Articles I wrote:
Business Tips From the Gorillas
Customers and Kindness
Draft Marine Plan Public Comment Period Closes July 11th
Local Marine Planning Needs Public Input
Ten Tips for Women Leaders
Articles Featuring My Work:
Moab-Based Consulting Firm Offers
“Therapy for Businesses”
Business Tips from the Gorillas
During my work and travels in East Africa last summer, I was blessed to be able to watch the interactions of a group of eleven wild mountain gorillas. As they foraged for food in Uganda 's cloud forests, I was fascinated by the behaviors of the silverback – the 300+-pound dominant male. He communicated his pleasure or displeasure with body language and grunting sounds, he decided when and to where the group should move for better foraging conditions, and he kept a watchful eye on us – the primates with clothes on. I learned from our guides that we share 97% of our genetic make-up with gorillas, and that gorillas feel and express the same emotions as humans. It occurred to me that studying their behavior might help my business here in Moab by providing me with some clues about the behaviors of humans. When I mentioned this to a client recently, she laughed and said “Yeah, my employees act like a bunch of gorillas sometimes!”
“How exactly do your employees act like gorillas,” I asked, “and how do you, as their leader, behave like the silverback?” Having never really thought of herself as a 300-pound male gorilla before, she needed time to ponder the second part of this question.
I challenge you to ask yourself the same question in human terms: In your role as a leader, how do you provide direction, protection, and order – the three most basic functions of leadership – for your group, business, or team? Do you provide these functions consciously and with integrity? Why does it matter? The silverback's purpose is to keep his group alive, healthy, comfortable, and free from harm and conflict. What if the same things were equally important in your business? Would you behave differently?
“But what about money?” you ask. “Gorillas don't have to worry about paying the bills or giving raises to their employees.” The answer is that all leadership issues in the workplace are also bottom-line issues . If this is hard to get your mind around, do this 5-minute exercise:
Pick one human issue (even if you think some of your employees might secretly be gorillas) that you struggle with as a leader. Human issues are things like conflict, communication, and decision-making. Let's say you want less conflict in your workplace. Now, ask yourself a series of “Why is this important to me?” questions:
Q: “Why is less conflict in my workplace important to me?”
A: “Because I don't want to deal with disagreements my employees can't resolve.”
Q: “Why is it important to me to not have to deal with these conflicts?”
A: “Because I have a lot of other work to do.”
Q: “Why is it important to me to have time to do this other work?”
A: “Because I have customers to serve and bills to pay!”
Conflict is time, and time is money. In fact, whatever human issue you pick to improve, it's tied to a bottom-line business issue. Whether you want greater financial success, a better working environment, or you just want your employees to like you, the lesson here is to be conscious of your role. Be deliberate about what you are doing, saying, and demonstrating to those you lead. It will mean more dollars in the bank, more happiness at your job, and more satisfaction in knowing yourself better as a leader. Perhaps the high level of self-consciousness that we can attain is that 3% that makes us different from gorillas. As our complex human world provides us with more complex circumstances to deal with than the silverback, our consciousness as leaders provides us with more choices of how to skillfully lead others through this complexity.
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Customers and Kindness
On a recent trip, we had some problems with our reservation at the only hotel in a very remote town at the end of a peninsula. After brief discussion with the woman who greeted us, we were given a key to our room and were told that the owner would be down to see us when he returned. Upon the owner's arrival at our door, he immediately began blaming us for the problem, venting his anger loudly in a way that was, frankly, scary. In order to diffuse the situation, we offered several apologies and some suggestions for how we might remedy the situation. Nothing seemed to help. He continued to raise his voice, used foul language to emphasize his point, and was not going to accept responsibility for his part of the problem. Although this kind of treatment would normally have caused us to leave right then and there and find another hotel, this was no normal situation. It was late, and there were no more buses back to towns on the mainland. It was either sleep there, or sleep outside. We were stuck.
Although I was certainly appalled by the treatment we received from this proprietor, I was able to have some compassion. It was the end of a very busy tourist season in his part of the world, and he probably really needed a break. Sound familiar?
I am not currently working at a business that serves tourists, but I have spent most of the 14 years I have lived in Moab Valley in various occupations designed to give our tourists a nice experience while they are here. At the end of each season, I was pretty tired. Although I don't remember a time when I treated a customer the way the hotel owner treated me, I certainly remember times when I wanted to. We all have days when we're not at our best, when we're tired of greeting people with a smile, or when we just need a break. Communicating effectively under stressful circumstances – a customer complaining, an employee blaming, a business owner raging – is one of the hardest things in the world for many of us. Even when we know it is vital to the success of our business, or to our sense of self, it is still a huge challenge. Here are some helpful hints:
Take a mental step back, and look at the big picture. Find a reason that is bigger than the success of your business – or your job security – to treat this person kindly, even if you know deep inside that they are wrong and you are right. After all, this is a human being you're talking to, who has a life that is much bigger than what you will ever see.
