Strategic Leaders Academy expert Laura Colbert is a connecter, wife and mother of three, consultant, public speaker, personal advisor, author, outdoor enthusiast, and reader.

Think about one of your most amusing, real, and charismatic friends. I conjure up Sarah with her red curly hair, her robust laugher, her ability to find joy and wit in every interaction, and her unflappable ability to be her true self regardless of audience and pressure. I used to envy her ability to step outside of the quintessential stereotype and into the world of uniqueness. Is this authenticity in its purest form? I used to think so until I recently read “The Modern Trusted Advisor” by Alan Weiss and Dr. Nancy MacKay. Their definition stopped me in my tracks. They describe authenticity as “Owning our own feelings and being accountable, understanding the impact of our actions on others, and being honest about what we need versus what we want.” Merriam-Webster describes authentic as “real or genuine,” and “true and accurate.” It’s as though Weiss and MacKay took the bones of Merriam-Webster’s definition and put some meat on it.

Our instincts draw us towards authentic individuals. It’s as though we have this gravitational pull toward their realness. The spurious individuals put up immediate red flags with their “commission breath” and “sleazy sales.” We can almost see them compromising their true self to make a deal or create a connection, albeit, a fake one. Realness breeds trusting relationships and fakeness breeds ill-suited relationships that often end badly. What team do you want to be on?

Action steps to practicing and reaping authenticity:

  1. Stop the mini-me syndrome – Diversity and uniqueness build strong, high-functioning teams. Hire people with different skills and abilities. Be aware of whether or not you’re trying to change the individuals to be like you. Honor all varieties of voices and perspectives. Conflict is ok. The key is making sure it’s a productive conflict.
  1. Reflect on your interactions to assess if you were compromising your true self – Did you uphold your core values and your organization’s mission? Did you try to fit into the other person’s mold or stick with your own?
  1. Eliminate imposter syndrome – You―yes, you―deserve all the good that this world has to offer. You are not a fraud. Get rid of self-doubt. Never put yourself down for succeeding. In the words of Stewart Smalley from Saturday Night Live, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”
  1. Choose real, not games – You’ll attract more of the right-fit people when you are yourself. The faker you are, the shallower your pond.
  1. Do your best, be yourself, and be satisfied – Sticking to who you are, your core values, and upholding them as best as you can, will give you more peace of mind. Peace of mind leads to better sleep, less guilt, and more integrity

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!
The Trusted Advisor Program is my most intensive 1-on-1 program. Within 90 days you’ll gain habits that create breakthrough success. You get personalized coaching and support, relentless accountability, and commonsense action steps that get results.

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Looking for a Keynote Speaker at your next event? I use my past experiences and knowledge to bring people together and inspire individuals to do their best.

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Yup, that’s me in the photo—the one with hair. I’m not sharing the picture to boast or brag, but rather to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU! I’m bursting with gratitude as I write this. Gratitude to be surrounded by so many other wonderful veterans, so many civilians that care, and for a country that honors its heroes. I have had the utmost privilege of meeting many outstanding service members since my return home, and especially since I’ve changed careers in July.

My life is deeply impacted by these brothers and sisters in arms. The kindred spirit flows through our interwoven relationships and the unspoken bond strengthens with every interaction. The veteran community is robust, passionate, gritty, funny, caring, empathetic, resourceful, and tough as nails. Our go-to answer is, “yes” and then we figure out how to do it. Work ethic and gumption ooze out of every pore. These are my people.
Please know that every thank you and Veterans Day acknowledgment means the world to me/us and it fills my heart with joy and gratitude.

I had to share this outstanding drawing that a 6th grader gave me this morning. Her talent is out of this world and it almost brought me to tears.
Originally, this article was meant to create awareness about Veterans. However, as the day unfolds, and the love continues to grow, I simply want to say, “Thank you!” And if you haven’t reached out to a veteran today, perhaps think about the positive impact of that interaction.
Blessings to you all and thanks to all the Veterans in my life.

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Core Values

As the “Facebook Papers” continue to unfold showing us the fundamental gaps in Facebook’s values one can wonder if they uphold their values or, rather, if their values revolve around making more money and connections regardless of political turmoil or damage to the users. Are the teams functioning at top capacity with the whistleblowing? Is the company reassessing what they stand for?
When leading teams, empathy, integrity, and trust are vital. A shared set of values will create a strong and productive team. When someone compromises the values, the team struggles to trust and produce ethical results.
One of the leadership teams that I belonged to as a junior leader had two senior leaders with large personalities who leaned toward the negative side. I dubbed the meetings the “Tammy and Tim Show” because the meetings were no longer about the agenda, about the organization’s vision or mission, or even about developing solutions to the problems. We wasted hours throughout the years listening to Tammy and Tim grieve about their problems. Do you have a Tammy and/or Tim? Do you struggle to get the meetings back on track? If we had upheld our team’s core values and meeting norms of “start on time/end on time, collaboration, and sticking to the agenda” this wouldn’t have happened and the meetings would have been more productive and less dysfunctional.

