If you want to be a great leader, consider going through leadership coaching to hone your skills. Penny Zenker’s guest today is Jennifer Chapman, the founder and president of Ambition Leadership. In this episode, Penny and Jennifer discuss the importance of communication. When done right, communication increases the productivity of the team. Asking questions is a great way to make sure you understand what the other person said. You’ll also learn Jennifer’s favorite time management tools that keep her on top of her game. Join in the conversation to learn more!
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What Makes You A Great Leader: Leadership Coaching With Jennifer Chapman
I’m looking for people across different disciplines who are going to help you to work smarter. We’re going to talk about communication and how important that is in terms of boosting your productivity. If you can’t manage your relationships because our relationships are everything, that is one of the cruxes of productivity when we’re working together with a team, when we want to collaborate, innovate and simply move projects forward. I am super excited to have Jennifer Chapman with us. She used to be a workaholic. She was known as the go-to person for getting things done and managing more difficult customers and clients. She has thrived on challenging situations and proving to others that she was invincible, which can’t be true. Nobody is invincible.
When her mental and physical health began to take a hit, which many of you might be able to appreciate, especially with the pressure that we’ve been under the pandemic, she began the journey to create that work-life balance that she valued and wanted. Jennifer is an expert leadership coach who works with clients who want to be more confident, authentic, successful, productive and have that work-life balance. She especially enjoys helping leaders who have been promoted through functional expertise, those people who are so good at what they do that they get promoted, but they haven’t been trained in how to be managers. That is a key area. Jennifer, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you.
Asking questions helps you make sure you're on the same page with the other person. Click To Tweet Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
It’s interesting that you started out in your bio by talking about being a workaholic. Give us a little bit about your journey and what your biggest lesson was there because there are a lot of people who can relate. Surprisingly enough, the pandemic has created more workaholics because we’re working in our homes and people don’t know when to shut down. That’s a relevant topic to touch on at the beginning of our conversation.
My greatest lesson learned was like you said in my intro, I am not invincible. That sounds so silly and yet there was a real part of me that thought I could work endless hours and do amazing things. I worked in an organization that fostered that culture. It was totally normal to work 70, 80 hours a week and then even some of my friends. I lived in Washington DC at the time. My friends were attorneys. They worked on the Hill, “We all worked 70 to 80 hours a week. That was just normal.” I put everything I had. My identity got wrapped up even into my job. It happened at a couple of different points where I had some health problems with sinus infections and then I was having migraine issues.
My father passed away unexpectedly. That was in 2011. What was fascinating with that was my dad passed the day before my youngest brother’s wedding. Here we are doing all the wedding stuff. People talk about the grieving aspect of death. Nobody talks about the logistics that go with death. On the day of my brother’s wedding, I was buying a burial plot, selecting a casket and notifying friends and loved ones. It was insane. I ended up taking a two-week leave of absence between handling the funeral and then the wedding stuff for my brother. It was that experience where I was two weeks away from the office that I learned the world didn’t stop because I wasn’t there. Life continued. I had a fantastic team that ran like clockwork while I was gone. It was such an epiphany to me that I can take a vacation and not check my email and everything is going to be just fine.
The world will not fall down and crumble around us.
There are other wonderful people who can do fantastic things. If you’re doing your job as a good leader, you should be able to have a team that can carry on just fine in an unexpected absence. Between the health issues, I was having and then being gone and seeing that the world didn’t fall apart without me, those things together gave me permission to be a lot more intentional about my work boundaries, what kind of a culture I wanted to work in and how many hours I wanted to work on a weekend. Why? What was my goal in working so much or working less? That was life-changing for me.
A lot of times, it is those hard times that teach us the biggest lesson. It’s been difficult. 2020 certainly was not an easy year. Hopefully, you’re also taking some valuable lessons from it and maybe one of them is that you’re not invincible. One of the things that you said that I want to highlight is you talked about identity. Your identity might have been tied up in your work. What came up for me that I thought was interesting about connecting that is I wonder if sometimes we think that the number of hours that we work is also a little bit tied up in our identity. That’s why sometimes it’s hard to let go. We get caught up in, “Just do one more thing,” that perfectionism or what I call over-functioning type of behavior. What do you think about that having gone through that experience? Do you think there’s something to that?
