The Art of Leadership for Women (and Men)


On Monday April 13th 2015, five amazing speakers got on the stage in Calgary, Alberta, Canada to share about their New York Times Bestselling books in The Art of Leadership for Women event. They spoke to an audience of more than 1500. There were mostly women in the room with a few very enlightened and smart men!

Who was on the roster:
Liz Wiseman, CEO in Silicon Valley and author of Rookie Smarts
Brene Brown, Professor of vulnerability and author of Daring Greatly
Tara Mohr, Women’s leadership expert and author of Playing Big
Liane Davey, VP at Knightsbridge and author of You First
And finally Martha Stewart touching on her new book Living the Good Long Life.

I was completely powered up and moved by these heavy hitting stars! I’ll cut to the chase and give you the most powerful points that I took away from each speaker.

Liz Wiseman:

  1. We are the smartest, most innovative and willing to take action when we’re completely stepping out in to the unknown.
  2. Our “knowing” and experience has us stop learning , stop trusting our gut, extinguishes curiosity and allows us to become resigned.
  3. We thrive with continued challenge and are ready for the next challenge far sooner than we think.
  4. More challenge does not mean more work – most of us feel overworked and underutilized.

Brene Brown

  1. You either get courage or comfort, you can’t have both and a courageous life far outweighs a comfortable one in rewards.
  2. If you’ve stepped into the arena, you’re going to get your ass kicked sooner or later.
  3. If you’re not in the arena, I’m not interested in your feedback.
  4. Our list of people whose opinions in our lives really matters should be short and not filled with “yes men” but with people who absolutely love us and challenge us regularly.

Tara Mohr

  1. Feedback only gives us information about the person delivering the feedback.
  2. We all have inner critics that show their faces in a multitude of ways, we must be aware of them, know that they will always be there and never let them have the reigns.
  3. Find your inner mentor and leverage your “left brain” type thinking in service of this inner mentor not as the slave to it (e.g. logical, reasoning, process oriented). She has a guided visualization to find this inner mentor in her book.

Liane Davey

  1. Dysfunctional teams are rampant and can be checked out (spectators), bobble heads (all yes men), toxic (back stabbing and gossiping) or crisis addicts (where clarity of roles only comes from crisis so they strive for bigger and bigger crises).
  2. It starts with any single one of us to let our voices be heard and create better teams at work – don’t just nod your head, back-stab or disengage! Say what others won’t say.
  3. Conflict is critically important and needs to be more accepted so diversity and unique contributions can shine through. It can be done well and respectfully.

Martha Stewart

  1. We are bigger than our mistakes and can make sure that the whole of our lives reflect what we really want to contribute.
  2. Her amazing family has kept her strong. Having a strong family that has your back and believes in you makes an enormous difference.
  3. Living the good long life means looking at all of your life, diet, exercise, sleep, relationships, community – all of it.
  4. Persevere with your ideas and always try new things everywhere you can.

I am impressed that such a great event was put on by volunteers and  just 7 amazing staff from this Toronto based company. I will definitely be watching for their future events! After I get through my new reading list that is.

Please let me know what you’ve been reminded of or discovered from these points. I’d love to know if this made a difference for you.

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Sarah Laughton

Photo on 2015-04-24 at 9.31 AM

Why Books Don’t Work

I absolutely love books. I am an avid runner and I download audio books like no one’s business. As a productivity coach I am committed to being current and knowing all the things I can possibly know out there so that I can serve you the best. The only problem is, it’s a load of baloney. Knowing makes no actual difference in my life or yours.

What happens when you read a book? Do you learn the 67 habits of leadership or the 10 practices of team performance or the 21 things every manager must know, etc, etc, etc? For me what happens is that I get totally lit on fire with insights galore, my dopamine and adrenaline levels go up and I get that buzz of happiness since now I know all kinds of useful stuff. In reality, I read about 10-100 things that I can apply right now and hold on to maybe one or two. When I try them out in real life and they fail even once, I forget about them too! I get some moments of happiness and deep thoughts and no other real results. This is why most thought leaders start with a book as a teaser to their course because without the course, you’re going to forget everything in the book. And guess what, you may forget everything in the course as well.

What’s missing? ACTION and STRUCTURE.

We need to take action with anything we’ve read or it is merely entertainment, a distraction or an escape. Don’t get me wrong, those all have their place but when you’re reading a self development book, is it just for entertainment? No! It’s for expanding ourselves, taking on new ideas and new behaviors.

