At 50, Leverage Your Strengths

Today I was prepping for some Strengths Finders training that I will be attending during the week of July 6 in Princeton. In reviewing my strengths that I took back in 2013, I was reminded that discipline is my top strength, closely followed by focus, achiever, responsibility, and learner. Thus, it is probably not a surprise that I am prepping 2-3 weeks in advance, being someone with those discipline, focus, and responsibility strengths.

Before turning 50 in August 2014, my partner and I made the pledge to look good in our photos during our trips to Italy, Chicago, and the lake in the summer of 2014. That pledge really leveraged my strengths of achiever, but also discipline and focus. As we traveled last summer, our snaps turned out great and we felt good in the process of hitting the big 50. We had energy, we enjoyed friends and family, and felt great.

After I turned 50, I quickly became a bit lazy and quit leveraging my discipline strength. I gained weight back, even though we were working out and ran a half marathon in the Fall 2014. But in January 2015, I wrote down: “get in the 150’s (pounds) and stay there.”  By writing that down and embracing my strengths, I have found it easy and focused to eat less this year. And I weigh 8-10 pounds less than I did while on our trips last summer.

I want to be role model of wellness at 50, and so my strength of responsibility is really kicking in right now. The self esteem burst of “look good, feel great” is worth the effort to the daily rejection of sweets, desserts, extra helpings, and that extra drink. My focus on wellness is delivering on this:  Be happy. Be healthy. Be connected. Be grateful. Be well. Be encouraged. Be a role model.

What are your strengths? I bet you are using them at work. But how about in your personal life and with your own well being? My hope for you is that you deploy your strengths routinely in your blended life of home, play, family, friends, faith, and yes, at work.

Volunteering Catapults You & Your Career

Are you stuck in your role at work? Are you missing opportunities to get that promotion? Are you not viewed as a leader yet? Your answer could be as simple as volunteering. Every time I volunteer, it helps me build my network and further my career. It has also made me better and more informed as a leader and community member. Let me share a few examples.

In 1987-1988, a mid-level leader asked me to coach basketball with him, as his daughters were on the team. After declining a couple times, I finally agreed (after someone else encouraged me to do it). Our results with these middle school girls helped change their lives; they won more games during those two years than they ever had in the past. Many of the girls said that winning improved their confidence levels. As for my takeaway, the mid-level leader I coached with became a senior executive a few years later and was a strong supporter of mine during my entire career.

In 1993, a senior executive asked me to help manage the United Way (UW) of Middle Tennessee campaign for our financial services company. This was my first experience working with a national non-profit organization and it was also the first time a campaign had been run at this Company. We accomplished a spike in giving to United Way by our employees and leaders, and they also became involved in additional volunteer opportunities. UW of Middle TN recognized our Company for being an outstanding first time campaign. My takeaway? The senior executive who asked me to run the campaign became one of my biggest and longest supporters in the Company.

In 2000 I lost my battle with ulcerative colitis. I began walking to raise money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). I quickly realized that walking actually helped me feel better physically. I also noticed that as I asked people to donate to CCFA, it gave me the opportunity to refine my message, i.e. “why am I involved in CCFA”. This helped me when I spoke to all size groups. Within a few years, speaking became a strength for me. When I launched my own non-profit and scholarship fund (Can Do 4:13 Scholarship & Mentoring Program), the practice I received with CCFA gave me the confidence to state my goals for Can Do, including why I created the program, and why people should donate. I utilized these same skills as I articulated business plans and marketing strategies as a senior leader in my Company.

Because of my work with CCFA and Can Do, a fast moving leader (who also was a previous boss) asked me to replace him as a Board Member at the Community Foundation of Central Illinois in 2005. This was a huge step for me, as I had never been on a Board. The role had fiduciary responsibility, as well as being more aware of what was going on in the community because we selected grants to distribute. The experience helped me improve my financial business acumen, clarify my values, and refine my message on my passions. Fast forward to 2010; guess who my new boss was? That same leader who recommended me for the Board position.