Accept responsibility for what you can. Remember that in the end, it is our own actions that we live with, not the actions of others. What is it that you have to do right now in order to look back on this conversation in a year and know that you did everything you could to make the situation right? If you never see this person again, how is it that you would like them to remember you? As kind? Mean? Compassionate? Unreasonable?
Develop a plan within your business or place of employment about how to handle difficult situations with customers. Practice scenarios ahead of time – before the problem walks through the front door.
You may be wondering what happened with the hotel owner. Well, the thing that finally appeased him was an offer to buy him a beer at the local pub. And although I contemplated leaving him a nasty note upon my departure from his establishment, I never did. Instead, we paid what we owed and thanked him for providing us with a nice room. And although I will probably never patronize his hotel again, I am grateful that he gave me something to write about, and an opportunity to practice compassion when I could have retaliated.
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I recently took a break from work and participated in a “volunteer vacation”: working for the National Park Service in Dinosaur National Monument to eradicate tamarisk and other invasive weeds from the Yampa River corridor. It was hard but rewarding work, and I got a very enjoyable 6-day river trip out of the deal, as well as a chance to think about my life back home in the context of the experience. Whitewater rafting is full of metaphors that apply to life and to work, but two in particular from this trip really caught my attention: the continuous whitewater in sections of the river, and the rate at which invasive species are altering the environment of the Yampa River , the desert southwest, and the planet. These phenomena made me think of one thing: the continuous and ever-increasing pace of change in our world.
Change is one of the only certainties in business. Whether positive or negative, exciting or scary, it is always present, and always at least a little bit stressful. As the sole proprietor of my consulting practice, I regard change as a blessing and a curse. When business is slow, that voice in my head says: “Be persistent. Be patient. Things will change.” When I am so busy with clients that I can't even see straight, or when I have a client whose business is changing faster than he can manage alone, I find myself doing mental marathons just trying to stay abreast of all the developments. Dealing with change is an art as much as it is a science.
Did I just say that dealing with change is a science? Actually, yes. Believe it or not, there are several folks who are considered change experts. They have conducted research, developed theories, and created models to make sense of the change process. Many are helpful for understanding change in a business. Here is one model created by a man named Walter Menninger:
Adapted by Alison Kennedy, Canyon Springs Consulting,
from Karl Menninger's Menninger Morale Curve , 1988
Huh?! What does that mean? Aah, this is the rub with models: figuring out how to apply them to real life. Basically, Menninger makes sense of change by tracking our level of optimism, which goes up and down over time according to where we are in a change process. If you had fun with the exercise in my last article, try this one:
Pick a change your business is going through right now, or one that happened recently that stirs up some emotion for you. See if you can track the change on the above model. Did you recently hire someone new that you thought was going to have a huge positive impact on your business (“uninformed optimism”), and now they aren't living up to you expectations (“informed pessimism”)? Did you recently start a retail store with a huge amount of enthusiasm (“uninformed optimism”), and now a lack of customers has got you down (“informed pessimism”), and you're considering quitting the whole thing (“crisis/checking out”)? Or, perhaps you have figured out ways (“hopeful realism”) to get more customers since that slump in business, you are watching your customer base steadily increase (“informed optimism”), and you are getting used to the ebb and flow of entrepreneurial life (“completion”).
Even positive change has its difficult and stressful moments, which is why things that we consider “success”, like a promotion, a significant increase in income, and getting a new business partner, cause anxiety and even depression for many people. A promotion means that you are no longer “one of the guys” at work, a significant increase in income presents a new set of problems of how to protect the new money you have, and a partnership means letting go of the ease of being able to make decisions independently.
Learning how to track change can help you handle it better, and make you less afraid of both success and failure. If you can view the “high” of success and the “low” of failure as two parts of a continuous process of change, and two opportunities for learning and growth, you can approach change in a more prepared and balanced way. This will help you move through change more quickly and cleanly, and in a way that will have the best impact on you, your employees, and your business. Good luck!
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Ten Tips For Women Leaders
- Trust your intuition. You are a woman, after all. Your intuition – gut feelings, inner knowing, what have you – is your wisest teacher, and is like a guide down the best path in the moment. The challenge is to then learn from the outcomes or consequences of your choice.
- Mentor a teenager. Being a mentor to a young woman reminds us to be conscientious of the ways in which we interact as leaders with our world. It compels us to examine the values that we want to be teaching the next generation of women leaders, which in turn helps us to act with awareness and choice in our leadership roles.
- Ask for what you need. Independence is not always a virtue. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is an indicator of respect for the abilities of those around you, and an awareness that teams of people working together can accomplish more than the same number of people working alone towards the same goal.
- Take a little time to quiet your mind at work every day. Our work days can be full of challenges that can confuse us, or cause us to make reactionary decisions. Slow down, breathe, stretch, meditate, or do anything that will calm your nerves and focus your thoughts.
- Share successes and challenges with other women leaders. We share many of the same experiences, and can learn from each other. Join a leadership education group, or swap informal coaching sessions with friends.
