Innovating Your Leadership for Rapid Change – Maureen Metcalf

Hi and welcome to “Women Who Lead.” Okay think about this for a minute, how are you innovating your approach to leadership? No, I’m not talking about how you innovate a product nor a service, nor innovating your organization for that matter. I’m talking about how are you continually evolving and changing the very thing that you do to lead others, at the same rate of change as the marketplace in which you’re operating. Now that’s a tough question. And one in which my guest this week has spent 30 years researching and practicing, coaching, teaching and developing others, her name is Maureen Metcalf. Maureen is the author of nine book series of Innovative Leadership. She is the CEO of Metcalf and associates. She’s an international book author award winner and she is the host of Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations on VoiceAmerica. Indeed she is an expert. And, I’m glad that she spent the time with me this week to tell me about what she’s discovered as how do leaders innovate their approach to leadership. Let’s listen in on my conversation with this fascinating woman – Maureen Metcalf.

Tune In - Women Who Lead

Lesley:  Well welcome, Maureen, and you are a significant coach and mentor in the leadership arena. And so I’d like to know, how do you describe the rate of change to the people that you coach and mentor?


Maureen:  Lesley it’s a delight to be here, thank you for including me. Yeah, our content focuses on helping leaders innovate how the lead and that is exactly in response to the rate of change. So as we listen to people like Ray Kurzweil, who’s the chief engineer at Google, he talks about the rate of change in this century being 20 thousand times. Well, it wasn’t the last century – that’s technology change. But think about the beginning of cars to people living on space stations. And we think nothing of many of us have been getting on a plane and going to a business meeting halfway around the world, a hundred years ago that was not even conceivable. So now, think about that shift and what email has done to our lives and mobile phones. And how much memory and capacity I have now on my device— in my hand— that President of the United States didn’t have 20 years ago, with regard to access to information. So think about the next hundred years and how that rate of change will change our lives and what those changes will mean.  

Lesley:  So let me ask you this. I am sitting here and listening to this show and I have an online business let’s say in social media.  And as I’m listening to this, what is it that I should be thinking about practically right now to start embracing this phenomenal amount of speed and complexity of change?


Maureen:  Let’s say especially if you have a business in social media, you are ready probably tech-savvy but staying ahead of the curve with regard to emerging trends. So I really need to be looking out on the horizon probably further than other people are and capturing the advantage that I get by being ahead of the crowd, because the feel to shifting so quickly that following the pack won’t differentiate me. So, with that, because the resilience I have to have to make those be constantly on edge and ahead of the crowd.


Lesley:  So let’s talk about that because we tend to see the future based on our past and present experience. So, what is it about and what are the specific elements or the skills that a leader has to have to be able to not be trapped by visioning an extension or even a modified difference in the future and actually gets out of their pattern and looks at it from another perspective? How do you help people do that?


Maureen:  You know, the thing I do is read futurist’s publications pretty regularly. I happen to like— from the Arlington Institute—the FUTUREdetion a newsletter, it’s free, they do ask for donations which is reasonable. There are other futurists and names are going to escape me right now, but really good ones that I tend to pay attention to on a regular basis just to add it into my ongoing reading. So FUTUREdition comes as an e-newsletter every two weeks. I have to say I don’t read it every time. I don’t even read the headlines every time, but as much as I can I’ll at least skim or pick a couple of topics that are relevant and dive deeper into that. And what they do is they scan a lot of leading publications in different arenas, and talk about the changes that are happening across those different fields. So it really gives me a sense of what is likely to be happening, and from there I’m kind of thinking about scenarios. I look at the scenarios that are probable and I prepare for those.


Lesley:  So what I’m thinking here is that, what if I’m a leader who’s got, you know, I’m around the 4-million dollar mark. I’ve got, let’s say, it’s in hard goods, and I’m saying to you, “Oh my gosh, I’m struggling to stay alive today. How is it even possible for me to look out there into that vista and see myself surviving?” How do you deal with that type of struggle?


Maureen:  These are tough because we’re talking real people, trying to make a living and being good citizens. And biggest fear for business owners is often, “How do I make sure all of the families who depend on me are cared for?” They meet their mortgages and those things. And so, as a leader, I keep coming back to resilience. This stuff is hard, it is in cases emotionally difficult because I do feel like people are depending on me and my bad decisions or even good decisions that things go wrong impact a lot of people. So, being able to be present, be resilient, so that I’m not distracted by the things that can go wrong and really focusing on allotting of certain amount of time as to one. So if wait until the end of the day, I’m not going to get it done. So Monday morning, what’s my hour of research and planning time as an example?