Action steps to getting to the core of your values:

Stick to your values. The people in your life will have a better understanding of who you are, what you stand for, and why you do the things you do.

“Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precious and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives.” ~ Brene Brown.

  • Don’t have “crystallized” values? Get some. Use this simple formula: What + Definition + So That. Identify the value, define it, and the results/outcomes from it. For example: Respect + Treat everyone with dignity + so that each person feels that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves. Then share your values with your employees, friends, and family. This will help hold you accountable.
  • Uphold your organization’s values. If the values are archaic, change them. If you don’t agree with them and can’t change them then you need to ask yourself if the company is a right fit for you.

“Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.” ~ Brene Brown.

  • Lean into your values every day to obtain a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t accomplish anything else throughout the day, at least you can say that you upheld your values.
  • Get to know and foster your employee’s values. If family is important to them, honor that. If open communication is one of their values, then communicate with them. This is yet another way to empathize with your employees and create a sense of belonging within your organization.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!
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When teachers believe they can positively influence student learning through their collective actions, the students succeed at a rate almost four times faster than an average school year. This shared belief is called Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE). A renowned researcher, John Hattie, and his team conducted meta-analyses on millions of students across the globe. They quantitatively measure influences on student achievement. Collective Teacher Efficacy is one of the most effective influences on student achievement; more so than socioeconomic factors, study time, teacher feedback, and student’s prior knowledge, to name a few. According to Jenni Donoho, a leading expert, teachers with CTE show greater effort and persistence, willingness to try new teaching approaches, and attend more closely to struggling students’ needs.

I heard a story about a student who was not doing well in school. He struggled to pass his classes and did not seem to have much of a future. When he got his SAT scores back, he received 1400, which was enough to be accepted into college regardless of his high school transcript. That student went to college and successfully completed his first year. Shortly thereafter, he found out that the SAT issued him the wrong score. His actual score was much lower and reflected that of his K-12 career. When asked how he succeeded his first year in college, he responded that he finally believed in himself and his ability to succeed—something he had never possessed before.

This student’s story is a perfect example of self-efficacy, which is the belief in oneself to execute the desired outcome. Let’s take CTE and self-efficacy and coin the phrase “Collective Efficacy.”
This phenomenon can be transposed into business leadership. Collective Efficacy is your ability to build a strong team, a supportive network, and the ability to push your organization to new heights. When you have cheerleaders and people who fully believe in your ability to achieve your dreams, you’re unstoppable.

Take a look at the model below. The Success Mindset model includes capacity, confidence, action, and results. If the word “low” precedes the words on the cycle, one can expect poor results. Inversely, if the word “high” precedes the words on the cycle, you can expect big results.
The key is helping people believe in themselves and have the confidence to take action.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help! [email protected]
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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, renovation means to restore to a former better state. As my husband and I finish up the large job of residing our house and replacing all the windows, I can’t help but think of the parallels between this job and that of leadership―where one should strive to become the best version of oneself and to build an organization that allows their employees to do the same―to reach their best “state.”

With three young children, it’s hard for my husband and me to find time for ourselves. Renovating homes―this being our third―has become something we both love to do together. Just like any team, there are growing pains, communication breakdowns, and assumptions that can lead to frustration. Regardless, we are better together because of our shared interests. Here are a few things we’ve learned:

There need to be compromises – It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong or when the other person knows more than you. The sooner you put your ego aside, open your heart and mind to others’ opinions, and understand that their ideas are valuable, the process becomes more freeing and collaborative. Remember, empathy and vulnerability lead to stronger leadership.Communication, communication, communication – When my husband and I were moving the box that held our garage door, he tilted his head in a diagonal direction and said,  “Lay it this way.” I started laughing and said, “Honey, I have no idea which direction your head is implying.” The more that we communicate, the better the outcome, and the quicker the results. Are you making assumptions or jumping to conclusions? Are your employees? Think about how you can create more clarity through communication. There are hidden obstacles around every bend. As leaders, we constantly need to innovate and adapt. Removing the 50-year-old siding has left my husband and me scratching our heads at the randomness left underneath. The rotted holes needed to be fortified, the missing insulation had to be filled, and the hodgepodge siding needed to be streamlined. Similarly, in business, leadership is about building your employees up, streamlining processes, and creating a clear picture of where your organization is headed. Working interdependently leads to better results. 