Volunteering and continually being nudged along by key influencers definitely helped my career. More important than my career, it helped me become a better, more informed and caring woman. So what’s getting in your way of volunteering? Are you a woman in leadership or an emerging leader? If you want to build your network, increase sales or make a difference, pick a volunteer opportunity that you are passionate about, or have a leader/colleague/friend gently nudge you along. It just might catapult you and your career to new heights.

Why I like the NFL? Vision and Role Clarity

Why do I love the NFL? It is a great mixture of world class athletes, intense and emotional competition, vision and strategy, precise execution, fan interaction, and big business.  For example:

It’s emotional. Only one team wins the big prize annually. The Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy is adorned; grown men have tears in their eyes while they embrace that trophy like their own child, after winning the Super Bowl.  For teams who don’t follow the rules, they get penalized. Teams lose players to short and long term injuries, which can be devastating to the player, the entire team, the fans and the owner’s bottom line.  Players are locked out. Referees are too. Owners balk, and then agree. Egos abound!

It’s consistent. During the fall and early winter, the games are all day every Sunday and Monday evening.  And now every Thursday. Although lifestyles are very busy, millions of fans routinely make time to watch this #1 sport in America.

It embraces strategy. The owners are willing to invest a lot of money into players, coaches, fans, and facilities, to get a higher return on their investment.  During the games, the teams have gameplans (strategies) on how to prepare, compete, and win. Countless hours are spent in the film rooms AND on the field prepping for the competition as well as honing the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s about leadership.  Each small group on every NFL team has a coach. Sure, there is a head coach.  But there are also running back and linebacker coaches.  There are owners and general managers. If all of these leaders are executing with precision to the strategy, it can be magical.

It’s all about execution. The team that executes with precision, wins. Execution is difficult to do, but easy to identify when it is done right. Whether it is scoring with 12 seconds to go in the first half to take a lead in to halftime or defending a goal line stance during the last two minutes, you know execution when you see it.

It’s about change. It is interesting how quickly a team can come together, even though EVERY team roster changes annually. Audibles are utilized and implemented within seconds after the offense reviews the defense stance.   Each player has to perform and adjust as the game develops.

It’s about role clarity. It is fascinating to see how each player clearly knows his role on each play. A wide receiver runs his route, with timing and yardage completely in sync with his quarterback’s release of a throw.  The offensive lineman block to protect the quarterback and to help gain yardage for the running back. The special teams help block for the punt returner. The athletic trainer and doctors know when to administer what treatment for injuries and pain.

It’s hi-tech. The stadiums are electric with big screen replays of nearly every play. Fantasy football allows the fan to build and manage his own team, anytime, anywhere. Nearly every game can be viewed ubiquitously, whether on a mobile device, laptop, via the internet or satellite TV. Games can be watched later in either full or 30 minute versions.

It gets people together. In the fall of 2011, 23 of the top 25 shows viewed were NFL games. And in many cases, these NFL games are watched in groups of fans who are eating, talking, and drinking together. Tailgating starts on early Sunday mornings in the stadium parking lots and goes well beyond the end of the game.   Camping in the woods and parks has now moved to asphalt parking lots near stadiums.

It’s about patience.  The teams who consistently perform at the highest levels are the teams with lack of turnover. For example, the NY Giants have remained committed to Tom Coughlin even though the NY press wants to fire him annually. Coughlin’s answer? Two Super Bowls in five years. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in the hunt for decades, with the same family leading the franchise and purposefully selecting coaches who embrace their values. The Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers were truly dominating in the 1970s’s and 1980’s, respectively, with steady ownership, coaches, and quarterbacks.  The New England Patriots have an owner in Robert Kraft and coach in Bill Belichick that trust one another and demonstrate excellence year after year.  The Green Bay Packers fans are the most loyal in the business, as they own the team. That is not going to change.