It’s like reading about swimming. You can’t learn to swim by reading about swimming. You must swim, flail around in the water, struggle, almost drown and then remember something you know and try it out.

How do we become good swimmers? We follow a schedule where we go to the pool regularly, we work with others and we get coaching.

To make sure this article doesn’t end up in the same pile, consider trying this with your next read:

  • Take the first tactic, strategy, approach, tip or tool mentioned in the book – ONLY ONE
  • Set up a structure to remember it, apply it, test it out, share it with others
    • This could be the 3 min plan/5 minute reflect approach:
      1. Put a reminder in your phone or computer to take 3 minutes every morning for at least a week to plan specific moments when you will apply the new item (e.g. “today – practice principle 2 of Dale Carnegie How to win friends and influence people: Show respect for other people’s opinions, never say “you’re wrong”. Opportunities – the weekly staff meeting, my client call, my kids at dinner)
      2. Set a reminder at the end of the day in your phone that says “Did you do it? What did you learn? What worked? What didn’t work? Who can you share this with?” Make notes and tell someone else what you’ve learned. We get to keep the things we talk about with another person in our brain on a whole deeper level.
  • After a week or more of doing that new thing, take on the next item

Now you may think, “That means if I read John Maxwell’s The 21 Indispensible qualities of a Leader it will take me more than 21 weeks to apply everything!” The good news is that most development books build on each other from chapter to chapter. Also, once you start this kind of ritualistic approach to taking action in your life you get better and faster at taking action. It all becomes a lot less scary. You actual won’t need to read as many books because you’re too busy being in action and actually getting results. You may start to feel…satiated and satisfied.

We are information and knowledge junkies that would rather pick up more info than get into action. To get really good at swimming, you have to spend some time swimming and you’re likely going to suck at it if you have never done it before. It won’t feel good or natural at first but after a few times in the pool, you’ll learn how to breathe more easily and get across the pool without as many breaks. You’ll be “a swimmer” and you’ll be wondering what the heck those people are doing reading about swimming and not getting wet!

Please share with me what you think about this article. If you like it please subscribe and share with others. Better yet, let’s discuss your coaching program for a more productive and happy life!

How to Drive Accountability, The Power of The Phrase “when exactly?”

Does accountability seem like a forgotten concept in our world today? How many times have you heard a colleague or friend say “I’ll call you” or “I’ll email you on that” only to never, ever hear from them again? How many times have you yourself said, “I’ll get back to you” knowing full well that there is little chance you will? Then there is the story we tell ourselves around “Well I sent them an email” or “I left a message,” as if taking one little action – which could easily be missed, forgotten or misinterpreted – is enough to make it someone else’s problem instead of our own. One thing we love to complain about is the lack of follow up or follow through we see around us. So what can we do?

First stop: How is your own accountability?

As always, the first place to look for being accountable is at your own accountability. If you are a boss, manager or leader, your team is watching you to set the tone. If you are an individual contributor, people are watching you too for how best to work, especially if you are getting results.

Do you keep up with your emails? Voice mails? Do you have a system to manage them?

The next thing I hear from clients is “It’s impossible, I get 200 new emails a day!” So what has you receiving all those emails? Your inability to say “no”? Look around at your life – what can you say no to so that everything you say yes to gets followed up or followed through with? If you say yes to everything, you won’t follow through or deliver on it all. You don’t physically have the time or energy. If “no” is too scary, try mastering the words – “I need to look at my project list and get back to you about this. Please ask me again at 10:00am in 3 days (or one week or the most realistic amount of time that will have you be ready and have reviewed your task list)”

Master the phrase “when exactly?”

Did you see what I did there in the last paragraph? I made sure to say a date and time for getting back to someone and even set them up to come to me! This is what a commitment conversation looks like:

Requester: Would you be able to do X?

The responder may say one of the following:

  1. Yes! I’ll get right on it OR
  2. Let me get back to you about that OR
  3. Is there someone else who can help you/us? I am really too busy right now

The best response to drive accountability for answers 1 or 2 are:

  1. What day and what time can you have this to me? OR
  2. When exactly will I have it/hear from you/etc?

So none of this is news but yet there is something fundamental in all of us that resists this simple, incredibly effective conversation. It will be different for all of us but it is in the ballpark of “we’re all adults here, no one has to parent each other anymore and hold each other’s hands” or “it will take too much time and be too awkward to pull out my phone, look at my calendar and book a follow up time with this person” or “it’s patronizing and micromanaging to ask for specifics.” The bottom line is we seem to want to avoid saying this at all costs. And the cost is dear.

