Making Jewelry. Making a Difference.

 Last weekend, along with approximately three thousand other women, I traveled to San Francisco for the annual national conference of Stella & Dot.  I’ve been a consumer of their beautiful baubles for some time, but with a move to Dallas about a year ago, I decided that becoming a Stylist would help me meet people and create community in a new city.

While timeliness is so important in blogging, I purposely waited to write this particular post.  I wanted to be sure that any “emotional buzz” would have time to wear off, leaving only the true substance and reality of my experience.  It was my first attendance at “Hoopla,” and it was an amazing and inspiring experience…but would the inspiration “stick,” or would it wane as many motivational-type buzzes do?

Now, a week later, I wanted to share my top three observations about the company and why I think Stella & Dot is on the fast-track to even greater success.

Stella & Dot’s leadership is phenomenal.

I spend a lot of time speaking, coaching and training companies and executives on various leadership topics that engage and value employees and clients, inspire vision and innovation, and leverage people’s strengths.  Many times, I have to first convince organizations of the value of these concepts before I help them learn how to apply them.  However, the Stella & Dot leadership team, led by CEO, Jessica Herrin, not only gets it, they fully embody great leadership.  Here is Jessica’s favorite quote:

“Be daring, be different, be impractical; be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the Ordinary.” ­ ~ Cecil Beaton

Herrin is not afraid to be different; in fact, she thrives on breaking the status quo, taking calculated risks and pushing beyond the self-limiting boundaries so many women have falsely created for themselves.  She consistently challenges women to create a vision; defining success their own way, whatever that looks like for them; whatever will achieve their happiness and fulfillment.  It’s not about her or her jewelry.  She’s creating confidence in women, inspiring dreams and teaching women to strategically work toward them.

Stella & Dot founder & CEO, Jessica Herrin (and she’s only 39!)

The whole leadership team is inspiring and creates a sense of hope. The theme of this year’s Hoopla event was “Wonderland” and included much focus on words such as wonder, believe and possibility, culminating in Herrin’s keynote speech where she redefined the word “impossible” to become I’m possible.

Herrin and her team listen.  They hear the voices of their thousands of Stylists.  They’re in tune with consumer feedback.  They feed off style trends and beautiful craftsmanship from artisans around the world. They are incredibly smart, but clearly demonstrate that they are always eager to learn more and serve customers and employees.

They are strategic, yet creative.  Savvy, yet heartfelt. Profitable, yet generous and philanthropic too.  The company now produces more than $100 million in sales and is a multi-award winning Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Company that gets results…and, although privately held, they even rang the NASDAQ bell this year for their notable results in creating jobs and empowering women.  Herrin leads by example, and she passionately builds into and creates leader after leader within the Stella & Dot world.  It’s truly a company of “we” not “me” and she is adored for her leadership.

Stella & Dot leaders are authentic and truly caring.

If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times over the weekend.  “I am a mother first.”  This was stated, embraced and celebrated at every level of the company.  Every general session presentation included family photos, top-level leaders cried when gushing about their children, and conversations about “balance” included Herrin authentically sharing how she didn’t push the company hard until she finished breast-feeding. That was most important to her.

Session after session encouraged women to prioritize, balance, pursue dreams, but not forsake special time with family or necessary time to manage health and well-being.  Herrin even shared her personal goals and time management strategies, encouraging women that “there really is enough time, if you just make the time for the things that matter to you most.”  Lots of giggles ensued when she suggested it might mean giving up things like Facebook, American Idol or the Kardashians.

Over and over, attendees were pushed to get out of their own way.  “Comparison is the thief of joy,” Herrin quoted Theodore Rooselvet. “Perspective and gratitude ARE joy,” she added, noting that we all have much to be thankful for.  She shared that she often thinks about the girls’ schools in Nicaragua that the Stella & Dot Foundation funded.  “If you have a floor to stand on, you have more than a lot of people in this world,” she passionately spoke.

Then, as success story after success story was personally shared on stage by Stylists – attorneys leaving partnership, teachers making the most of their flexible hours, stay-at-home moms taking their families on extravagant vacations – nobody cheered louder than the leadership of this company. They gave gifts, danced on stage, hugged, high-fived and genuinely celebrated each woman for her accomplishments.  Even the Chairman of the Board, Mike Lohner, joined the celebration by delivering a heartfelt speech, playing his saxophone and singing “What Makes You Beautiful” to all the attendees. (The crowd went wild with appreciation!)

