a dead end.  There are some turns we really should take.  Here are some lessons I learned from my missed turn:

  1. Every idea is not always a great idea.
  2. Test your ideas and equipment before you launch.
  3. Take time to consider the dangers.
  4. Be prepared with an exit strategy.
  5. Surround yourself with people who won’t mock you.
  6. Some turns in the journey are to be desired.
  7. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and move on.

 by Steven Iwersen, Keynote Speaker and Ambition Expert 

What Carlos Santana Can Teach Us About Servant Leadership and Collaboration

Collaboration is the art of working together to create something.  Leaders help the process when they view themselves as servant leaders.  They hinder the process when they see themselves as the ones to be served.

Carlos Santana, in the Forbes interview “Carlos Santana on Creativity in Business and Art” written by Kenneth Hein, reveals some great insights on how true collaboration is the result of self-less contribution.  Look at what Carlos said:

“Collaboration, partnership, friendship and marriage all take trust and willingness to allow willingness. When I collaborate on a song or on stage, I am here to complement, not compete.

A true collaboration only works when you complement what the other person is saying and inspire one another to go further.”

We’ve all known leaders who go through the motions of collaboration but push their own agendas.  In that case, people are less engaged and the best of their talents never make it to the table.

When a leader approaches the creation of ideas with an attitude of helping others develop their best contribution - the results will be inspiring and rewarding for everyone involved. The best way to advance remarkable performance in your organization is to use your talents to enhance your employees potential.

ASK YOURSELF - “Am I here to complement or to compete?”  

How would your employees view your interaction with them? 

Inspire your people to go further.  Complement them today!

To help you create this kind of collaborative environment for your team, I wrote the ebook - “The Checklist for Building A High Impact Team”.  Click here for an free excerpt.

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And here is a great interview with Santana that might spark some ideas for your creative process:


How to Solve the Real Problem to Problem-Solving

“Where am I going to find the time to get everything done?”

“It is just not possible to get any time to myself.  I’m in endless meetings or being constantly interrupted.”

“Management wants me to ‘think outside of the box’ and find some creative solution to this problem.  Right!  My schedule is too busy and brainstorming is nothing but a source of frustration.  People come up with ideas that I don’t have the budget for or the time to implement; and then they get mad because I don’t follow through on their ideas.”

This is starting to sound too familiar, isn’t it?  Leaders have a tremendous amount of responsibilities in these challenging economic times and the demand to be creative is a constant expectation in the equation.  


The time factor is not the only problem though.  There is a more pervasive distraction that is hampering our ability to use our imagination and unleash the creative potential of our thoughts.  It is the product of our fabulous information age and advances in technology.  The real problem is noise.

Yes, “Noise”.

Stop right now and observe what’s going on around you.  What noise can you identify?

Most of us could list the noise we hear - the buzz of lights, computers, people talking, etc.  And yet, the noise that drowns out our ability to think creatively is more than that - it includes:

  • the access to the internet,
  • the stack of papers on the desk,
  • emails,
  • cell phones,
  • social media (Facebook, Twitter, LInkedIn, Pinterest...)
  • the caption feed running along the bottom of the screen while you watch the news,
  • text messages,
  • that to-do list.

All of these, and so much more, are constantly pulling for the attention of our thoughts and crowding out the power of our imagination.

We need to find ways to UNPLUG from the noise.  Do you remember all the "cool ideas" you thought of when you were a child?  Where did you have those ideas?  People tell me those ideas came when they climbed up in a tree, were on a swing at the park, or reading at the library.  No crowds, no noise, just quietly thinking.

Think about this - great ideas often occur to us in the shower!  Right?  I'm sure that's happened to you.  And it's because there are fewer distractions.  

Consider this great advice from Carlos Santana from a recent interview published by Forbes

“Your imagination is like a muscle. If you take the time to just sit down and just close your eyes and imagine things, it’s like a muscle you develop. That’s why it’s good to turn off all the computers, TV and noise and just sit with yourself for a while. You can get beyond the noise and you get to hear this voice. This voice sounds very different than all the other accusing voices or guilt voices and fear. Once you start hearing this voice, it is very soothing, gentle and is very non-accusing. And then you can expand upon the ideas and make them a reality.”

I really appreciate what he says about the “voice...soothing, gentle...non-accusing.”

If you want to solve the real problem to problem-solving ELIMINATE THE DISTRACTIONS. You can recapture your child-like ability to imagine, to dream and to create.  Here are some quick actions to overcome the distrations:

1) UNPLUG for a while each day and TAKE A WALK.

2) LEAVE the technology on your desk.

3) CARRY A NOTEPAD and a pen.  Yes, the old fashioned tool of paper and pen.

4) LISTEN TO and WRITE down the ideas that you hear in your thoughts.  The physical act of expressing those thoughts in your mind and watching them develop into visible elements on paper is enlightening.

5) TAKE A WALK and TALK.  Have a creative person join you.  Talk about ideas, not about events or other people.  Steve Jobs did this all the time.

Develop that muscle.  The next time you go into a problem solving meeting, you’ll be better prepared to lead the solutions.

- Steven Iwersen

Is there a Secret Ingredient for Getting the Leadership Promotion?

Is there a "secret ingredient" for being the candidate of choice for a promotion within your organization?  Are you tired of being the one who is qualified, but mystified as to why you got passed over again for the job?  You do everything that is asked of you, take the intitiative to work on extra projects, and have a great reputation as someone who can be counted upon to get the job done.  You're kind, approachable, considerate and consistent.  You have what it takes to move to the next level.  But someone else less qualified passed you by on the way to the corner office.  

"What more do I have to do in order to be recognized around here?"