For anybody who has worked in a profession where they have billable hours, I see it would be easy to equate success and accomplishment to how many hours you’ve built. I see this in the medical professions. I see this in attorneys and consultants. The biggest danger is even allowing ourselves to measure our success by anything external. I work a lot with leaders who have great instincts and they’re doing just fine, but they lack confidence. If people can own what their strengths are and be willing to admit that you’re not perfect. What some of those development areas are, people, you’ve got to figure out for yourself, “What does success mean for me?” and not letting it be defined even by your boss. I know some people are freaking out that I said that. “What about my performance appraisal?” Yes, what about it?
When I go and speak to billable hours type of companies, they are different. You have to segment the mentality of those that are billable hours and those that are project-oriented. That’s the way the company measures success. How do you deal with that? How do you reconcile that with you personally, what the company goals are and how you’re going to be evaluated because you didn’t hit the billable hours or you have to work insane overtime in order to hit those because you’ve got administrative work as well?
What I do for myself and what I recommend for my clients is before you look at any external metrics that, at least once a year, you go through an exercise of, “What do I want to accomplish? What are my professional goals? How do I know I’m doing a good job?” Maybe some of those are feedback that you get from colleagues. It might be that you create a product and there is somebody else thanking you or confirming that you did a good job. Come up with for you what matters. When you have to look at the external measurements for your success, such as what’s going to go on a performance review, then you can decide how much weight you want to give those different things. It might even be that you just consciously decide, “I am willing to take a hit on my performance review because I’ll prioritize something else.”
For example, when I was working at a Fortune 500 consulting firm, I look back on that time of my life and how many billable hours, how much time I had to spend bringing in new business, writing government proposals and managing my team. It was crazy what was on my plate. Somehow in the middle of all that, I decided to go through a coaching program. I’d never known what a coach was. I ended up overseeing a leadership project that had coaching as a component. As soon as I started working with the coaches for the first time in my life, I felt, “Now, I know what I want to be when I grow up.”
Without even thinking about it logistically, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it and make time for it. I signed up. I got accepted to a coaching program. It was an amazing experience. I look back on that and how I fit it in. In the midst of me going through that program, I had three days a month that I had to be in person in the class. Right before one of those three-day periods, I got asked to lead a proposal for my company. It was very high visibility. There was some stuff in my background that made me the perfect person to lead it. I said, “I would love to help you with this, but I am in class for the next three days. I won’t be available enough to do that. Can I recommend some other people?”
I also said, “I’d be happy to review things in the evenings, but I’m not the one to lead it.” They were like, “Okay, fine.” They had me play a small role and got someone else to lead it. Guess what showed up on my performance appraisal? I got dinged for saying no. When I first read it, my face got red. I started feeling mad, but then I was like, “Jen, you said no because you were saying yes to your coaching program and you could not have done both.” It’s okay to not get an exceeds on everything every year because that might not be where you decide to put your time and energy.
Good for you. That’s the thing that we don’t exercise enough is saying no. In this case, you got dinged for it. I also think that there are managers out there who would respect that and would rather you say no if it’s not within your capacity. That does depend on who you’re working for and what their style of leadership is. Also, managing those expectations is an important part. We’re going to talk about communication a little bit. Maybe that can be a dovetail into talking about communication and leadership at any level.
In your focus, you talked about working with people who are experts in what they do and then they get promoted to manager. It’s like somebody who’s doing the billable hours or the engineer, lawyer or whatever. It’s because they’re so good at what they do, they get to work with a lot of other people on the team, but they don’t necessarily have those managerial skills. Being more productive in that role, what are some tips that you would say for somebody who is newly promoted as an expert into a role like that? What are some things that they can do to be more effective and efficient in their job?
The one thing I would say is to know that you’re not just limited to saying yes or no. In fact, a lot of people think they’re only allowed to say yes because with any other answer, “I’m going to be looked upon negatively.” That’s not true. If somebody asked you to take care of a project or get you something by this time, sometimes if you say, “Yes, I can do that. I have the competency. I have the time,” then say yes. No is a scary word. There is a time and a place to say no, but then I also want to suggest two alternatives. These are highlighted in a book called Language and the Pursuit of Happiness by Chalmers Brothers. He said, “In addition to yes or no, you can also commit to commit and you can counteroffer.”
Commit to commit, this is the one where you get taken off guard and someone throws something on your plate. You just nod or say yes because you’re tongue-tied and you don’t even know what to say. Pre-pandemic, this was walking down the hall to a meeting and somebody walking past you the other way saying, “Jen, can you get me the report at 2:00 PM,” and then just keeps on walking. They assume the yes. That doesn’t happen in the same way with us working virtually, but it still happens. You get the IM, phone call or whatever, “Can you drop everything and do something?”
