What type of leader are you?

I often teach leadership and management courses and, inevitably, there are folks in my courses who believe that leadership skills are innate. Either you’ve got what it takes or you don’t to be a leader.

cartoon people carrying pieces to a puzzle
Good leaders are made!

I could not disagree more.

If you break down what it takes to be a good leader and/or manager, it comes down to a collection of tasks and skills that can be cultivated and improved upon over time. Yes, there will be some that will come more easily than others. I also firmly believe that, as leaders, we can build teams to compensate for our areas in need of growth. No one person is going to excel at everything, but by being mindful about creating teams with diversity of skill, thought process, and experience, we can build a team of leaders. 

A colleague recently shared this article with me… The Three Leadership Types in a Nimble Organization.  What stands out to me in this article is the notion that leadership and the opportunity for leadership can and must come from all levels within an organization. 

I couldn’t agree more.

My take away, though, is to take these three archetypes into consideration as I build future teams for every global health team must be nimble and prepared for just about any twist or turn that our changing world throws at them. 

Would you like to bring leadership and management training to your team or organization? If so, please reach out and let’s make it happen! You can read about what I did for the CDC here!


Time Blocking for Productivity

If you are like me, you likely have a lot to accomplish every day and it can often feel like there is not enough time in the day to do it all. 

I often use time-blocking as a time-economizing, concentration-boosting trick. It is a simple technique that helps me stay focused on the task at hand and, as such, check more off of my to-do list. 

Example of time blocking
Time blocking

My approach:

First things first, the to-do list is a critical element to the success of this technique. I am a big fan of and heavy user of the app-based to-do list called ToDoist.  It allows for items to turn up on your list every day, every month on the 13th or every month on the third Thursday of the month, every-other-day and probably a ton of other customizable options. For me, this was a game changer. I have reminders programmed for weekly tasks like writing this blog, annual tasks like renewing business licenses, and daily activities like exercising. 

The key to time blocking is to have a robust to-do list where you can see like tasks. For example, you would have a block where you’d respond to emails. Another block could be used for any phone calls you need to make or appointments you need to schedule. For me, a big block of time each day always goes to writing. 

Next, consider the best time to do each of the types of work. For me, starting the day out with exercise energizes me and sets the stage for a productive day. I also find that my creative energies are flowing best in the morning and afternoons are a good time for tasks that require less brainpower. 

By combining like tasks, you use less mental energy shifting how you think and what you are seeking to execute. For me, it it ensures I am working according to my priorities and the priorities of my clients. 

What’s your approach?

How do you make the most of your day? 

The power of deep work

If you’re like me, it is tremendously challenging to carve out time for so-called “deep work” while at work. Deep work almost seems mythical and elusive to me, at times. In one particularly intense role, I would “save” my challenging work and work that requires deep thinking or problem solving for the weekends when I could have some quiet time. Not ideal at all.

At other times, I do my very best to set myself up for deep work by closing my email and turning off notifications (all those chat notifications!!) on my computer and phone. In particularly busy periods where I’ve had several contracts I was working on simultaneously, I used online tools to block certain websites, mostly websites where I can waste a lot of time, in order to limit my temptation for distraction.  When I can get into that mode, it seems nearly magical. The ability to think. Just think. Seems like a rarely offered gift

In my work as a curriculum designer, I like to think through an exercise and imagine how it would play out in a training setting. I think about how people will move around a room or virtual space. What materials I might want and if the use of those materials would be feasible and not too cumbersome for the facilitator? I do all of that thinking before I even put my fingers on a keyboard to write out instructions that match my vision. 

The evidence is abundantly clear that we are more effective, more productive, and less stressed out if we have the ability to single-task (as opposed to multitask).  How can we make it happen?

Deep work tips:

Mark Twain once wrote that “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” For me, if I am going to tackle something that requires deep thinking, my motivation, energy, and ability to pay attention are all at their height at the start of my work day.  If at all possible, I try to schedule my intense work for the morning hours.

Luckily, I have control over my schedule, when I take meetings, and the structure of my day.. When I have found myself at the will of others or in particularly meeting-heavy roles, I have found that communicating about what I need to accomplish  and how I will best accomplish is usually well accepted and understood. My coworkers are usually amenable to rescheduling or shuffling the day around.

I know I can forget that I also can say “no” to meetings. It seems nearly radical. Perhaps even more radical in a remote environment.  Instinctually, we want to “prove” that we are at work and doing what we should be doing.  Yet, we have to be careful to not mistake busyness to being productive.

As a manager, I have also tried to give the gift of deep work to my team. In my last role, I blocked off Friday afternoons as quiet time. It was meant to be meeting-free time where we did not expect immediate responses to queries or requests. Plus, we were all working way more than we should have been. This gave my team permission to leave before the official end of the work day if they were able to. 

Tell me about you!

What are your tips for deep work? How do you make it happen in your busy life? Do you work virtually? How do you manage to keep focused when household distractions abound? No judgement, I frequently do dishes and fold laundry while in meetings! Would love to hear from you!