The problem may be revealed in that very question.  Could it be that you have gained a solid reputation for your dependability as a doer?  Focusing on doing more might not get you through the next door.  Doing less is obviously not the answer.  And don't start playing the mental / emotional gymnastics of thinking that it might be a problem with your personality or that someone doesn't like you.  That is very unlikely.  Focus instead on what you can do to improve your "executive presence".  

My friend, Sara Canaday, has written a fabulous article for Pyschology Today titled: Do You Have The Leadership X-Factor?  Sara offers some great ideas on how you can refocus and enhance your "executive presence".  I encourage you to read the article.  Here is a quick excerpt:

Believe it or not, the somewhat-elusive skills collectively described as “executive presence” frequently represent the only difference between an outstanding professional who gets marooned in middle management and one who seems to effortlessly rise in the corporate power structure. 

Sara offers 4 specific strategies that can help you tip the scales in your favor.  Those strategies include mapping out a professional developemnt plan, seeking out leadership feedback, redefining your value and seeking leadership roles outside of your current role.  I want to also suggest that all leaders should use those strategies as a way to keep your professional edge.

One last thing I think we should keep in mind: not all people who advance to management roles on their good looks and savy conversational skills can keep up with the work load.  I've met people who appeared to have "executive presence" but did not have the expertise or work ethic to keep up with the expectations.  They turn out to be temporary employees.

Your reputation of dependability and capability is attractive.  Match it now with a focused professionalism and you might not have to apply for the job - you might be asked to consider taking the job.

-  Steven Iwersen

The Leadership Influence of Your Silence

Anyone who is a parent or has looked after kids knows that silence can be a good thing or a bad thing.  If you’re trying to get a small child to lay down and take a nap, silence can be good or bad.  It could mean they’ve finally fallen asleep or that they’ve gotten up to play with a favorite toy.  What is the first thing that goes through your mind when you have a group of kids playing rambunctiously in another room and the sounds drop from laughter to hushed whispers?  Silence.  Can be good or bad.

Employees can have the same reaction when their management gets quiet.  Your silence as a leader can influence in two different ways.  Good or bad.


Most leaders believe that their position requires them to be the “spokesperson” and to give direction when there are challenges to overcome.  But being silent could prove to be advantageous in developing the expectation and culture of problem solving.  You can communicate the facts about an issue, the parameters in which the team needs to operate and that you are interested in their ideas.  Being still allows them to think through the issues, to problem solve and discover potential solutions. Your silence begins to empower them and frees you from handling challenges they are capable of working through.


I’m sure that you’ve had an occasion when there was a misunderstanding with a close friend and when you’ve asked about it, you received no response.   Apparently silence is a preferred way of informing others that you’re angry and this is a way to punish them.  Your silence as a leader, in times of stress or disappointment, may cause them to think you are angry.  The feeling of isolation that results is very detrimental to the trust needed to work through those difficult times.

You might not be upset and simply need some time to gather the facts and consider the options.  It could also be that you are not even aware of an issue that needs to be discussed; and your perceived silence on the matter is interpreted as anger.  Whatever the circumstances, don’t let this kind of silence persist.  Engage the appropriate individuals in a conversation, ask the questions that need to be asked and practice the “GOOD” silence.

- Steven Iwersen

P.S. I'd really appreciate your thoughts and comments about this series on the Influence of a Leader.  Pick your favorite and join the conversation, I look forward to hearing from you.

The Influence of Your Example

Everyone is watching you!  I’m not trying to scare you or create a reason for you to be paranoid.  I’m just wanting to be fair and inform you of what everyone else has been noticing since you became a leader.  In fact, it is the subject of many conversations in the break room and after work.  Everyone knows that what you say is important.  They really do try to pay attention and understand.  But what you need to know is that your words really aren’t as influential as you think.  The way you act is what really influences the employees and determines the level of their trust. 

After a merger, Susan was given the Regional Manager position and moved to Idaho from another office in Oregon.  She had strong sales numbers in her last position and some management experience.  This was her step up on the ladder.  And she was trying really hard to put her best foot forward.

The staff was gracious and accepting of the new leader, willing to give her a chance.  It wasn’t going to be easy, because Susan was replacing a beloved owner/manager.  Her first staff meeting went well as everyone got acquainted and they discussed the exciting technology tools the new company was providing.  She shared her vision of how the offices could reach new goals and promised to be available to anyone who had ideas or concerns.  Her goal for the meeting was to establish good communication and start to build the trust.

It didn’t last.  

Susan’s actions never matched her proclamations or commitments.  Everyone was watching her.  She would call a staff meeting for 10:00 a..m. and show up at 10:15.  She would make a commitment to follow through with an unhappy client and the staff would learn two weeks later that the client had never received a call.  The promised emails always came too late to solve the problems.  And when she’d come waltzing into the office from her latest lunch appointment, everyone would roll their eyes as they turned their backs.  The trust level never got off the first rung of the ladder.

The resignations started to appear on her desk and the original staff slowly disappeared.  People don’t leave companies, they leave people. 

Everyone is watching you.  Your example is what sets the standard of expectations.  Your actions influence the performance level of those you lead.  But more importantly, what you do or don’t do is what determines the trust.  Low trust = low performance.  High trust = high impact and full engagement.

Here are four quick ways to evaluate the influence of your example.  Do you...

1) Keep your appointments with your employees.

2) Start meetings on time and end on time.

3) Respond to emails and voice messages within 24 hours or less.

4) Follow up on your commitments and let employees know the status.

-  Steven Iwersen

P.S.  If you are looking for a way to evaluate and improve your influence, check out the free excerpt from my e-book Checklist for Building A High Impact Team.