They care.  They really care. (And the Gallup organization knows the importance of leaders showing they care!)  Stella & Dot wants women to succeed.  They want wild, passionate, thorough success the way YOU define it.  They want to help you get there, and they’re just dying to celebrate you accomplishing it.  Indeed, it was beautiful to cheer everything from huge financial gains to one husband who wrote that he was grateful to Stella & Dot for helping his wife get her “mojo” back.

The bottom line, biggest-takeaway that continues to resonate is this: Stella & Dot is purpose-driven.

More than anything, Stella & Dots want to make a difference in the lives of women, whether you are part of the company as an employee or Stylist, or part of the three non-profits served by the Stella & Dot Foundation (or the additional fundraisers for breast cancer, autism and more.)  These women are incredibly passionate and show no signs of slowing down until they see more of this:

We have a vision of the world where STRONG WOMEN LIVE BOLD and joyful lives. They know what they want and they work for it. They inspire each other. Passion and joy are their best accessories.

What I learned, above all, is that this company is all about instilling confidence, creating more independence and impacting women’s lives for the better.  Jewelry is simply the vehicle to accomplish these things … and of course, in Stella and Dot fashion, the jewelry is pretty amazing too!

** IMPORTANT NOTE ** Although I am a Stylist for Stella & Dot, I was neither paid nor asked to write this blog post.  My long-time passion, focus and full-time business is Sagestone Partners, a leadership development company providing coaching, training and professional speaking services.  Because my time is spent in this arena, these leadership observations were notable, meaningful and authentically apparent within Stella & Dot.  This piece was writing as an illustration of success, as well as a personal pride to be associated with such an amazing organization and its leaders. I’m thrilled to be doing my small part to make a difference in the lives of other women!  

I’m Not Leaving…Just Changing The View From My Window

I love Cincinnati.  It’s true.  I proudly display a bumper sticker on my car that says so.

I’ve grown up in this amazing city.  I have benefitted from the wonderful arts, the great schools and universities, the traditional values and the warm, mid-western culture.

I have made more friends and lasting professional relationships than I could have ever imagined.  I have given my heart, energy and expertise to build into the vibrant philanthropic efforts that lift our region.  I have grown personally and professionally, become a wife and mother, and been blessed to “share life” with some of the best people I’ll ever know.

It makes for quite a double-edged sword to share that my family and I will be moving to Dallas, Texas at the end of July.

After prayer and careful consideration, we have made this decision to adhere to the values we hold most dear.  With this move, we are working to simplify our lives, be better parents and more focused professionals.  Simply, we want to be more present, more available and more effective in our lives.  We want to make a difference, and now is the time.

They say everything is big in Texas, so I’m looking forward to growing and enhancing the things that matter most.  I have an opportunity to be a better mom, and I can learn from experience how to be more efficient with my business.  Improved work-life balance will make me better at everything I do, and it’s hard to think that my enthusiasm and energy could grow, but I just have a feeling…

Dallas is a robust city, bursting with the excitement, growth and a noticeably strong economy.  At the same time, it still has a small, southern feel to it; rooted in values, family and faith.  The city will offer a wide spectrum of opportunity with a firm foundation to grow my business and raise my children. 

With its central geographic location and abundant flight offerings due to the American Airlines hub status (oh, how I’ve missed the advantages of “hub status” here in Cincinnati!) travel will be a cinch!  The Central Time Zone will also make national work easier to accomplish with less impact to family time.

I am looking forward with optimism and faith, knowing that times of change are also times of growth.  I know I will be stretched and challenged in new ways, and I’m eager to see what results.

Although I am changing the view from my window, I will never truly leave Cincinnati.  This amazing city is part of me; part of who I am.  I will remain committed to Cincinnati’s positive growth and will continue to support business, philanthropy and leadership in the region.  Because I am relational and value connection, I will continue to nurture relationships, cherish friendships and maintain business partnerships…although my connections may have to tolerate a southern drawl that I’m likely to pick up in my speech!!