It’s BIG business.  Billions of dollars in television rights across five networks (NBC, FOX, CBS, ESPN, and NFL Network) and stadiums worth hundreds of million dollars grab the attention of fans, hopes and dreams of children, and other businesses who want to be a part of the NFL picture to broaden their brand.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that high-performing teams on the court/field and in business have the ability to perform at a very high level because each and every person on the team clearly knows the vision and their role, and executes it with precision.  In today’s business world, role clarity and execution are becoming more and more important, as the room for error is so slim due to increased governance, regulations,  shareholder and customer expectations.  Is your team operating at a level that meets your vision? If not, identifying your vision and further clarifying roles might be the first steps to address.  The NFL demonstrates this every week, on five different TV networks, with 32 teams owned by 32 different men in 32 different locations, with 53 players, who all know their role. Complexity in business can be overcome by a clear vision and role clarity. The NFL is a living and successful example.

Reflections at Mid-Life

Now that I’m less that two months away from hitting the half century (50) mark, felt it was time to reflect on what I’m so grateful for during these last five decades.

My Parents. Always there, so supportive. Taught me how to work, that details and follow up matter, and that traditions can be made and upheld.
My Family. Thanks to my brothers, I truly enjoy being an aunt to 11 nieces and nephews, and savor the memories during the summer trips with them.
My Homes. Carmel, Indiana is my home now, although my roots go back to Carthage, Knightstown, and Bloomington. Connecticut, Nashville, Houston, and Peoria were stops along the way that transformed my career development, as well as helping me to see so many ways to live.
Ongoing Learning. What an opportunity it was to go to Harvard Business School in 2007, and then on to the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara in 2010 for my executive coaching certification.  These two “mid-life” stops have been critical to my ability to remain relevant in the business world as well as improving my quality of life with personal relationships.
Merrill Lynch. The past two years have been the most impactful in my 28 years of working, helping others truly improve results and change their businesses via coaching.
Caterpillar. The 25 years of global experiences that helped me to learn so much about business, financials, marketing, leadership, and collaboration.
Indiana University. The fours years at Bloomington allowed me to learn about physical fitness, the art of managing time due to ongoing travel, business skillset, adulthood and the wisdom gained via decision making.
Eternal Life. The promise of eternal life by giving my life to Jesus Christ.

Dad’s Wisdom, Use Your Vacation in 2013 (424 million days of paid vacation went un-used in USA)

In 2010, my father shared some wisdom at his and my mother’s 50th anniversary party: “Have someone to love, love what you do, and have something to look forward to.” Isn’t it best to embrace what your father says, right? Why? Because 424 million paid vacation days went un-used in America in 2012 (source: WSJ, 12/2012). In our house, we have a fun discussion at the beginning of every year to openly share our annual goals, complete with some yummy Reuben sandwiches. We find that this tradition really matters, including every single ingredient, all the way down to the type of mustard on the Reuben. To help ensure accountability, balance, and adjustments that might be necessary throughout the year, we have quick planning discussions every weekend that help us plan our meals, time for exercise, commitments to others (family, friends, and work), and future trips and vacations.  Thanks to my Dad’s advice of “have something to look forward to”, we created some very special moments in 2012, centered on sports.  Here’s just a few of them:

Super Bowl. One of our bucket list items was accomplished.  Living in Indianapolis, why not go see one of your favorite teams play in Super Bowl XLVI? Plus, our dear friends, my parents, nieces and nephew, brother and sis-in-law came in to town to enjoy the festivities.  Priceless memories made, even though our team lost.

Tennis. We are huge tennis fans and had not been to the US Open in New York City since the early 1990’s. When do you get the chance to see Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams in the same day? Without any tickets, we jumped in the car and drove a couple hours to Cincinnati and saw them play. So worth it!

Indy 500. My family loves this Hoosier tradition; we have been to the Indy 500 for many years.  But this year, I was given the opportunity to go around the Speedway track at a very fast speed.  Why not, right? Wow, those were an few exhilarating minutes. Took me an hour to settle in, but I called my dad to tell him what I did; he was thrilled I got that opportunity.  And, I got to meet and visit with Mario Andretti.

Golf. The PGA returned to The Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, IN.  Located just minutes from our place, I walked the course and watched former #1 Tiger Woods and current #1 Rory McIlroy play together.  What a treat to see this, because the PGA announced that it also was the tournament of the year.