Once you have accepted that this is something between us all, see if you can acknowledge it, and let it go. In practice it looks like this “I should probably ask Jim when he will have that write up for me but I won’t bother… Aha! That’s that human-nature thing that accountability article was talking about! No way am I going to miss this chance to get results! I better try to get specific and follow up.”

You can train yourself slowly with your family and friends. The next time someone says, “We should have you guys over for dinner,” give them a reply like, “Sounds great! Let’s see when we can do that right now so we can totally look forward to it!” Or when you mention that you’ll fix that outstanding home project to your spouse, try adding a “and I’ll do that by next Sunday!” after you’ve checked your calendar and made sure that you can of course!

Developing a new work habit is like learning to drive. At first, it takes so much conscious brainpower to look around and remember to turn on the signal, press the gas pedal just the right amount, check the mirrors, etc. By the 20th time we get behind the wheel, it doesn’t take so much and before we know it, our habits are deeply rooted and unconscious. When you’re first learning how to stop yourself in your tracks, pull out your calendar and to-do list and make sure things fit into your world BEFORE you commit, or book “by when” appointments with the people around you, it’s going to take some serious effort. But before long, you’ll be energized by your results and be in the driver’s seat with accountability!

Thanks for reading.

Sarah Laughton
Stretch Solutions Inc.

Personal Productivity Training
It’s time for you to stretch yourself!

What does productivity mean to you?

Isn’t it a great complement to receive in the workplace when you are told that you are productive? It smells of being organized, thoughtful, deliberate and able to balance day-to-day details with the bigger picture. It can also be turned on its head in a heartbeat “Ya, she’s productive alright but what good is any of that stuff she’s produced? She’s missing the mark.” We all know that just being productive is not enough; the results that we produce must be meaningful and line up with the bigger picture.

So there is the first place to look to start the journey to a more productive life: with your bigger picture. My experience with clients and from my own project work, work as a devoted parent, wife and friend have revealed that it is common to lack two fundamental skills that would greatly enhance meaningful productivity; recovery and reflection skills. When was the last time you let yourself guilt free stare at the wall? When was the last time you intensely focused on a bedtime schedule that had you getting 8 hours every night? Yes, sleep is a productivity tool. Zoning out is a productivity tool. Scientific America recently published an article on the importance of idleness and downtime to your brain’s processing network ( You know when you’ve slept on a problem and had the answer pop up in your mind a day or two later? That’s your brain’s processing network at work. It needs recovery to be productive!

Then there is the skill and art of reflecting. When was the last time you took an hour and thought about what you want your company to really be about, your family, your life? Creating clear missions for ourselves is an awesome meaningful productivity tool trick for our brains. When we decide what our life or our company is about and state it publically and proudly using present tense, our outlooks shift and the week or month’s activities show up differently. The lens in which we see our lives changes. Eliminating tasks that don’t add value to our mission or vision become much easier.

We are challenged endlessly in this age to weed out and limit the inputs so that we can actually get to work and get something done. There are no limits to the cool information, interesting things to try, neat-o things to research and to talk about with each other. Productivity is NOT doing all of those things because “doing it all” won’t get results. It will just make us very busy, running around in circles as precious time passes us by.

It’s time to create a life with strong and rigorous practices of recovery, reflection, planning AND doing.

Possible actions from this post could be:

  • Schedule bedtimes and focus intensely on getting more sleep for at least 2 weeks – log any insights you discover
  • Create a workplace vision or mission statement. Include input from everyone. Use present tense language. Make sure it’s powerful and inspiring to everyone.
  • Create a vision or mission statement for your life, family, marriage, partnership. Include input from everyone. Use present tense language. Take the time to make it sing to you.
  • When you catch yourself zoning out in your day, consider that your brain needs some processing time. Own it. Don’t judge yourself. Give your brain at least 10 minutes. Maybe go outside and stare at a tree. Observe the “aha” moments that may follow.
  • Hiring me of course! I have powerful coaching and training tools around these practices.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your feedback.

Stretch Solutions Inc

Productivity and capacity building training for individuals, groups, leaders and teams