It’s funny how life works, isn’t it?  Right when you think you’ve got it all perfectly planned, something comes along to change it.  Leading through change is essential for success, though.  I’ve always loved a good challenge, and in fact, I’m one of those ‘crazy’ people who actually loves change too (perhaps it’s adult ADD?!?!)

I hope you’ll continue to follow my blog and my journey of Authentic Leadership.  I look forward to remaining connected to those that I know, as well as meeting some new fantastic people that I’m sure are in my future.  Regardless of where I am, I just know the view is going to be a great one!

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a coaching, training and speaking company focused on leadership and engagement.  Erin founded the non-profit organization, Authentic Leadership Cincinnati, which now has a membership of over 700 members.  She is a certified leadership coach, strengths trainer and a sought-after speaker who is passionate about inspiring people to lead with the best of who they are.  Erin can be reached at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Open Leadership – a Book Review about Social Media and Leadership

Charlene Li, who also co-authored the best-selling book, Groundswell, recently released her latest book, entitled Open Leadership.

In this new book, Li does a fantastic job of providing a broad picture of the relationship between social media and leadership.  In essence, she explains that we live in a new culture – one of sharing.  And it’s not going to change, so leaders better adapt!  Leadership, then, “will require a new approach, new mindset, and new skills.”  I couldn’t agree more!!

Li begins by explaining that leadership is not about total control, which by the way, needs to be given up to fully embrace an “open” model anyway.  Great leadership, however, is centered on having deep and engaging relationships, which can be fostered and nurtured by social media in a variety of ways.

How can this be accomplished?  Glad you asked!  Li does a nice job of anticipating this question for each major point she makes in the book.  Every chapter is supported with real world examples of companies and corporate leaders who have embraced social media and have demonstrated success (and experienced remarkable results!)  Additionally, she provides an “Action Plan” to address questions, next steps and a general strategy that you can leverage to more fully embrace social media in a way that’s right for you and your business.

Throughout the book, Li clearly spends time intentionally educating and easing the fears of corporate executives.  She demonstrates the value of social media with solid examples and quotes.  She also embraces the concept that leadership needs to be both transparent and authentic.  The critical point that she makes about this is that it doesn’t look the same for every company and every leader.  While social media’s value is consistent, the way in which each company leverages it needs to be a well thought out, strategic and customized plan for them.

Li thought through this entire process for readers, and she writes this book to be a valuable tool.  She explains how to create an “open strategy,” what guidelines and policies should encompass the strategy, and how you measure the success of the effort (which has been difficult for many, but she provides some great suggestions.)

She clearly shows how leaders can effectively leverage social media tools to accomplish their goals, but more importantly, she provides guidelines the ways in which leaders may need to adjust to accommodate this newer, faster, viral form of communication.  Li addresses important topics such as the leader’s tone, the quality of communication and the importance of building trust via these mediums.

One of the things I love best about Open Leadership is that Li didn’t hold back encouraging leaders to leverage social technologies. She’s obviously passionate and knowledgeable about them, and she even unabashedly addresses a leader’s potential worst fear: failure….out in the open!  The reality is that all companies will experience some form of failure, so Li explores how you can successfully fail in a social media setting.  Brilliant!

I found this book to be comprehensive, enjoyable to read and a great resource for planning and strategizing how your company and leadership may embrace (and get the value of) social media.

For anyone who may be interested in a copy, I have been sent five advanced reading copies of the book, which I’d love to give away to blog readers who leave a comment.  I’ll randomly choose five winners within a week, so be sure to let me know how you might benefit from receiving a copy!

 Erin Schreyer is a certified Leadership Coach and Strengths trainer.  She is the President of Sagestone Partners and Founder of the non-profit group, Authentic Leadership Cincinnati.  Erin is passionate about helping leaders (even great ones!) maximize their effectiveness, as well as their positive impact on both people and business results.   Contact Erin directly at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Seriously…a Revolution?

I often tell people that what I’m trying to do is start a revolution.  It’s a revolution of character-based leaders – ones that value their people as much as they do their results.  It’s all about leaders who first authentically model the behavior, then inspire and motivate their people to reach their greatest potential.  It’s about leveraging strengths and appreciating each person for their unique value.  It’s about leadership at all levels, engaging people and allowing them to lead from who they are and not what (title) they are.