Boston in Philadelphia. We headed to Lehigh, PA for my cousin’s college graduation ceremony.  Not only did we embrace the trip, we also went to see the Phillies vs. Red Sox and the 76ers vs. Celtics, and reconnected with a couple of friends.  This renewed relationship is now beyond strong; we’ve already  vacationed together and are planning another trip in 2013. My cousin was thankful beyond words, because we were there to see her graduate, through an outdoor ceremony in an absolute rain shower.

Half Marathon. Two of our best girl friends had never been up for running, but run we did.  The six of us gals trained for this event (held here in Carmel) and we all finished.  We proved we all could do it; the connection and strength gained by completing a difficult task further cemented our relationships. Oh, and then we ate and celebrated the rest of the weekend!

Foul Balls. As Red Sox fans, if they play at Wrigley, isn’t that a must do event? Well of course it is, and bring along your best friends (and their kids who have never been to Wrigley). And during the 5th inning, a foul ball heads our way, and yes, we grab it.  What a memory that all of us will never forget, especially as we were telling stories around midnight at the IHOP by Wrigley Field.

Like most of us, we do a great job of planning our to-do lists and daily schedule for the kids’ activities and our work.  Try a little self-assessment by asking these few questions: How well are you planning your life? What type of moments are you creating that will impact you and your family forever? What do you want your legacy to be? How will you implement accountability to plan your personal life as diligently as you do the rest of your life? Happy 2013!

The Three Most Important Questions of Your Life

Have you ever had that moment in a conversation when someone asked you a few questions, and your answers were a bit unsettling? From 2007-2010, I realized it was going to take some work to be able to answer the three most important questions in my life. So in January 2010, I signed up for a program called “Life Launch,” which helped me to articulate further my answers to these three questions.

1. Are you living where you want to live? My Answer: No.

Realizing that we wanted to be closer to family, live in a larger city, with easy access to a great airport, arts, sports and culture, achieve moderate cost of living with world class health care, we identified five cities that would meet these deep needs.  In November of 2011, we relocated to Carmel, IN, and months later, it was named by Money as the #1 place to live in America for small cities. Call that lucky, for sure.

Young adults today have this question figured out. Unlike the Baby Boomer generation who relocated multiple times and lived in the suburbs with long commutes, the trend is that this new generation is courageously moving to where they want to live first, and then finding meaningful work with a limited commute.

2. Are you doing what you want to do? My Answer(s): Yes & No

Marketing had been my life for 20+ years, but I found that I truly enjoyed coaching others and watching them develop. From 2006-2011, I connected with three amazing executive coaches and admired the work they did and how they did it. I soon realized a future role for me was to become a coach. After attending “Life Launch” in early 2010, I completed a year-long coaching certification program that year.  It was training that I needed; it helped me become a certified coach, but also a better person, listener, partner, and friend.

We ask people in casual conversations that infamous question, “what do you do?” How incredible could the conversation potentially be if someone asked, “what do you want to become?” or “are you doing what you really want to do?”

Every day, I encourage colleagues and friends to embrace their strengths, because the return on improving your strengths and deploying them is an 8-10X return (StrengthsFinder 34, Rath & Conchie). If you don’t like your job or role and know you that you have strengths being under-utilized, then put your plan in place to soon be doing what you are good at because the return will be much greater.

3. Are you with who you want to be with? My Answer: Yes

In 2007, I broke both wrists in a bad fall.  I realized quickly who were the most reliable people in my life. When you can’t feed, wipe, or wash yourself, you truly realize who are your friends and family.  That fall helped me realize that I did have the right person in my life, to be my partner.  We also realized that our friends were truly incredible; a couple of our friends went to the wayside, but the bulk of our real friends were amazingly there. We also realized that as we age, we wanted to be closer to family so that we could be there for them, if and when needed.

In interviewing the elderly in The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner quickly realized that centenarians have strong social connection locally and regularly.  If you aren’t with who you want to be with, his long-living research would hint to resolve that and be with who you want to be with.

As you progress through life, how can you ask yourself these three important questions? How can you ensure that you are living your life, completely on purpose? How can you utilize these questions with loved ones, and give them the gift of listening to their answers? We all can be distracted at times during our lives or even take detours, but these three questions might just help you get back on your purposeful highway of life. Recommend finding a memorable time to annually ask yourself these questions, self assess, and make appropriate adjustments wisely.