Instead of reacting and saying yes or reacting and saying no, you can say, “Let me check my calendar or let me look back at my project deadlines. Can I get back to you even an hour from now?” I’m being casual with your audience, but be firm with whoever is asking this to you and say, “Yes, let me check what I’ve got going on. I’ll let you know for sure by 4:00 PM.” Keep that commitment because then if you don’t, they’re going to see that as a way for you to procrastinate and get out of things. That gives you time to take a breath, look at everything you’ve got going on and say, “If I switch this thing around, I think I could get that reported by Thursday. There’s no way I could make that happen.”
That takes us to counteroffer. With counteroffer, like what I did with the proposal I was mentioning when I was in that coaching program. A counteroffer is saying a condition that would need to change in order for you to say yes. “I couldn’t make my schedule different because of the coaching program I was in,” but I did offer, “I could play a role as a subject-matter expert if that would be helpful on this proposal.” I also offered, “I know so-and-so who would be great at it.” One of the people I recommended had never led a proposal before and I said, “I’d be happy to mentor her offline and help bring her up to speed to what she needs to do to lead this.” I didn’t just abandon them, but I offered help in a way that I knew I had the capacity and that I could keep that commitment.
It’s true that people assume that if they don’t say yes, then there’s trouble. They have to say yes. I love the whole idea of the commit to commit and the counteroffer because they’re the alternatives. It’s not a concrete yes. It’s a, “Let me check and I’ll get back to you.” That’s respectful and it gives you the chance to check your capacity. To add in the middle there or with both of those is, ask questions. I don’t know why we don’t use this valuable tool to understand and get clarification on what we’re being asked. “What does that entail? Let’s break it down. Is it possible when you do the counteroffer?”
Before you hit a counteroffer, ask a couple of questions and find out, “Could the delivery be broken out into three parts so that you could extend and get the things that are most important?” If somebody says, “I need it by 2:00 PM,” say, “That seems tight for my schedule. Is it possible to break that out?” You’re engaging in a conversation and that will save you, but it also gets them to think more about, “How urgent is this?” Also, maybe there is an opportunity to create a win-win so that the most important part gets there by the time they need it, but the other parts can be completed at a later time. I like that. This is important at any level. Whether any time that you’re working with your clients, a manager, a boss or anything, even with your family, these are across the board valuable tools to be able to use.
I liked when you mentioned asking questions that it also helps us make sure we’re on the same page with the other person. I’ve been asked to do a report. In my head, I thought it was ten pages of text when all they were looking for was one PowerPoint slide. It’s a completely different scenario here. I see it a lot in many industries where I coach that people make assumptions based on what they’re used to but maybe the person asking for it isn’t in the same line of work. What a report or a summary is for this group is completely different from this other group.
No one is invincible. Click To Tweet Also, what’s urgent is completely different. If somebody says, “Get me that as soon as possible,” does that mean this day? Does that mean this week? We definitely have to ask questions to make sure we’re managing each other’s expectations on the same page.
Like close of business, for some people, that’s 5:00 PM. Some people, that’s 3:00 PM. When I worked at a consulting firm, that was midnight or before everybody woke up the next morning.
That’s important. That extra couple of hours can make or break the delivery there. I know that doing, managing and juggling all those things that you were in the past and all the things that you do now mean that you’ve got some time management and productivity tricks up your sleeve too of what works for you. A couple of quick questions around that area. What would you say if I were to delete everything off of your phone, computer, boring email and schedule, what are the first apps that you would install that you count on day-to-day to be more productive?
I would say I couldn’t live without my online calendar. Associated with my calendar is an app called Calendly that I love. I know there are several out there, but I found Calendly syncs so well. For anybody who uses the Google Suite as the foundation for their email and calendar, they sync wonderfully together. That’s an app that lets you control the availability of what hours you want to be available for different kinds of meetings and then you send a link out to people. Instead of spending forever going back and forth on IM, email, phone or text trying to find a time that works for both of you, you just send the link and they compare it to their availability. That’s been a huge time-saver for me.
Another app I like is Doodle. That one is great if you’re trying to schedule a meeting with multiple people and all those email teams where, “I can do Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 1:00 to 3:00.” The next person is like, “I don’t work on Fridays.” Somebody else is like, “On Wednesday, I do this and that.” It gets so muddy. You can’t even follow it. With Doodle, you send this link out to people who fill out their availability and then it shows you, “These are the times when everyone is free. There are no times when everyone is free.” You know then, “Are there people who don’t need to be a part of this process? Can they delegate somebody to go in there instead?” You can problem-solve it. Yes, Doodle is fantastic for organizing group meetings.