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

I was recently reminded of this great TED Talk by Simon Sinek called Why good leaders make you feel safe.  Good leaders

In his talk, he suggests that when the right environment is created, we are all capable of doing remarkable things and acting in great service to others. He attributes trust and cooperation to building that great environment.

I have found that, perhaps oddly, when I’ve worked in really fast paced environments (ie: disasters, pandemics, epidemics), the tolerance for mistakes is higher. We know that we are making decisions quickly and not everything will go right. But, in some ways, that increases the trust and feeling of safety. It allows for honest conversation. It encourages people to ask for help.

psychological safety at work
How do you create safety in your workplace?

But, how do you do you build a sense of safety? Simon proposes some suggestions, have a listen!


What are your thoughts?

Who do you look up to as good leaders?

How do you make your team feel safe?

Or, in your own heart, what could you be doing to increase that level of safety and security?  

Interested in bringing management training to your team? Reach out! See what I can do for you here!

Love as a Force for Social Justice

Poverty. Death. Illness. Repression. Injustice.  These are the issues of global health. It is what we confront, among a laundry list of others, as a part of our daily work and as a part of our mission.

Behind all of that is such beauty and joy and resilience…it is breathtaking at times!  I remember being at a hospital in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic. A child who was orphaned due to Ebola had been admitted. She had been found after being alone for god knows how long.  She had illness on top of illness; she was skin and bones.

Everything about what happened next, though, was a story of community and care. I saw a nurse at the hospital draw his own blood to donate to her. Two women unofficially adopted her and ensured that she was fed, diapered, clothed.  She steadily made progress that some would call miraculous.  And right before I left, the sign of her true recovery was that she led the ward, providers, visitors, and patients alike, in a jubilant dance party!

The love behind each and every action in this story is motivating. From the community health worker who found her and overcame his fear to bring her to the hospital. To the hospital workers who stayed in their roles when so many others fled out of fear.  From the nurse who donated his blood. To the women who gave of their time and resources.

The great Ann Firth Murray at Stamford University is renowned for her work in global health, in particular, she was the founder of the Global Fund for Women.  In her long career, she has borne witness to tremendous suffering and injustice.  She developed a course called Love as a Force for Social Justice to investigate using love as a violence elimination tool. Elimination of violence against women drives her body of work..  I highly recommend it as a morale boost and an anti-burn-out tool.  You can read an interview with her about the course here.

In the course, she explores several nonviolent movements, from Gandhi’s Salt March to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, in order to demonstrate how love and commitment can be transformational. She also taps into neuroscience, biology, and psychology to make her points (the science-minded side of me liked that!).

In our work, we often talk about human rights, empathy, accompaniment, commitment, humility….but we rarely talk about love as a force for change.  I wonder why.  Is it weak? Out of place? Unprofessional?

Martin Luther King, Jr, once not-so-famously said that “justice is love in calculation. Justice is love working against anything that stands against love. Standing beside love is always justice.”  Cornel West said, more famously, “justice is what love looks like in public”.So, with love being so foundational to so many social movements and so intrinsically tied with justice, maybe it is time for a small change that would allow a tsunami of changes to come.

New Year’s Resolution? Make it stick

It is now the beginning of April — if you are like the masses, you likely have not been keeping up with your New Year’s resolution.

The reason why, that habits are hard to create and then sustain, is an excellent lesson for instructional design and teaching. 

We think of the mind as a bottomless vessel that can continue to be filled throughout life. Instructors also tend to teach in accordance to that bias. We feed participants and students a near endless stream of information and expect it to “stick”. 

Shockingly, it often doesn’t. 

So, I offer you two training tips that should help to make things stick and to help with training-room-management. 

Training Tips: Make it stick

  1. Allow time and space for participants to grapple with the information in new and novel ways. This is key. My go-to for curriculum design is to think about a cycle of teach/lecture, group engagement, solo engagement, small-group engagement. The teaching and lecturing should be as brief as possible and serve as a way of introducing new content. The rest is a mix of activity that allows for connections to be made between what is being presented and previous experience and the insight and knowledge of one’s peers. When I facilitate a training, it often moves along at quite a clip so that engagement stays incredibly high and the ways of learning are diversified. 
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Here are a few ways to allow for repetition that don’t feel, well, repetitive. 
    • At the start of each lesson, I give a summary of what I covered previously. Better yet, I engage the learners in an activity where they recall and build upon the material. 
    • Write a summary email after a training with a few of the key takeaways. Provide an additional way for readers to engage with the content like a video, article, or discussion prompts. 
    • Quiz games and activities. In a recent role, I trained contact tracers on COVID protocols. As you can imagine, as protocols evolved, it could be tough to keep track of the protocols and what changed. I introduced daily quiz games for the team. They were optional, quick, usually less than 5 minutes, and provided a fun way to reinforce learning and highlight where participants need reinforcement. (Fun addition, we also found out who our most competitive team members were!)