When my husband called me out of the office to lift the 300 pound 10×5 foot window into its home, I almost laughed at the absurdity. There was no easy way to lift this window with its straight lines and minimum edges for grip. Through our collaborative problem-solving, we figured out how to maneuver the window up and onto chairs and then over into its final resting place. Without our collective brainpower, we almost gave up. As an organization, know that you are better when you work as a whole instead of in silos. The end result is beautiful when executed patiently and to the best of your ability. Things are not built overnight. Life’s nuances, hiccups, and demands are never-ending. Be patient and always do your best. If it is your best, then you should be proud. Perfection is a fallacy.


Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!
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Forbes released an article on September 19, 2021, stating that empathy is the most important leadership skill. The greater the empathy, the greater the innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, and the ability to navigate the demands of work and life. Wow! That’s a jam-packed list of positive outcomes. Better yet, empathy reaps more empathy. You are in a leadership position, which comes with a huge responsibility in helping your employees to be their best selves. If you can’t empathize with them, how can you help them?

Empathy can come in many forms. Be present, acknowledge their feelings and thoughts without one-upping them, ask questions, give eye contact, don’t multi-task, be compassionate, and be both emotionally and cognitively open.

As a leader, I saw the outcome of my empathy and lack thereof. I  worked hard to create a safe place for my employees to feel heard and understood. I asked that the elephant be put on the table, that the conversation was solution-focused, and I listened to understand. The staff was appreciative that they could work in a building where they felt valued and cared for.

I didn’t always get it right, though. Once the pandemic hit, I wanted to continue the exact same pre-pandemic trajectory. I was quick to stop complaints in mid-sentence―especially when those complaints were done in large teams. I wanted the team meetings to be focused, positive, and efficient so that the already overwhelmed staff could get back to their demanding jobs. My misstep was that the staff wanted to feel heard, validated, and built up. I created more of an us vs. them mentality by cutting them off. Thank goodness, I had a strong set of team leaders who shed some light on the situation and I was able to pivot into a more understanding role.

Here’s the deal, leading with empathy is crucial. It’s not a weakness, it’s not catering to the millennials or the snowflakes, it is part of our evolving workplace. We keep talking about how the millennials have changed the ways of business. Well, guess what? Gen Z is now entering the workforce. What impact do you think they will have on the way we run our businesses and the way we lead?


Follow the R.E.T.E.N.T.I.O.N. steps to better empathize and hold on to your valuable employees:


·         RESPECT – Give people your full attention when they speak. Keep in mind that constructive criticism and feedback can be done in a respectful way.
·         EMPATHIZE – Lend an ear, help problem-solve―hopefully giving your employees the agency to create solutions on their own thereafter, and listen to understand.
·         TRUST – Use compassion, integrity, and consistency. It will boost employee buy-in.
·         ENGAGE – Boost engagement by purposefully hiring employees to work within their passions and strengths so that they’ll enjoy what they do.
·         NORMS (rules of engagement) – Set reasonable expectations, stick to them, and ask that everyone assist in holding each other accountable.
·         TIME – Have patience, don’t overwork your employees, offer professional development opportunities. The more your employees grow, the more your business will grow.
·         INNOVATE – Allow your team to be creative. This will not only boost workplace satisfaction, but it will move your organization forward and it will give your employees a sense of belonging.
·         OPENLY PRAISE – Acknowledge, validate, and give positive feedback for work well done.
·         NEEDS – Offer assistance and understanding when needed. Be sure to treat mental health the same way you treat physical health. Burn-out can have much greater implications for your business’s productivity than a broken leg.


Most importantly, make sure your cup is full. It’s a great way to lead by example and only then can you offer your best self to help others.


Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help! [email protected]

Feedback – The Great, the Mediocre, and the Ugly
If you’re like me, you find feedback around every corner, especially when embarking on a new role. Sometimes that feedback changes one’s life for the better and other times it has the power to ruin your day. Unsolicited feedback can rattle around in the think tank and disrupt sleep, family time, and even invade the sacred workout brain space. It has the ability to disrupt workplace productivity, innovation, creativity, and can ultimately upset the culture. Have you ever worked at a place where the unsolicited feedback was more about your fellow employees’ insecurities than your own performance? It makes me shake my head just thinking about it.

Here’s what I’ve learned from keeping an open-door policy and graciously accepting all the feedback that was given to me. Some of it is pure rubbish. Ever heard of mansplaining? It’s patronizing and condescending. That’s what unsolicited feedback can be—it’s a power play and is more about the giver than the receiver. When I returned from Iraq in 2004 I was telling a 22-year-old man about some of my war stories and he had the gall to tell me I was wrong and that his veteran buddies had a much different take on the war. I was appalled that he said I was wrong about my own experience. My young adult self didn’t know how to react to his “feedback.”