Why “Revolution?”

I’m intentional when I choose the word “revolution.”  I do it for a few reasons.  First, it gets people’s attention.  Most people will think, “Seriously, a revolution?”  Man, that’s a big thing!  (I like that, by the way!!  I like to get people thinking big!!!  And I, personally, like to have big goals to strive for!)

“Make no small plans for they have no capacity to stir men’s souls.” Anonymous

Second, it causes people to think about the topic of character-based leadership.  After all, revolutions are started over things that people are REALLY passionate about, and they tend to be things that will bring about significant change.  So, if I’m committed to a “revolution,” then people will want to know what it’s all about…and so they stop to consider this thing called character-based or authentic leadership.

A Revolution of Many Leaders

Now, let me be sure to clarify.  I’m not on this mission alone.  There are what I would call “famous” revolutionaries who have been at this for a while.  I think of the great Peter Drucker, who stood out early-on with his people-focused approach.  And, of course, there’s one of my favorite leadership experts, John Maxwell, from whom I have learned a great deal.  Marcus Buckingham focuses more specifically on people’s strengths and a motivational approach toward leveraging them.

Then, there’s the leadership practitioners and corporate leaders, like myself, who not only value these concepts but are willing to ‘stand for’ them in an effort to inspire others to do so as well.  There’s a large group of these leaders in the Lead Change Group, led by my good friend, Mike Henry.  Mike is a man of great character, and he has built the largest national group (that I know of) to further develop and support character-based leaders.  He is creative in leveraging technology to support his mission and to facilitate a lively community, and he’s making a noticeable impact.

Locally, here in Cincinnati, I’m also surrounded by people who model this behavior and are willing to collaborate to help the revolution spread.  There’s Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati, which is a non-profit group formed last summer.  We’re now a gathering of more than 300 local leaders who are interested in creating a community for development, support and encouragement of Authentic Leadership.

Then there’s the local individual leaders who stand out in my book.  John Baumann is the CEO of Ampac Flexible Packaging and founder of the non-profit, Higher Branches, a community created for mentoring and ‘sharing life’ between varying socioeconomic groups.   John is an astute businessman, capable of turning around a company and leading it to great success.  He is also a leader in the community and a loving husband and father.  John is a good friend, a model and someone I am privileged to learn from.

My friends at Centennial, Inc. are also authentic leaders who truly partner with companies to help them find the best leaders to take their organizations to the next level.  Led by two generations of the Sipple family, Centennial infuses values, ethics and a solid understanding of talent management to rise above the sea of recruitment firms who claim to partner with their clients, but actually fail to do so.  Mike Sr. and Jr. are generous businessmen, willing to make connections and always provide value.  They have been tremendously supportive of my business and mission, and I’m grateful.

Lastly, I’ll mention Tom Sutton, Owner/Operator of a local Chick-fil-A store location in Eastgate.  Tom is a career military man who has brought his leadership to Chick-fil-A, a very values-infused fast-food restaurant chain led by Dan Cathy.  Tom has traveled the globe, helping entrepreneurs learn how to run successful businesses and how to create a great workplace environment.  Locally, he is equally as generous to everyone he comes in contact with, and he is an eager contributor to the authentic leadership revolution.

Tom, John, Mike and so many others, are all contributing to the success of the local Cincinnati Chick-fil-A Leadercast event on May 7th.  The day-long leadership event includes ten world renowned leaders who are building on a theme of being “The One.”

Authentic leadership is about being the one.  The one organization that leads by example. The one team that maintains focus amid chaos and courage amid adversity. The one person others look to for strength and guidance. The one who casts vision. The one who offers hope.

Together with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Nursing, we plan to help build healthy leaders.  We’re looking at the whole person, realizing that in order to be the best leader, we have to be our best on all fronts – physically, mentally, spiritually. 

We hope this day will provide leaders with the encouragement to be the one….and to join the revolution!  We eagerly await, and we look forward to serving you, your people and your leadership development. 