One more? Anything else?
I would say Marco Polo. It’s like a video messaging app. Instead of leaving a voicemail for someone, you’re leaving a video for somebody. It can be super short. It can be several minutes. I had primarily used that as a way to keep in touch with my family because we’re Coast-to-Coast in different time zones. It’s been a fun way to stay connected without worrying you’re going to wake somebody up at some weird time for them.
I’ve started using it for work where I have a communication specialist, for example. She helps me with my social media, newsletters and such. Sometimes she’ll send me a Polo, “Jen, I just wanted to remind you I need X or Y from you by such and such time. We’re getting ready to do a blog post on New Year’s resolutions. Can you leave me a Polo with two minutes about New Year’s resolutions?” It’s a lot easier to talk and get things done than to take time to open the right document, save it and send it. I’ve enjoyed talking into an app and knowing I’m done.
People are always looking for a shortcut. Do you have anything that’s your biggest shortcut? Some of them might be the apps that we already talked about. Like ask it in that way that maybe comes up that helps to make your day more successful and productive?
I would always say every morning or you can do this the night before. Set your intentionality out about the day. What’s your must-have list? What’s your nice-to-have list? What’s your, “I will deal with this later,” list? I find that if I don’t get intentional about what I want to be doing and what I need to be doing, then the day gets taken over by everything and everybody else. If that’s the way you’re living your life, I bet you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed 100% of the time.
That will help you to focus on some of the things that are most important.
One thing I did this summer that was new for me was I worked with a coach, who helped me create what he calls a minifesto instead of a manifesto. I have a minifesto about who I am, what my values are and what I feel like my purpose is. For my business, “Where do I see my business at?” For those who aren’t entrepreneurs, “What do you see your role is in the organization where you are?” From that, “What do I believe to be true?” and then holding everything I do up to that lens.
If it doesn’t fit into, “This is how I want to show up and this is what I find valuable,” that I either need to dismiss, delegate or reframe it. I do a lot of reframing where there are tasks that suck the life out of me. I’m getting better and better about identifying and delegating them when I can or outsource it or whatever. With reframing, there are things that I do that I can’t delegate that are part of my job. Let’s talk about invoicing. I hate invoicing. I delegate it as much as I can. That’s a great reframe.
You don’t like the admin, but you like the result that your invoice gives.
Yes. I am invoicing because I want to get paid. I’m going to be so excited or I had to do some reports this week that I don’t enjoy doing. Instead of being like, “I hate these reports,” it’s, “I’m getting paid to do these reports and that is allowing me then to have the flexibility to do a lot of the work that I love.”
It’s all about the perspective and the angle that we look at anything. That makes a lot of sense. I’m a big reframer as well. I think that it’s probably one of the most powerful tools that we have to create more energy, create more meaning in our lives and focus on the things that are most important.
It’s something in our control. There are a lot of people probably reading this blog who feel like they have very little control in the job they have or in the organization they have. There are certainly instances where that would be true. At the same time, you can completely control your mindset. A lot of times, people aren’t so sure they want to take that responsibility, but when you do, when you claim and reframe it, then that feeling is incredible because you go from feeling stunted and crouched at a little corner to full and you can stand up in your shoulder’s back. I’m in charge of my destiny. Anyone can feel that way.
It changes the result that we get. If you can frame something as, “They’re against me. This an attack or whatever,” then that’s going to totally determine the results that you get about that interaction in that relationship. If you framed it in a different way, you would interact with those people in a different way and get a different result. What’s your definition of productivity and why?
I thought a lot about that question when you posed it. Instead of a definition, I have a vision for productivity. That vision is, “Loving what you’re doing so much that you don’t even worry about the productivity.” When we’re in that sweet spot of the work we’re passionate about and the work we’re good at in an environment that supports it, then it’s like, “I know what I need to do.” The prioritizing, the challenge about it is, “Do I do this thing that I’m excited about or this thing that I’m excited about?” What a great way to live. What a great mindset to have. When I’m in that zone, then I am not worried about what distractions I need to get rid of. I’m not stressed out about time.
They just fall away. When you’re clear and you’re in that space, then you don’t get distracted. You know what it is you’re working on. You’re passionate about it. You say no to everything else. I know that we covered a bunch of different areas. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with the audience?