I have also been in incredibly awkward situations when a past supervisor gave me feedback on how to respond to an employee issue. This feedback was in direct conflict with my core value of open communication and respect. It felt like a violation of my ideals and put me in a sticky situation of disobeying orders or disobeying myself.
Don’t get me wrong, feedback can be a gift. It can help us grow, it can enhance our strengths, and it can take us from good to great. I get feedback about these articles before I post them and I’m incredibly grateful for that feedback. The key to good feedback is accountability. Feedback from credible sources and trusted advisors helps us to avoid getting high on our own fumes. Unsolicited feedback is fire-and-forget, unaccountable, and is almost always about the sender.

Keep this in mind:

*Before internalizing feedback, make sure the feedback is coming from a reputable source and that the source has your best interest in mind. Listen to solicited feedback.

*The feedback should be efficacious and not detract from your positive trajectory.

*Be purposeful about surrounding yourself with people who will build you up to the best version of yourself and help you from breathing your own exhaust.

*Always remember, no matter how smart, powerful, interesting, far-up-the-ladder, or renowned the person giving the feedback is, it’s an opinion. You have the CHOICE to take it or let it go.

*It’s ok to let the unsolicited feedback take a one-way trip in one ear and out the other—especially if it’s hurtful or negative.

Good luck and continue your positive self-talk. After all, you know yourself best.

 
IS YOUR CULTURE ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE?
Culture is a vital facet in a successful business and a successful community.

Back in 2003, I was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq as a military police officer. We were three months into the war and my squad was working in an Iraqi Police station on the northeast side of Baghdad. Our police station was decrepit with broken panes of glass in the windowsills, cigarette butts piled in the corner on the blackened floor, and no flushing toilets. On this particular day, I was sitting in the front of the station taking complaints from Iraqi citizens. During one of the quieter moments the female interpreter, Nada, said, “The reason why the Iraqis are not behaving is that they don’t know how to respond to freedom. Under Saddam’s dictatorship, they would lose their life or limb for infractions. Now they can loot, drive down the wrong side of the street, slight their neighbor, and barely anything happens.”  I had an epic epiphany at that moment. We, as Americans, couldn’t possibly comprehend the Iraqi’s emotions, thoughts, and the fallout that occurred after liberating Iraq. The saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” not only existed in Iraq but the native culture killed our foreign policy—both in Iraq and Afghanistan. One could say that the same thing happened in Vietnam. Our inability to empathize and develop policies that directly correlate with the centuries-old culture left us unable to make the impact we hoped for. Our democratic values and ethos aren’t a match for the complexities of the middle east.

As a new leader, do you fully understand the culture in your workplace? What about a seasoned leader, is your workplace culture the same as you envision it to be?

This week, new research revealed that Instagram is toxic for teen girls and their mental health. Additionally, Facebook tried to make its platform a healthier place but it got angrier instead. Both are negatively impacting the social media culture. What are they going to do about it? There could be societal and workplace nuances pulling your operating culture away from your envisioned culture. When was the last time you checked your organization’s cultural pulse?

Misunderstanding culture can ruin progress. Inability to empathize with your employees and understand their intricacies can diminish trust.
Culture is a fragile entity within a working environment. A change in procedures, employees, leadership, or the environment around us can cause the culture to fluctuate. As a principal, I saw how the pandemic drastically affected our school’s culture. It was disheartening and tragic to witness our community complain about one another. Tensions caused discontent. Misinformation and assumptions divided the workforce. To combat the change, I utilized several tactics to retain our culture, to provide support, and to create lasting memories even though we weren’t face-to-face. The results created a community of understanding and buy-in, which enabled the staff to work together and focus on their priority―student learning.

Is your culture really as good as you think it is? Are you asking the right questions and looking at the correct indicators to make sure your envisioned culture and your operating culture are consistent? What suggests they are out of whack.

Action steps:

Keep an eye on your culture. Check in often with all of your employee levels and be fully present. Look past the “please-the-boss” façade and see what your employees see. Don’t ever settle when hiring.  You’ll gain a reputation for hiring the best and your employees will appreciate the fact that they work with the best and they are the best. Make sure you’re not blind to a slowly declining culture. Sometimes the change is so subtle we don’t notice it happening. An outside perspective (consultant) can be a vital asset for this action step. Be a part of the positive change. Lead by example―treat everyone with respect and dignity. Do not gossip and vent at work. Purposefully plan events to bring your employees together to create a sense of belonging and use that opportunity to grow as a team. A greater sense of belonging equates to greater productivity.
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