Sprinting to the Winner’s Circle

My brother called me the afternoon of the 2012 election and said, “Come to the track tonight. We might have some winners.” In his 30 years of training and racing harness horses, he had never done that. So, what do you do? Do you change all your plans and go, or do you wish him good luck and stay at home on the couch watching the election results roll in? We chose to change our plans, drive to the track, and watch him win three of four races in one evening. The lessons learned were plentiful and worth sharing.

Listen. My brother had never called me to say, “Come to the track tonight”. When he did call, I listened to him, his excitement, and his need for someone special to be there to see his success.

Watch. At we sat in the clubhouse, we watched with clear vision how my brother’s horses performed. We even got to see the race replay on the TV at our table.

Support. When Grant’s horses won race after race after race, each and every time we supported him. How? We got up from our table, let our dinner get cold, and sprinted to the winner’s circle to get our picture taken with him, his daughter, the winning horse and (harness horse racing) driver.

Spontaneously Change. Sure, it was a busy day. Just getting to the voting polls and completing a full day of work was an accomplishment. But we committed to changing our evening schedule spontaneously to give time to someone else, and watch them accomplish their goals.

Grow. Because we showed up at the track during a busy day and truly supported him, it sure has further deepened the roots of our healthy relationship. This spontaneous act proved something beyond the ordinary.

Celebrate. Even if you really don’t understand the magnitude of what another person is accomplishing, embrace the moment and celebrate with them. We found that it was a blast sprinting to the winner’s circle three times in one evening and coming back to finish our cold dinner. The others in the clubhouse were sure wishing they could celebrate like that!

What we choose to do and how we choose to do it can help transform and deepen relationships, as well as results. My personal mission statement is Encourage. Embrace. Expand. This was an example of how we embraced an opportunity, encouraged others which will lead to expanding relationships and results.

How Beach Volleyball Solved Work-Life Balance

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings held hands during the National Anthem Wednesday (8/8/2010) evening. They held hands during their late night interview with NBC’s Bob Costas and early morning interview on NBC’s Today Show. This duo is a great partnership of complete excellence.

As three-time gold medal champions in Olympic beach volleyball, Misty and Kerri don’t struggle with nor complain about work life balance. They flipped work life balance on its head. Instead, they completely embraced a purposeful life with goals, and did it. How did they do it?

They are friends, who trust each other immensely. As a great partnership over a 12 year period, they went 21-0 in Olympic competition. They lost just one set in the Athens, Beijing, and London Olympics.

They are wives, with children (Kerri) or kids in the future (Misty). Their husbands completely supported them with this purposeful goal. Yes, these two are loved by their husbands and families, but now adored by the global community.

They are coached. Yes, as good as they are, they have coaches who helped guide them to their third gold medal. Although they won their third gold medal, they still only gave themselves a B plus.

They are confident. How many 33 and 35 year old women would want to play beach volleyball in a two piece swim suit? Who would be comfortable doing that in front of an audience of 15,000?

They are competitive. They weren’t afraid to state that they expected to win the gold medal in London 2012. They set the bar high, and cleared it.

They visualized success. They saw themselves on the gold medal podium, throughout their training and matches. And they celebrated after each winning point, set, and match. Regular and energetic high-fives and fist pumps were a part of their matches.

They are resilient. Misty recovered from a torn Achilles heel, one of the most damaging injuries a world class athlete can face. After having two children, Kerri rebounded to be a stronger and wiser athlete. They adapted and changed their training and communication through the 12 year journey.

They are appreciative. They thanked the 2nd place/silver medal team of Jen Kelly and April Ross for pushing them. They thanked the ‘army of support’ behind them through this journey.

They are inclusive. After every match in London, Misty spoke in to the TV camera and thanked a variety of people and teams (the American troops and the Dodgers); Kerri always recognized and gave high fives to the ball girls and boys; and Misty jogged around the stadium after each win, engaging and thanking the fans. Before one match, they warmed up with a few members of the USA men’s basketball team. Who does that? That makes them so likeable and marketable.