Are you looking to develop a training or even a series of meetings for your team? Could you use some help in jazzing it up? Would an outside designer or facilitator be helpful? Well, look no further! Please reach out so I can help you make your training “stick”. 


Adam Grant: Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

Adam Grant wrote Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.

I’ve often witnessed an amazing power in collaboration around brainstorming and great ideas. It is amazing when it happens and has led to some of the best work in which I’ve participated.  At times, though, managers will need to nudge their teams along when it comes to brainstorming. We’ve all avoided sharing the dumb idea or suggesting something tried before.

This talk by Adam Grant about the Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers and the accompanying discussion guide may help you to appreciate how your team may process their ideas, come up with creative ideas, and communicate about those ideas.

In global health, we strive to be innovative and come up with creative approaches to solving complex health issues.  It is a task with significant weight–truly lives are on the line.

Might you be up for leading your team in a discussion about creativity and original thinking?  Hopefully we can help to support the creativity of our teams and help to grow comfort in thinking about the same old problems in new sorts of ways.

PS: The Lean In website has lots of great resources that you can use. I am a fan of the discussion guides that can be used to guide our teams through difficult conversations or to help set team norms.

PPS: I used some of Grant’s ideas as inspiration for the training I did for CDC Haiti. I can do the same for you!

Here’s more info about Grant

Furthermore, Adam Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for 7 straight years. In addition, as an organizational psychologist, he is a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning, rethink assumptions, and live more generous and creative lives. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s 40 under 40. 

The Power of Empathy

Four circles of different colors with the word "empathy" running through them.

Team-building. Empathy.Empathy as a team building approach

We work in a climate of ever evolving innovation, best practices, and clinical knowledge.  It is charged time, indeed, to work in global health. All of that change, even positive change, however, can also usher in a sense of being untethered or a perception that change happens on a whim among our teams. The power of empathy.

When change comes, we often prepare our teams in terms of the changes in work-streams, new organizational structures, new funding codes and the like.  How often do we take an empathetic, rather than strictly practical, approach to managing change among our teams? In other words, how do you use empathy as a team building approach?

What if you took a proactive approach and talk about empathy within your team? Perhaps you can share and discuss this short video by the great Brené Brown as a starting point:

Consider the following questions to spark conversation with your team:

      • Brené Brown talks about four key practices related to empathy, perspective-taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotions in others, and communicating about them. How do we, as a team, undertake those practices? How might we work to improve our practice of empathy?
      • When is it easiest for us, as a team, to practice empathy? When is it most challenging?
      • What does Brown mean by “empathy is feeling with people”?
      • Have you ever had someone approach a problem with “at least…”? How did that make you feel?

As you consider an upcoming change, for example, a new hire or new funder, consider taking an empathetic approach to how you message and manage the change. Your team may be richer because of it.

If you would like support managing that change, please do reach out. I would love to help.

Interested in reading more on empathy? Check out this post on Love as a Force for Social Justice. 

Effective Meetings

A great resource for running effective meetings can be find in this aptly titled article: How to Run a Meeting.

I’d like to draw your attention to the part regarding the functions of a meeting. In the meeting agenda, I encourage being specific about your agenda items in terms of what you wish to accomplish. The functions of a meeting can help you with that. Do you want to decide? Brainstorm? Review? Reflect? Spell it out. In doing so, your meeting purpose will be clearer and you’ll help your attendees better prepare for the meeting.
I particularly like that this article emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining a sense of the team in each meeting. 
The article also gives tips on how to seat people for meetings, how to draw out those who may not be contributing fully, and reign in those who may be dominating. All in all, it gives great suggestions and tips!
What are some suggestions you have for running effective meetings? I just read about how the Dropbox IT team deleted nearly all meetings from Dropbox employees’ calendars (except for those that were with customers). It gave their team a moment to pause and decide if a meeting was needed or the best means of solving a problem, communicating, or brainstorming. Interesting and very bold idea!
Share your tips for effective meetings in the comments!
PS: Looking for more insight on how meetings can disrupt deep work? Read more here.

Managers as Coaches

Managers as coaches! What an idea!
“The single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching“. What do you think about that bold statement? In the past, I have held positions where many of direct reports were fairly new to the workforce. I spent a lot of my time coaching them on elements of their job– from the importance of record keeping to writing professional emails. In the end, they knew that they could always come to me for help which, for me, was the true sign of a strong team. I’ve also spent a lot of my professional career supporting managers and turning them into managers as coaches. 
If you are looking to build your skills, here is a free online course on Managing as a Coach.  If that goes well for you, consider taking the entire specialization that it is a part of: Become a Better Manager.    Overwhelmed by the idea of taking the whole course? Feel free to pick and choose according to your needs. 
What have YOU done to become a better coach?
Managers as coaches training: Ranomafana, Madagascar, 2016

Read more about my management trainings here!