Yes, a revolution has indeed begun!  I’ve taken a lead position, and I ask you to join me!  The impact we make together will be a legacy worth our efforts!

What can you do in your community and in your business to model and promote character-based, authentic leadership?  Think outside the box and consider what influence you can have.  Share a story, an idea or a simple comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Erin Schreyer is the President of Sagestone Partners and the Founder of Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati.  She is passionate about helping leaders and organizations reach their greatest potential.  Feel free to contact Erin directly at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Leadership Conference? Not Hardly! This Was Absolutely a Palooza!

This past weekend, I traveled to Florida to attend the first in-person gathering of professionals from the Lead Change group.  Focused on the topic of character-based leadership, we gathered together from three countries to engage in passionate discussion and to explore how we could apply our collective knowledge and experiences to make an impact.  This was the first “LeaderPalooza” of many more to come!

Why a Palooza?

I did some Internet searches on the term, “Palooza.”  As a partial word – a suffix – it doesn’t have a definition like a whole word would….but there was some clarification to be found.  In essence, a “palooza” is a celebration, an exaggerated event, or from its origin – a ‘humdinger!’ 

We considered other names, but this was so fitting, given the level of passion, enthusiasm and inspiration that was generated.  And it’s not just about feelings, either….there’s real action coming out of this! 

We have “instigated” something….and yes, the use of this particular word is purposeful.  We are standing on a foundation of morals, ethics and valuing people to inspire a different kind of leadership that has real impact on people’s lives.  Yes, we do want to instigate something…..it’s called change.  And so, Palooza seems to fit.

So What Made it Different?

For starters, we leveraged an Open Space format.  This is still a relatively newer meeting format, but let me assure you, it works!!  I had never experienced it prior to this weekend, and I’m completely sold on the value of this format.

Open Space values everyone in attendance and provides for greater richness than a ‘talking head’ format.  Because everyone convenes to discuss topics they are most interested in, the level of enthusiasm and participation is noticeably higher.  The format is also reliant upon the contributions of several people, versus the expertise of only one.

LeaderPalooza included an outstanding mix of corporate leaders and leadership practitioners; men and women; different cultures and age groups; and the experiences of many very successful careers.  Talk about a powerful group!  The caliber and ‘mix’ of people was outstanding!

While the diversity of our group was evident, it was equally clear that we had all assembled for a common purpose – to further develop as character-based leaders and to leverage that platform to help make a difference in people’s lives.

With the Open Space format, it seemed as if every discussion built onto what had already been discussed.  We could actually see the progress we were making, and we could all feel the difference in our thinking as we learned from one another and built on to our vision.

Another differentiator was that we took action.  How many conferences do you attend where you listen without participation, get a binder of information, soak in just a few nuggets of information but not really change all that much?  If you’re like me, that’s what I’ve been used to doing.

At LeaderPalooza, we agreed to action steps.  We formed committees that have purpose and deliverables.  We’re taking everything we talked about and we’re putting action to it.  We’re walking the walk, not just just talking the talk.

And best of all, we’ve agreed to hold each other accountable.  Seriously.  When have you ever gotten that from a conference?!  We’ve agreed to raise our own bar, from wherever it is that we are.  And we’ve asked each other to hold us accountable to not letting that bar drop.  It can only go upward, and we’re dedicated to that and to each other. 

WOW.  We didn’t just have a conference, we created a community…one that will encourage, support and help to further develop one another.  One that is committed to action, not just words.  One that seeks to inspire others to reach for more.  One that makes a positive impact and leaves a legacy.

Does this sound like any conference you’ve ever attended?  Do you want to benefit from the momentum that’s been created?  Check out the Lead Change Group on LinkedIn.  Join us on Twitter.  Check out our leadership community, and by all means, join in!!  We’ve started a character-based leadership movement, and you’re invited!  The Palooza is not just about one weekend.  It’s just the beginning…

For more information on LeaderPalooza, Lead Change Group or our local leadership community in Cincinnati, called Authentic Leadership, please contact me at eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com

Do I Have Food Stuck In My Teeth?