Lesley:  Yes I got to schedule that in. At the bottom line, I’ve got to believe that I have control over my destiny that I still have the power to affect that future. And so you’ve used the word “resilience” a few times, and let’s just dig in to that for a moment. On a practical basis, how do I know how resilient I am?


Maureen:  So this is going to sound like promotional but we have a resilience survey on our website, it’s free. I really encourage people to take it because it gives you at least a high level evaluation, and we look at resilience in four categories. So the stuff we know, “Am I actually getting enough sleep eating well, managing my caffeine?” And things we know are, “If I am sleep deprived, my ability to perform is that of a drunk person.” So, at a minimum, although I overschedule myself so much that folks that know me realize I don’t always do what say. And so the second is managing my thinking. And we now have mindfulness, and meditation, and different practices emerging to help us build skills and managing my inside conversation and my brain. So by doing these practices, I don’t think a thing of going to the gym or do thousand steps a day but I don’t do the same for my insides, and so my brain’s flabby and my body’s muscular. How do we flip that and stop being muscular, but how do we add to that five to ten minutes of mindfulness or traditional meditation a day to begin to build on that capacity to just bring our minds into focus.


Lesley:  Yes. So managing my thinking and knowing much I am the controller of my thought process. So, knowing that and taking it into full consideration my physical well-being, what are the two other areas?


Maureen:  The third is having a sense of purpose and emotional intelligence. So, emotional intelligence kind of comes back to managing my thinking but I am aware of myself. And this is I think for leaders one of the foundational areas, right, that I know what I am and what I stand for. That helps me put the little stuff aside mostly, but I’m aware of my thinking and I’m aware how it impacts my thinking and my feelings. And as leaders we call this the soft stuff, and yet there are hardcore processes to manage it. And if I’m not, it impacts me physiologically and it is as contagious as sneezing on people. We consider it bad manners to walk around and sneeze, and cough and not cover our mouths, but we don’t necessarily have the same expectation for letting my emotions see doubt and contaminate everyone around me.


Lesley:  Exactly. So if I’m facing a crisis in my business now, I will be taxed right? I won’t be sleeping. I will find myself doubting myself so that self-talk, that self-critical, I will find myself so tensed that my own emotional ability to even deal with a small stuff – as you say – is not there. And my mind is just not able to control all this, so where do I start? Where do I start the process of building this resilience?


Maureen:  As much as we can, bring basic sleep back online. And I’ve realized that’s a fantasy for some people, right? It’s not just going to happen. The thing I can do is managing my thinking, so five minutes of negative thinking causes six hours of physiological impact. So think about a time you’re driving your car and you’re almost hit, and you swerve and yet your hands tighten, adrenaline rushes into your body, and your whole body feels exhausted after that rush of adrenaline. We do microburst of that every time we have negative thoughts and then don’t return to balance. So, one of the things is that the self-awareness is, “I am now paying more attention to my thoughts, and when they go negative I bring them back.” For some of us, “Okay, I’ve got to process this and we stomp around and we do whatever we need to do in private so that we can process through it, running, punching bag, any of those things.” And then part of the antidote for me is gratitude. So even in the worst of challenges, remembering that, “Challenge is normal, it builds my capacity. Yes I don’t like it. Yes it’s annoying and all of those expletives that we attach to it, and yet it is part of a normal life. So how do I buck up, march through it and find what is good in my life even in the face of what can feel life and thing.” Because at those moments, our brains go into more of the primitive thinking, something goes wrong and it feels like you will never get better again. Injecting logic and not going nuclear for one, right, just silencing that part of our brain as to think, “If this doesn’t work out, my life is over.


Lesley:  Yes. And so, you know, I want to just talk about that because of how we actually frame the situation. One of the things that I think we do it our clients is if, how do we reframe this to think of this differently so we could come out at. And so, when I decided to open in albergues in Portugal, I had no clue what I was doing – none, none, none, none, none. And so, what I decided was to think of it as an experiment. And this is similar to what you say about the mind of a leader as a scientist, because what that does is that it stops putting the pressure on. If I say to myself, “I’m going to open the doors and operate a successful albergues, the moment I begin and it’s just going to go la-ti-da like the rest of the things in my career, I’m setting myself up.” But if I think of it as an experiment to try different things, then this is what starts to give me license to play.