As a business coach, I frequently hear the phrases, “I don’t have time, I struggle with balance, I can’t delegate, I can’t find time to exercise, our team isn’t accountable.” Recommend embracing what this duo did:
1) set purposeful goals (to win their 3rd gold medal, establish a legacy, and change the face of beach volleyball globally),

2) partner with friends or colleagues that you completely trust,

3) gain support of those closest to you,

4) visualize success,

5) celebrate every step along the way,

6) expect a few hurdles along the way but don’t let them stop you, and

7) enjoy the journey.

Overwhelmed? Open up, Own it, Organize, Outsource and Get Orderly

Since I have been coaching women and emerging leaders, I am hearing a common concern: “Jen, I am overwhelmed. I just can’t say ‘no.’ Sometimes I don’t know where to start.”

When a coach hears her client truly open up, we are encouraged because we know the client is becoming introspective. As coach, it is my role to help the client reach a comfort level where she is able to open up and pull from her what is causing her to be overwhelmed. Once that difficult first step is clarified and we both have a common understanding of the current state, then we move to step two. We brainstorm and identify what the client can do to become more able to own the cause and get organized. Nearly every time, the client has great ideas and answers.

It is the third step that is most difficult: which idea(s) will the client implement to help reduce this overwhelming feeling? For example, recently, a woman leader that I am coaching implemented and owned her plan by making a handful of adjustments. She had an open conversation with her husband and they both agreed to outsource a few low priority areas of their lives that were frustrating them both. She also began saying “no” to trivial requests. With more time available to work on higher priority opportunities, she noticed her business began to thrive and she was starting to achieve the audacious goals she had set in Jan. 2012.

My client no longer feels guilty about saying “no.” At the beginning of her work day, she implements a daily task lists. She even prioritizes her early mornings, with a wellness/fitness/nutrition plan to get her rolling.

The upshot? If you are overwhelmed, open up, own the situation, get organized, utilize outsourcing, and get orderly. You’ll soon become less overwhelmed and ready to face whatever challenges and opportunities that come your way.

Transform Results? The Courage to Change

The only way we really learn how to swim is by jumping in (the swimming pool or off the dock into the lake). The fear we overcome quickly is turned in to courage. This courage quickly translates into new skills and talents. Let’s take a couple recent examples in the sports world that have transformed careers.

Cool hand Luke. As an average George Mason basketball player, Luke Hancock decided to transfer when his George Mason coach ‘jumped’ to take on the head coaching job at University of Miami. Courageously, after considering multiple schools and two of them were in his home state, Hancock agreed that the University of Louisville was his next step. Within just a few months, his teammates named him captain even though he sat out as a ‘redshirt’ during the 2011-2012 season.  Within less than two years of his transfer (change), he was deep in the NCAA tournament assuming a key role after a teammate fell due to a broken leg. And who was the one who calmed Kevin Ware as he laid on the sideline with a broken leg? Luke Hancock was there, fully present during the ‘breaking point’, looking directly in to his teammate’s eyes. Just a week later, Hancock came off the bench and led the Louisville Cardinals in not one, but two comebacks to win the NCAA title. Hancock’s ability to be courageous, calm, and lead are truly unique. The NCAA voters agreed, and awarded him the NCAA Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Come On Aussies. In July 2011, the #1 golfer in the world released his caddie, Steve Williams.  And a younger but highly talented golfer from Australia, Adam Scott, had the amazing courage to quickly hire the best caddie in golf, Williams. At that point, Scott hadn’t won a major championship on the PGA Tour. But most in the sport quickly realized that the elusive major was now within reach. Although Scott was close (he gave up a four-stroke lead in the 2012 British Open), he came back stronger and won the 2013 Masters in fabulous style (sinking a birdie putt in the second playoff hole against a previous Masters winner). Again, in less than two years, Scott has reached the pinnacle of his career in winning The Masters, all because he had the courage to change and transform.

Both of these examples remind us of how some people get ‘stuck’ due to fear of making a change, while others embrace courageous change and achieve heights that appeared to be untouchable. How are you embracing change and your future opportunities? A first few steps might be to identify where you want to go, what you want to achieve, and then identify who can help you reach your pinnacle.