After any meal, we’ve all had to ask, “Do I have food stuck in my teeth?”  It’s a common problem that can happen to most of us… and when it does happen, we’re frequently unaware of that horrifyingly large broccoli morsel that’s now front-and-center of our smile! J

 

We have to ask others, because we just don’t know what they can see that we, ourselves, cannot.  It’s also important to ask, because other people rarely bring it to your attention (even though it would prevent you from feeling SO embarrassed!)

 

I use this analogy, because it’s common….just as common as leaders believing that their perceptions of themselves and their organizations are spot on.  The truth is accurate awareness can be hard to capture, and it takes work. 

 

We all do and say things that affect those around us.  Hopefully, we’re authentic and consistent, so we’re easy to “figure out.”  But there always seem to be things that we do that we’re not even aware of.  They may not even be intentional, but things can spin out of control from just one simple misunderstanding.  

 

Do you recall the sitcom, “Three’s Company” with John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt?  I loved that show.  I laughed at every episode. If you look back, you’ll notice a common theme.  Almost every single episode was a result of someone projecting an image, saying something or doing something that was not what they intended.  They had no idea that someone misunderstood, and it turned into a comedy of errors.  That’s fun to watch on a sitcom, but it’s not what you want happening with your business.

 

Why is awareness so important for leaders?

 

Awareness allows us to lead with our strengths and empower others’ strengths.  It’s so important to know when to lead and when to follow.  You can engage and motivate people by leveraging them where you need them most AND where they are most skilled.  This brings out the best in everyone and produces greater results.  Self awareness, as well as team awareness is critical to implement this strengths-based approach.

 

Awareness allows us to address issues.  As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But guess what?  If you don’t even know it’s broken, then you don’t know to fix it!  Think about taking golf lessons.  One of the first things commonly done nowadays is to video the client’s swing.  Why?  Because people, although controlling their body, may not realize how their unintentionally moving throughout their swing!  They may not even accept it until they see it….and video doesn’t lie.  We have to be aware (or be made aware!) to change behaviors or offer the right support.

 

Awareness leads to continual improvement.  Similar to the point made above, if we’re aware (and accurate in that awareness) then we know what to address for improvement and further development.  Don’t just assume you have the most accurate assessment of yourself, your organization or your clients – ask them!!  By asking for honest, direct feedback from others (and letting them know it’s safe to do this!) you’ll better understand others’ perspectives, improve your performance and better meet their needs.  Tools such as 360 degree assessments and “Voice of the Customer” surveys can be valuable in gaining this insight.

 

Awareness strengthens relationships.  As you become more aware of yourself, your actions and words and how those are received, it allows you to make choices that will better serve your team.  In addition, with more awareness of one another, your team is also enabled to be more understanding of (and even appreciate!) each others’ perspectives and styles.  This could lead to breakthroughs in team-building, employee morale and motivation.

 

If you want to be the most effective leader, be sure that you have a keen awareness of your style and how it’s received by others.  Ask your employees – at all levels – about their opinions and feedback on the organization.  What do they love?  What would they change?  Find out from your clients why they work with you, how your serve them better than competitors and what more could you be doing for them?  The answers to these questions will help you and your organization create the best strategies for success!

 

As a leader, what’s one thing you can do this week to test if your self-assessment is accurate?  How can you ensure honest feedback?  Also consider, how can you provide feedback to someone else (the truth with love) to help them improve?  Please don’t let them sit there with broccoli in their teeth!!

 

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, a leadership and talent management coaching firm in Cincinnati, OH.  Erin is passionate about helping leaders to maximize their effectiveness, to make the most positive impact on their people and to successfully grow their business.  She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Authentic Leadership Cincinnati, a non-profit organization formed to develop, encourage and support values-infused and people-focused leadership.  Erin can be reached at www.eschreyer@sagestone-partners.com.

Ten Treasures to Take Away from 2009

As 2009 comes to a close, many people find themselves pondering the events of the year.  The economy (and its negative ripple effect) certainly proved challenging for all of us.  As always, though, it’s never all bad.  There were positive highlights, a-ha moments and wonderful surprises too!  These are some of my greatest treasures of 2009…and the lessons I’ll take with me into 2010 and the years to come.

Have a Plan.  Be Intentional.