Maureen:  Beautiful example. So, I haven’t talked in this interview about mind of a scientist, let me go back and just say briefly. For me, the difference is moving from traditional leadership which is what got us here, lots of good components to being traditional. So the question is what now in this world where we’re facing multiple concurrent changes, is taking on the mind of a scientist rather than as a leader? I have to know all the answers. Now, as a leader, I can’t know all the answers. And as you’ve pointed out we take on things we have no idea, and in some cases they’ve not been done before, right? We are now called to self-problems that aren’t documented, aren’t charted. So, I’m not going to get it right, I’m going to get it directionally correct. So, as a leader, I formulate a hypothesis. I conduct good experiments. I get directionally right and I am open to constant refining. And to your point about resilience, when I take off the table that I need to be perfect the way I relate to what I’m doing, the way other people relate, it’s not life and death. I’m not making the decision for the next decade. I’m making the decision for the next year.


Lesley:  Yes exactly. So, do you have an example of a client that you’ve had, who did this and reframed their thinking from that of a traditional leader to that of a scientist and what happened as a result of that?


Maureen:  Um I do. So one ran a traditional IT business and they were looking and going to more of a managed service business, so they segregated off part of their existing clientele and changed the offerings. Did a minimal investment, for them they leased space but it was a short term lease. They moved one of their general managers to run that practice who is incredibly well-suited, and they minimized the upfront investment as you would expect. Trying to use as much as had, they did invest in branding in this new space because they were trying to attract a very different clientele and a different image. So there was a separate name, separate branding, and that business ended up being hugely successful now. What I say hugely successful, they ended up spinning off from the early corporation and functioning quite differently, but that experiment gave them the foundation and they had something to adjust from.


Lesley:  You know, that’s a really great example. And I think what it does is it makes us realize that the baby steps that we can take are really directionally were on the path, but baby steps teach us every day what’s the next possible step that we can do to expand this innovation that we’re initiating. And so, how do you help people for making that grand leap? You know, in ten years I’m going to be here and I’m going to full gusto to that end-goal, when in fact I need to really reframe what I want to achieve but then take it in those kinds of bite-size pieces that are going to be successful.


Maureen:  That’s where I call myself as much a business advisor or leadership advisor as I am a coach probably more so. So it’s working with clients on an ongoing basis as a thought partner. What is the biggest problem you’re facing this week? What’s the best way to frame it, and how do we move it forward? And with that client, I was heavily involved throughout the process in selecting the general manager in helping select the branding, in selecting the space. So, I was ultimately involved in the entire process and having someone who is external, who is committed differently. So, yes, my paycheck doesn’t depend on it, but boy does my reputation depend on it.


Lesley:  Well it would definitely.


Maureen:  Right. So, an external who is connected differently has a different emotional response, and also a set of different experiences, because I do this across abroad range of organizations. I can apply my experience doing this a hundred times with someone who’s done what they’ve done, who has deep knowledge of their industry and their context which I won’t have.


Lesley:  Well, you know, it is a partnership. And I think that what I’ve found really works especially in small business for CEO is they put together an advisory team of people who are from totally different experiences, totally different industries. And he or she doesn’t have to call it a board of directors, it’s not that. It is really an innovation panel, where you use it as a sounding board. You are structuring it because you meet maybe quarterly, maybe you want to even meet monthly. But the thing is that you have a discipline about creating some type of grouping or sounding board system that gets you thinking about ideas and then get ready for testing them.


Maureen:  I love that idea. And the innovation panel then is a way to tangiblize this “I’ve been looking out on the horizon, I see something coming at me, but what do I do about it?”


Lesley:  Yes absolutely. And so, when you think about the clients that you have that are challenged by getting ready for this speed of change, what are the three pieces of advice that you find yourself giving over, and over, and over again because their areas that people are struggling to adapt to?


Maureen:  Interesting question. I need to probably take a minute to think about that. So, you know, I continually go back to resilience. So there’s the “What do I do to manage myself so that I am ready to manage my organization?” So that’s put on the air mask on yourself first when the plane goes down, that kind of concept. So, resilience, self-awareness for myself and be incredibly clear on my values, because those are the foundation for my decisions. But I want to make good financial decisions, but I also want to be able to live with them going forward. So if my values are my foundations, so that is a whole piece of know myself, manage myself, be able to read others and then the relationships. So, hardcore emotional intelligence but adding to that, the whole piece of “How do I lead.” And that’s really the pieces of being intellectually versatile, being a good thinker. I don’t know if people have heard the term “taking a balcony view,” so stepping out of the daily business really understanding my organization. And when I make a recommendation, people on the floor should not be saying “Oh my goodness, what the heck is she thinking?” I need to understand or be working with a team of people who understand the organization, so no one to pull people together. Understand the ins and outs of every part of our business. Understand our stakeholders so that we do have that ongoing culture of innovation.