- Play on your own team. In other words, work hard to be gentle with yourself when you make mistakes. If you can view your errors as golden opportunities for growth and learning, you will strengthen your skills more quickly.
- Educate yourself about diversity issues, particularly the prejudices women leaders face in the workplace today. Not only will this help you to be more supportive of others with whom you interact, it will also help you to feel more compassion for yourself.
- Take care of your health. Work is not the only thing in life. Pursue goals and interests that have nothing to do with your job, and don't take your work home with you. You will perform better as a leader if you are exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and attending to your emotional and spiritual well-being.
- Cultivate diverse relationships in your community. This strengthens your ability to both lead and follow those with different lifestyles, values, and opinions than your own. It also helps us clarify who we are when we interact with people we view as different from ourselves.
10. Encourage acts of leadership from those you lead. Great leaders cultivate the ability of their followers to take initiative when and where they can. Support them in taking risks by taking them yourself, in ways that they can observe. This will help them gain self-confidence, and will increase their trust for you as their leader.
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The Telluride Watch
Moab-Based Consulting Firm Offers 'Therapy for Businesses'
By Martinique Davis
Recently, the owner of a small business faced a crisis. She was approaching retirement age and needed to sell the company, but it was in no shape to sell. Low employee morale, low levels of productivity and a high degree of stress were rampant in the workplace. The outlook for the business was grim, but rather than throwing her hands up in surrender and postponing her retirement, the owner called on the help of a professional, Alison Kennedy of Moab-based Canyon Springs Consulting.
Kennedy is a change management consultant and executive coach trained to guide businesses and organizations through change and into success. After a series of meetings and consultations between the business owner, employees and Kennedy, the business emerged with a new roadmap for reaching its goals - as well as a renewed sense of optimism for its retirement-seeking owner.
Kennedy explains a cut-and-dried version of her service: "First there is a diagnostic process that happens when I begin working with a business, where I help business leaders address their main concerns. Through that process, I help uncover any other underlying issues that are keeping that business from reaching its full potential. Then, after meeting with other members of the organization and establishing company-wide goals, I help facilitate any actions that need to be taken to realize those goals."
Although the services Kennedy offers are, in reality, much more comprehensive than the process described above, the basis of her company can be summed up simply as "therapy for businesses."
"No matter what issues leaders determine as their goals - whether it is increasing income, quantity or quality -those are all goals that can generally be reached through examining the human behavioral issues within the company," she says. "In most instances, those behavioral issues are tied directly to the financial success of the business."
Struggling businesses from around the Four Corners area have found an ally in Kennedy, whose expertise in helping organizations recognize their often invisible stumbling blocks has lead to the rejuvenation of many regional companies. Through services such as executive coaching, training design and implementation, conflict mediation, meeting and retreat facilitation, and strategic planning, Kennedy is able to help businesses save time and money, improve communication, make decisions that are sustainable, improve teamwork, and - above all - reach their goals.
Kennedy, who moved to the Moab area 14 years ago after receiving an undergraduate degree in behavioral therapy from Arizona 's Prescott College, says her interest in instigating effective and productive routes for small businesses emerged from her personal experience workingfor a number of small businesses and non-profit organizations in the Four Corners area. She witnessed first hand organizations whose employees were drained and demoralized, resources were scarce, change was slow, and turnover was high. Kennedy began to wonder if those organizations could in fact become more efficient and fun to work at if they could only address some of the fundamental problems negatively affecting staff, the work environment and ultimately their bottom line.
"While I was working at some of those businesses, I found my attention turning to why some of these problems were arising, and how they could be solved," she says.
Seeing a potential career path that she knew she would enjoy, she decided to pursue an MA in Applied Behavioral Science, with an emphasis in Coaching and Consulting in Organizations, at the Leadership Institute of Seattle . She is now an independent consultant and coach, working since 2003 to create excellent leaders, healthy workplaces and talented organizations. Kennedy also plays an important volunteer role in her Moab community, as president of the board of directors for the newly founded Moab Teen Center ; a member of the Moab Chamber of Commerce; and as a founding member of the Moab Business Alliance.
Kennedy's company, Canyon Springs Consulting, is the only such company offering these types of services in the Four Corners region. She admits that although this type of service is much more common in larger cities and urban areas, small businesses based in resort-type communities like Moab and Telluride can also benefit from her consulting services.
"Every project I do is different," she says. "All of my work is customized and collaborative, involves as many people as possible in the organization and is tailored to the specific needs of the people with whom I am working." Leaders and employees work together with Kennedy to make decisions about what needs to be done, and therefore, she says, changes resulting from that work will be successful and sustainable.
Not all of the work that Kennedy does involves major organizational change, however. She has been called upon for smaller tasks as well, such as facilitating retreats for boards of directors, giving presentations and trainings, coaching managers to work better with their teams, and helping supervisors and employees resolve conflict. However, she cautions, many issues that appear small and isolated can actually be symptoms of a larger problem existing elsewhere in the organization.
"I'm kind of like a doctor," says Kennedy. "I work with the organization to diagnose what's going on before I recommend a treatment."
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