Happy New Year 2022!!!

“In times of adversity and change, we really discover who we are and what we’re made of.”

Howard Schultz

Happy new year!  Moving into 2022, have you thought about what your goals are for this year for your business?  The past few years have been different, for sure, with many adjustments required to meet the demands of the pandemic.  Ways of conducting business have changed for many such as so…many…Zoom…meetings!  And getting used to performing many aspects of our businesses virtually rather than in-person.

The new year gives us a reason to pause and reflect on how we have modified our business activities.  What has worked for you?  What has presented hurdles that seem insurmountable?  Even businesses that are more readily adaptable for virtual operations are feeling the impact.  Phone calls and zoom meetings are helpful, but there is a lot to be said for sitting down with a customer face-to-face to really build strong and lasting relationships. 

And what about your employees?  How are they holding up?  The impacts from the pandemic reach beyond our organizational challenges as employees are juggling changes in how they perform their work, manage their family life, facilitate educational needs of their children, as well as their own physical and emotional well-being.

It is our job as leaders is to ensure we are identifying the changes and providing avenues for all to continue to be productive and healthy members of the organizational team.  Leading through change and particularly through adversity demonstrates true leadership.


Strategic Planning During COVID-19

I hope you are holding up during this unusual time of COVID-19.  The impact is being felt across the board both personally and professionally by everyone.  First and foremost, be safe and well.

Secondly, how can this time of reduced workload and business demand be parlayed into a positive?  If your organization’s work demand has decreased, consider using this time to engage your staff in strategic planning efforts.  The benefits include keeping your staff engaged and active, and positioning your organization for a quicker start when this unusual situation finally resolves. 

Some key questions to consider:

  • What have we learned so far about the impact on our specific line of business with an unusual interruption?
    • Do we have a workable emergency operations plan?
  • How can the workforce be better protected if this type of interruption happens again?
    • Do we need to incorporate more remote/virtual work options?
    • How are employee benefits and needs impacted?
  • Can and/or should we modify our business model and/or offerings to:
    • provide service during this specific emergent situation, and
    • position us going forward with modified service offerings?

It will take a while – if ever – for business to “get back to normal” after this current situation abates.  Let’s take this time to reflect and ensure we are taking care of ourselves, our employees, our customers as best we can.  Also, we can use this time to reflect on lessons learned and how to evolve our business going forward.

Please stay safe and be well.


Spring Forward for Growth

With each new spring, we see renewal and growth all around us.  Why not use this time to also focus on your own renewal and growth? 

Perhaps you feel you are in a rut and would like to make some changes.  How do you start?  Where do you start?  First, identify what areas of your life are creating the most discord.  Is it family life or professional life?  Ask yourself what is driving the discontent.  For example, you may feel you have plateaued in your professional life and you would like to make a move up to the next step.  There are several steps you can take to move forward in that journey.

  • Check with your supervisor and let them know you are interested in growth opportunities.  They may have some stretch assignments that will give you experience and exposure to new people and skills.
  • Check with your HR department and see if they have access to self-assessment tools that will help you identify skill and interest areas for improvement and pursuit.
  • Check with a trusted advisor or mentor to discuss where you are and where you would like to see yourself in five years. 

After checking with the above parties, create your plan for growth.  (See blogpost Planning Your Professional Growth, May 17, 2017.)  This process can work for both your professional and personal life.  It is never too late to reach for your goals.

  • MAH

Communication, Communication, Communication

Most of us are familiar with the adage that the most important elements of property are location, location, location (Safire, 2009).   What are the most important elements for leadership that contribute to organizational success?  I believe the three most important leadership activities are communication, communication, communication.  You may have years of professional experience, with a variety of interesting projects on your resumé.  What can help you stand out from your competitors?  Highlight your effective communication skills to elevate you from the competition.

My research (Hartman, 2016) has shown that relationship management is one of the key skills needed for effective leadership.  Successful relationships require good communication.  The ability to manage relationships with all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and partners, is critical to your success as a leader.  The leader must be able to ensure all stakeholders understand the strategic goals and desired outcomes for the organizational activities.  The more levels that a message must go through, the more important it is that the message is clear and consistent so that all the recipients can align their efforts in the same direction.  A good leader ensures each part of the organization understands how their efforts contribute to the overall success.

Leaders must also communicate effectively with customers, to ensure the organization understands what the customer wants, and that the customer understands what the organization can deliver.  Problems and challenges that come up during the process must be communicated quickly so that solutions can be developed and applied.  How a leader communicates challenges determines whether the problems can be effectively resolved.  Be prepared to discuss not only the problem, but also some possible solutions.  Approaching difficult conversations this way helps participants to be more receptive to problem solving and facilitates more effective decision making.  Leaders also keep their own superiors apprised of progress and challenges so that their superiors are not caught off guard.