If I had to choose a favorite word for the year, “intentional” is it!  More than ever, this year I was intentional about writing a plan and intentionally going after it!  There is something powerful that happens when you put something in writing – it somehow forces more commitment.  Keeping those commitments top of mind (by having certain items posted in front of me!) motivated me to be more intentional with every action and word.  The result?  Exceeding the goals I had set for myself this year!

Having a vision and strategy are the critical beginnings of your plan.  You must have something to aim for, or you’re likely to remain in the world of status quo….or worse.  It’s still a tough economy out there, and it requires innovation, creativity and the best of what YOU can bring to the table.  Think about what you can do and how you can accomplish it.  Put your plans in writing, and be intentional about accomplishing them.

The Power of Identifying Strengths and Leading with Them

Late last year, with the help of StrengthsFinder 2.0, I identified my strengths, and as Marcus Buckingham suggests, I put them to work!  It’s not that I learned something totally new about myself, but I did find it helpful to confirm and even re-affirm what I thought.  In many ways, it was a confidence-builder that challenged me to push myself further by leading with those strengths. 

I also discovered that natural strengths come fairly easy to you, but as such, you may not fully recognize them (because the assumption is that they come easily to everyone else too.)  These typically are the “gifts” that most other people notice about you, and these are likely your best strengths.

It’s critically important to identify your strengths.  Also ask what others’ perceptions are about your strengths – you may learn something about yourself!  They key here is self-awareness, and it’s a necessary component of great leadership.  You must know your own strengths, weaknesses, passions and values to build the best teams (and you should know theirs too!)

Twitter – An Education and a Community-Builder

 

One of the greatest surprises for me in 2009 was Twitter.  What started as an “experiment” mostly driven out of curiosity, turned into one of the most impactful decisions I made this year.  It sounds hard to believe, I know.  I still can’t believe it either…but it’s true.

My strategy (yes, having a social media strategy is critical!) was two-fold: 1) Go beyond the Greater Cincinnati market to include experts, innovators and mentors in my inner circle of influence; and 2) Be intentional with communication that would be helpful, impactful and inspiring to those that follow me.

This strategy enabled Twitter to be become a powerful tool for me.  Not only have I had the privilege of learning from experts that I wouldn’t otherwise interact with, but I have also met some amazing people and formed communities around particular interests.  The interactions are personal, collaborative and useful in numerous ways…and they help me to be a better, more impactful person.

Lead Change Group….and LeaderPalooza (a sneak-preview into 2010!)

One community, which has a presence on both Twitter and LinkedIn is the Lead Change Group, led by Mike Henry.  The group is focused on character-based leadership, and Mike (who I met via Twitter) and I have become friends and encouragers of one another, based on our shared leadership interest.

What started as a few tweets in early spring has turned into real collaboration, powerful idea-generation and mutual support.  Together, along with what could be quite a large gathering of leaders, Lead Change group is creating a leadership conference (LeaderPalooza) that’s being cast as “Not Your Mama’s Leadership Conference” in February of 2010.  There, attendees will be leveraging an Open Source format to create impactful content, ideas and deliverables, driven by a passion for character-based leadership.

Lead Change group is a virtual community.  Mike and I, although we talk fairly regularly, have never met in person.  Many leaders and practitioners who I’ve come to appreciate through this group have impressed me through phone conversations, blog articles, webinars and more….but we’ve never met in person.  The energy has been building, and LeaderPalooza is going to be the unleashing of all these people coming together for the first time.  Great things are going to result from this…

The Value of Blogging

The combination of creating and sharing relevant information is what blogging is all about.  This, too, was another valuable and extremely impactful lesson this year.  Not only did I start blogging (which is great practice for the book that I hope to write someday…) but I also identified several blogs that I read on a regular basis.  These blogs are written by experts in their respective fields, and they share valuable insights, experiences and statistics that I learn from every day. 

I read once that if a leader ever stops learning, then he/she should stop leading.  Blogs, written by informed and educated leaders, are one additional way I continue to feed my intellect.  I hope that what I write and share is valuable to my readers as well!

Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati

This group, started on LinkedIn, has proven to me that there’s a real thirst for great leadership that is focused on positively impacting people, as well as results.  Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati was launched in late-Summer, and today there are more than 250 group members!