Lesley: And so, when you are inside of these client experiences, what’s the timeframe that it normally take for a leader who is traditional in their approach to “I know the answers”? “I have to have the answers. I have to direct this organization to this type of scientist gathering information, realizing that there’s a lot of talent in the organization,” what’s this sort of transitional period that it takes for a leader to shift so dramatically their approach?


Maureen:  I’d say there were two parts to that, so there’s the behavior “I can act like a scientist but I don’t feel like a scientist. And that’s the difference between when someone asks me what to do, I remember the script. I’ve got a posted note on my laptop that says, “Don’t talk until you do this” and that’s pretty quick, it’s developing habits a few months probably. The second part is feeling different about myself. So most of us were raised that “As leaders, I am supposed to have the answer, that’s what I feel good about. I’m a firefighter, I fix problems.” Many of our identities are that, and how do I change my identity? That’s a lot longer journey.


Lesley:  Well, you know, it’s really interesting because I was schooled by British parents who had all the answers. And when I became up there and I decided I was going to involve my children in divisions, and I’ll never forget my 14-year-old son at the time saying, “Why are you asking me, mom? You’re the parent.” And that was an indicator to me that I’ve gone too far, you know, that I actually had gone pass the stage of knowing where my boundary was and parenting is very different than leading, I totally understand that, but there are these invisible boundaries that when we go passed we have to recognize and realize where they are.


Maureen:  You know, it’s a brilliant example because I can point to a business organization where the general manager had the same perspective you did with your children. “I want to create by and I want to give people a voice,” of course I’m going to ask them. And he heard almost the same team excluding the word “parent.” “You’re in-charge, why are you asking us to do your job?”


Lesley:  And so there’s this very important aspect that I think we’re coming to the end and I’m really sad, but there’s this really interesting difference “leader’s lead.” And so, in doing so, it’s finding where that boundary sits in terms of where we are accountable and responsible for taking charge. And that doesn’t mean that we are at the head of the mountain and taking the hill. I mean, it means that we actually know that there are times where we are totally accountable for directing, and times when we are really responsible for engaging and asking.


Maureen:  And knowing when to do each is the magic of leadership.


Lesley:  Well, on that note, I’m going to say, thank you so much. I’m going to be giving the listeners how to get in touch with you, how to take those tests. I’ve done your tests online and they’re fantastic, I really thought of very strong insight. And so, I’m going to let them know how to do that and how to get in touch with you because you’re one hell of a woman.


Maureen:  Thanks Lesley. It’s an honor to be on your show, and I look forward to doing more with you as we go forward.


Lesley:  Absolutely, my friend, absolutely.

When I think about what it takes to be a leader in today’s world, it can be quite a humbling experience. When we talk as we did with Maureen about the rate of change, it can be somewhat daunting. I’m reminded of what it takes to be a professional athlete in some of these times. You know, the investment that these folks make in their physique, in their emotional well-being, in their mental agility, and yet they have one thing that we as leaders don’t. They have a target. They know the record that they want to beat. They know their opponent’s next play, but as leaders we don’t have that luxury. We are leading others into spaces that we have not experienced before, nor have many of those that we’re leading. And yet we’re expected to create a new reality in which not only we can see what that is, but we help others to see it and then realize it through their own behavior. This takes an unusual quality of leadership, and one in which Maureen has spent an enormous amount of time understanding. To find out more about Maureen Metcalf, head over to her site at that’s M-E-T-C-A-L-F-hyphen-A-S-S-O-C-I-A-T-E-S-dot-com. I really encourage you to explore her website. It’s full of really interesting self-assessments, also she has a free trial online leadership program. Here, you can do some taste testing of your own agility in terms of your leadership and how you’re innovating your approach. I know I took all the tests and I had a really interesting set of experiences. Of course you can Jerry rig, you know your answers, but what fun is that? Why didn’t you take them and just tell the truth, and find out what really is happening in the skillset that you’re bringing to the table? Also, head over to VoiceAmerica to listen every week to Maureen on her show “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.” I know I’m an avid listener and I never failed to learn something every week from her guests who are inspiring as she is. You know where to find me at and at Facebook “Women Who Lead Radio Show,” also on Remember this is your show. I am your host Lesley Southwick-Trask. See you next time.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.