Yes. We talked about communication. I think people often do not underscore the importance of communication in the workplace. A concern I have for 2021 is that 1 of 2 things is going to happen with interpersonal relationships in the workplace. One is we’ve all been just in survival mode, worried about getting stuff done and probably not paid a whole lot of attention to the interpersonal. We’re going to go back to the workplace and it’s going to be weird. It’s almost like we’re going to have to relearn the social norms and how to handle when someone pops into your office and you’re in the middle of doing something. What do you say? The water cooler talk, we’re totally out of practice with that.
The other thing that could happen is we have another year of working at home. We’re past this time where we can say, “This is temporary.” If this truly is the new workforce to be working virtually and working from home, we are going to have to come up with ways to stay connected to people. Just because you don’t see these people all the time does not at all lessen the importance of those interpersonal relationships. This is the, “Penny, I know you’re super good with this. Can you help me?” and being comfortable asking for help.
It’s knowing that somebody that you work with had a death in the family and to be able to say, “I acknowledged that and I feel sorry for you.” We’re going to have to figure out new ways to be connected as people. Otherwise, it won’t take long before we see the impact, then it’s going to be very detrimental to the productivity, efficiency and synergy that comes from working together. We’re going to feel like a bunch of robots working in a job.
I definitely think there’s a challenge. This novelty has worn off the flexibility that’s given that things are not in place. There’s not a communication plan. People are even more distracted because they’re using ten different tools and they’re expected to be online. There needs to be some more structure in place for certain things that never had a structure before and maybe didn’t need a structure or definition for how we’re going to communicate about different types of topics.
It’s going to be an important time for leaders in their organization to step back, see what’s working and what’s not working and also make that commitment to the communication and interpersonal aspects of it. If you’re not exchanging, hanging out and talking to each other about each other’s lives, you go from maybe having people who are engaged and own what they do to being more of a transaction. That is not going to be good for business and team collaboration when it’s just merely a transaction in that sense.
Gallup did a study a few years ago. We’re at a point now where normally, without the pandemic, we have 2/3 of our workforce that is disengaged. For every engaged person you have, you got two who aren’t. We’ve got this culture now where you’re swimming upstream if you’re wanting to be an engaged person. I’d love to know what those same numbers would be post-pandemic.
It would be interesting what happened as a result. There were some interesting statistics that came out about meetings. There was one study I saw that said that there are less meetings being held. Interestingly enough, another one said more meetings are being held. It depends on the context. It would be interesting to see what is happening with engagement and whether in what types of organizations and how people are getting people engaged.
I’ve been hired for several types of motivational talks for groups that are saying, “Why don’t you come in? I want you to do something fun with the group and help us not just to learn something but also to have a fun and interactive team building together.” It’s important that companies invest in that and understand that even if you’re not present, you can still do those types of things. You can still have book clubs and those types of things that connect people at a more interpersonal level. Thank you so much for all that you’ve shared. I wanted you to tell us where people can reach you. Give us the best URL in how they can contact you.
People can reach me at AmbitionLeadership.com. Right on my homepage, you can schedule a free consultation with me if you want to learn more about what I do. I am also offering a special on an emotional intelligence, social skills, people skills type of assessment. That comes with a debrief with me if people are interested in seeing how they measure up with their interpersonal skills.
Thank you so much, Jennifer. It’s great having you here.
If you're doing your job as a good leader, you should be able to have a team that can carry on just fine in an unexpected absence. Click To Tweet Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun. Thank you, Penny.
Thank you all for your participation. I hope you’ve taken notes. That’s important that each time, you write down some things and then identify, “What’s the top thing that you could take away from this show that’s going to make the biggest difference in your life?” There were lots of different things discussed. I guarantee there was one thing that you could implement or that you could ask yourself or think about differently that’s going to make a difference for you. That’s our goal here, to help you to work smarter. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Jennifer Chapman
Jennifer used to be a workaholic, known as the go-to person for getting things done and managing the most difficult customers or clients. She thrived on challenging situations and proving to others that she was invincible. But when her mental and physical health began to take a hit, and she began a journey to create a work and personal life that aligned with what she valued and wanted most. Now she has the job she wants, an independent confidence from within, and the ability to bring her authentic self into everything she does at work. She’s more successful—in terms of happiness, financial security, and her ability to help others—than she’s ever been.
Jennifer is an expert leadership coach who works with clients who want to be more confident, more authentic, and more successful. She especially enjoys helping leaders who have been promoted through functional expertise embrace their roles as people managers.
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