Authentic Leadership was born out of a call to action I heard at church over the summer.  The speaker encouraged everyone to take action – don’t just talk about making an impact on your community – DO it!!  I didn’t sleep well that night, and the very next day, I wrote the vision and mission for this group that would attract business professionals who would embrace character-based leadership to make a difference.  The revolution began this summer…

With the help of an inspiring and highly-successful Board of Directors, Authentic Leadership in Cincinnati has had regular interaction on LinkedIn.  We’ve hosted two well-attended and highly-rated in-person events this year, and we’ve only just begun!!  The Board has some amazing ideas and plans to implement in 2010, and as the programming continues, Cincinnati will be able to demonstrate the powerful impact of leaders helping people reach their potential.

Lunch with John Maxwell

It’s not often that I’m “star-struck,” but I have to admit, I was more than honored to be extended an invitation to have lunch with John Maxwell.  John is, in my opinion, a prolific author and speaker, and one of the leadership experts after whom I model my own approach.

During lunch, John was kind enough to openly answer questions and share his experiences with an intimate group of people.  Many of his words continue to resonate and inspire me, and his direct communication provided encouragement to move forward with my purpose.  Every day, I find hope knowing that, like him, I am working to further develop and empower leaders from a perspective that’s rooted in Bible.  Keep it up, John!  I’m grateful to have your example as a guide!

Surround Yourself with Good People

What a true blessing it’s been for me to be surrounded by friends, family, people willing to collaborate as well as those willing to hold me accountable and with proper perspective.  This, I believe, is a necessary component of success for several reasons.

Perspective can be easily lost in day-to-day activities and challenges.  I’ve been so fortunate to have good people to remind me of where I ‘really’ am and to provide alternative perspectives when I may not have seen other options.  (Knowing this, I have been intentional to surround myself with smart people!)

The other great advantage is a sounding board.  My own personal “Board of Advisors” includes people who know me well, speak the truth with love and have strengths where I may have weaknesses.  Their advice has helped me to grow, learn and avoid mistakes I may not have even known I could have made.  For all these wonderful people, and their willingness to be helpful to me, I am eternally grateful.

With Risk, Comes Reward

As a stereotypical “type A” personality, I have always thrived on a good challenge…and I really enjoy exceeding expectations whenever I can!!  But taking on a good challenge is still different than taking on a risk.

In 2008, I thought I would be able to successfully launch a new company.  2009 is really where I had to prove it, though…and in a really tough economy.  Some called this a very risky thing to do, since I left a stable job with a wonderful company to launch Sagestone Partners.  I always looked at it as a “calculated risk,” and I tried to include everything in the plan to ensure that the company would take an upward trajectory…but, of course, I don’t know everything, nor can I predict the future…so, yes, there was a risk. 

As I was researching my decision, one consistent piece of advice and encouragement I received from many other CEOs was that, in fact, THEY didn’t know everything, either.  They knew what they needed to know, and they knew where to get help and support for the rest (see the point above on surrounding yourself with good people!)

So, ultimately, I took a risk, but 2009 has been a tremendously rewarding year!  I have learned more than ever.  I have met wonderful new people from networking in person and via social media.  I have better balanced my personal and professional life.  I have been blessed to see a positive impact I’ve been able to have on clients.  I was honored with an amazing award for women business leaders.  And more than anything, I’ve grown my faith…

You Must Believe

I saved this one as my last point, because it’s most meaningful, and I also hope it has a resonating effect with readers.  Every person will eventually crush under pressure without a strong belief system.  That systems needs to include three things:

  1. Belief in yourself, that you were uniquely created for a purpose that only you were intended to do.
  2. Belief in the people around you, that you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people who can be trusted and relied upon to celebrate the good times, comfort you in the bad times, and steer you in the directions that help you to reach your potential.
  3. Belief in something bigger than all of us, that provides greater hope than people can generate.

 These are the things that I cherish from this year; things that will stay with me forever.  What resonated with you?  What unique experiences or lessons will you take from this year?  How can you use this information to make 2010 even better?  I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment!

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners, LLC.  She is passionate about leadership and helping people and companies to reach their greatest potential.  Please visit www.sagestone-partners.com for more information.