We are all more inclined to support a project or activity if we are part of the decision making process and if we understand how our efforts contribute to the overall success.  Effective communication enables greater organizational success.


Hartman, M. (2016). Improving leadership readiness for the senior executive service:
A sequential mixed methods analysis of SES dyads
(Unpublished doctoral dissertation). California Intercontinental University, Irvine, CA.

Safire, W. (2009, June 26). Location, location, location. Retrieved from http://https://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/magazine/28FOB-onlanguage-t.html

Planning Your Professional Growth

Strategic steps to plan for professional growth.

Thinking about where you may be professionally in five years can be both a fun yet scary experience.  It is fun to think of how much can be learned in five years and the opportunities that may be available.  It is also scary to think you may not be ready for the opportunities when they do come.  So what is a practical approach to help ensure you have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience when opportunity knocks on our door?  Planning for professional growth should be purposeful and strategic.  Presented below is a four-step process that, when used consistently, will help you get to your goals.

  • First: Start with an assessment of where you are now; and determine where you want to be in 5 years.  This helps you set your “as-is” and “to-be” states.
  • Second: Perform a gap analysis–which is comparing the skills you currently have against the skills needed for your desired job. This allows you to determine the gap in your skills or experience you may be missing.
  • Third: Develop a plan of action to get you from your current position to your desired position. Identify short, medium, and long term goals with metrics for how you will measure your success.
    • Short term goals are usually <1 year
    • Medium term 2-4 years
    • Long term >5 years
  • Fourth: Start performing the identified activities and chart your progress against your milestones
    • This helps identify roadblocks or impediments as they occur
    • You can then figure out what is needed to overcome the hurdles
  • On-going:  Make adjustments to your plan as needed.

Hold yourself accountable!!! Get a coaching buddy if that helps where you check in with each other on a prearranged schedule to discuss your progress.


Leadership Is Not a Solitary Activity

Leadership is often discussed in the context of the individual, e.g. What makes a great leader?  What are the necessary traits for an effective leader?  What are the key activities performed by effective leaders?  Focusing solely on the leader’s activities or traits does not take into account the fact that leadership is not a solitary activity but rather involves the relationships among a leader and their followers.  Followers include all stakeholders such as employees, peers, bosses, and customers.  The perspective that leadership extends beyond an individual and takes into account the interaction amongst individuals led to my doctoral research on leadership dyads.  My research findings indicate that high-quality leadership dyads provide a strong example of what actions an organization can take to improve the readiness of its leaders (Hartman, 2016).

The top three activities that an organization should take to improve their leadership cadre are:

  • Recognize the importance of the development of soft skills such as relationship management. The ability to effectively manage relationships with all stakeholders is a critical success factor for good leaders.
  • Provide opportunities for candidates to establish mentoring relationships throughout their careers. It is very important to provide leadership candidates with opportunities to create mentoring and coaching relationships outside of the candidate’s supervisory chain.
  • Provide more on-the-job opportunities for candidates to practice leadership skills in a more protected environment where the candidate gets coaching through the process. This enables the candidates to get experience and face time with senior leaders in the organization.

I am not proposing to discard the development of traditional leadership skills such as strategic thinking, financial management, innovation, and good communication skills.  All of those skills are important to lead a well-functioning organization.  The key take-away is that leadership development programs should lessen the focus on individual performance and stress the importance of how the candidate builds and manages relationships with all stakeholders.  My position is that a leader has to guide the people that make up their organization to reach achievements they never thought possible.  Also that leaders should strive to leave the organization and the people that comprise it better than when they took charge of it.


Hartman, M. (2016). Improving leadership readiness for the senior executive service: A sequential mixed methods analysis of SES dyads (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). California Intercontinental University, Irvine, CA.

What Makes a Great Leader?

What makes a great leader?  And are leaders born or made?  These questions have persisted across the years and generated a lot of discussion.  Though a final consensus has not been reached regarding the answers, much has been learned over the years that informs the conversation.  Early leadership theories attempted to find specific leadership traits and then behaviors which could be used to identify potential leaders.  Alas, no definitive set of specific traits or behaviors could be consistently identified to work in every situation.   Efforts were next directed towards taking into account that different situations and circumstances require situational approaches for effective leadership.  More recent theories focus more on behaviors and abilities that can be developed and learned by those wanting to become effective leaders. 

So…what makes a great leader?  Leadership at its core is the process by which an individual is able to influence others to work towards a common goal.  Regardless of an individual’s particular skill set or approach, good relationship management skills are essential to be an effective leader.  Effective leadership requires developing and sustaining effective relationships in all directions, such as having the workforce’s trust, the supervisor’s confidence, and respect from one’s peers. 

So are leaders born or made?  The simple answer is YES – both options apply.  Some are born with great relationship management skills, while others can develop these abilities through effective leadership development activities.