Ugly Christmas Sweater

About ten years ago, my son asked if he could borrow one of my Christmas sweaters. There was a basketball game that evening, and the student section was all going to wear ugly Christmas sweaters. I said sure, and showed him the storage bag where I kept my sweaters. After digging through a bit, he pulled out a festive cardigan and said, “This is perfect!” Somewhat surprised by the sweater he picked, I commented that his choice was not an ugly sweater. I can still see the somewhat pitying look in his eyes as he said, “Yes, Mom. It is.” Oh…

Here is what I have decided about my Christmas sweaters — which I purchased to look festive, not to draw snickers from my children or their friends . . . Long after my initial purchase, I was still seeing the sweaters with the same eyes I used when I bought them. Styles may have changed (a lot), but I still saw that cute Santa sweater as a fun way to celebrate the holidays. 

Hmmm . . . maybe as this year draws to a close, it is a good time to review our leadership strategies to see if there are any ugly Christmas sweaters hidden (at least to our eyes) in plain sight.   

Are you still getting feedback from your people in the same way you did 10 years ago? Or in the way that is most comfortable to you? Have you asked your people how they would like to share their ideas so you can build maximum engagement?

  • Are you clinging to a level of formality, or rigidity, or hierarchical structure that might need a refresh? Especially after this past year, when so much in our lives was turned on end, are there adaptations that it would be helpful to retain in the long term?
  • Are there “sacred cows” in your organizations that may need to be held up to the scrutiny of today’s variables and realities — to be viewed with a fresh lens?
  • Are you willing to ask your people what practices need to be adapted, or ended altogether, in your organization? Chances are, your people will see opportunities, or ugly sweaters, that you simply aren’t seeing.

I’m not suggesting that you need to totally upend your leadership approach, or act on every idea that is offered to you. However, the exercise just might help you see some of your practices with new eyes.

By the way, this week I received my annual picture of my now adult son donning my (now his) ugly Christmas sweater. It is good to know that it continues to bring holiday cheer to others, years later and miles away.

Wishing you and yours a blessed holiday season . . . ugly Christmas sweaters optional.


water in glass

It has been well established that one important factor in maintaining overall health is to stay well hydrated. Just as water keeps a plant from withering away, our bodies need water to function at their peak. Have you ever noticed, however, that sometimes we don’t notice how thirsty we really are until we drink a bit of water and then realize we are absolutely parched? That’s why you need to hydrate at regular intervals rather than waiting until you feel thirsty. The same need for regular hydration applies to “leadership health.”

Leaders need to hydrate their mind. Taking in new ideas, new knowledge, keeps your mind vital and functioning at its peak. Books, articles, Ted talks, conferences, conversations with people who see the world differently than you do … there are so many ways to keep your mind from becoming dry and brittle. Just like neglecting to drink enough water, it is easy to convince ourselves that our mind isn’t thirsty. We have enough ideas, what we are doing is working just fine, and besides we have no time for all that stuff. Really? Drink in some new knowledge. You just might be amazed at how thirsty you really are.

Leaders also need to hydrate their relationships. I’m not talking about interacting with people at agenda-laden meetings. Those might build respect, but they don’t build relationships. Relationships come from unstructured time spent with people. You need to drink in the opportunities to interact informally, both with work colleagues and personal friends. You need the time and space to ask questions and have spontaneous conversations that allow you to “be real” with people, in both deep and light-hearted ways. Ignoring this thirst is perhaps the quickest route to becoming a dry, crispy, lonely, leader.

Leaders need to hydrate their heart and soul. In the midst of the, at times, scorching responsibilities of leading, it is critical that leaders don’t try to just sweat it out. When you feel like you can least afford it is when it is most important to carve out time to replenish your “why,” to make sure it doesn’t quietly wilt away. What grounds you? What drives you? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Prayer, soaking in the wonder of nature, reflection, time spent with family and friends, interacting with a child … there are as many ways to quench this thirst, to nourish your heart and soul, as there are individuals. Just make sure you do it, whatever “it” is for you.

So you want to remain in this leadership gig for the long haul? Hydrate your body, yes, but also make sure you replenish your mind, your relationships, and your heart and soul. Starting today, take the time and drink it in!

Mirrors and Windows

Woman Standing By Bedroom Window And Opening Curtains

Recently I was flipping through the channels on television and ran across a makeover show. The episode started with an individual dressed in (my opinion) outlandish attire who described the image she thought she portrayed. The host then showed a picture of the person to a series of individuals on the street and asked their impression. No surprise, the observations of others were much different than the individual’s perception of themselves.

It’s easy to look at someone else and chuckle at their apparent lack of self-awareness of how they come across . . . but what about you? When it comes to perceptions of your leadership style, do you spend more time looking in the mirror, thinking it’s a clear reflection, or do you open the window to feedback from others on how they see you as a leader.

We all have blind spots. Not intentionally, of course, but we know what we intend to portray and that is the frame of reference we start from in “seeing” ourselves. It is our mirror, and it usually reflects back what we are looking to see. Windows, now, are a different thing entirely. They don’t reflect, rather they are designed to let you see through, and the view can be totally different. I remember a time when members of my leadership team took a behavioral assessment, and each person’s “results” were shared with the entire team. In discussing the assessments, I made the comment that I thought most of mine was on the mark except one specific aspect that didn’t seem accurate. Almost in unison, my team responded, “Yes it does!” Hmmm . . . that was an unexpected but enlightening view from the window. Guess my mirror wasn’t entirely clear after all.

The tricky part about getting a clear view from the window is that people have to feel safe enough to share their perceptions of your leadership. If everyone reflects back to you the exact image you have of yourself, it’s possible that they are cautiously holding up a mirror rather than opening up a window that might let in a bit of fresh air. How can you tell the difference? Ask the right person. Come on, you know who will tell you want you want to hear and who, if truly given permission, will honestly share what they see.

The goal, of course is for the view to be the same whether reflected the mirror, or seen through the window. The best way to accomplish that? Start with the window.