Microaggressions: How we unintentionally injure our friends and clients

Everyone has experienced it, a brief back-handed slight wrapped in the form of praise. Sara Martin writes in this month's issue of Monitor on Psychology about the ways in which these sometimes unintentional acts leave lasting damage. She points by way of example to the "praise" that others have bestowed on Asian-American educator and author, Dr. Derald Wing Sue with repect to his "excellent" English language skills. According to Sue, such statements only serve to remind him that he is a "perpetual alien in my own country." 

As professionals, most of us do not intend aggression or ill-will towards our clients and colleagues.  It's just hard sometimes to understand what it's like to be in the other person's shoes.  What are some of the most common microaggressions you can look out for?  Here are a few suggested by Sue, Martin and others:

  • Praising the English language skills of Asian-Americans
  • Praising the articulateness of an African-American
  • Suggest that a position could be filled by a "qualified" member of any diverse group (as if that's an anomoly)
  • Speaking louder to someone who is blind
  • Commenting on the hairstyles, weight or attire of female employees
  • ignoring the partner of gay, lesbian and transgendered clients in invitations or conversation
  • Assuming that a female partner does not want to work on a weekend when a new opportunity comes along
  • Asking a Latino where he was born
  • Suggesting that "white men" view the world in a particular way
  • Suggesting that a man's taking paternity leave is not as legitimate as a woman taking maternity leave

Have you experienced a microaggression?  Let me know.  I would love to share an expanded list in a future blog.  

Thanks to Sanjay for the great photo.  

Do Women Wait Too Long Before Claiming Power?

Do women handle recognition and power differently than men?

In a recent interview, Karen Moses, Chief Operating Officer of Australia's Origin Energy put it this way:  

The key difference I see between men and women at work is that the men are prepared to demand to be heard and recognized before they have demonstrated their worth.  Women wait to be recognized well past the time when their value is clear to everyone around them.  
I encourage women to accept that they have an equal right to be there, to recognize the value of their contribution and to not apologize for their difference.  

Moses really hits it on the head.  Women on the whole undervalue their contributions and are more likely to stand back and wait for someone (often a male leader) to recognize them.  Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we valiantly lead and encourage our peers, craft novel solutions to all sorts of dilemnas, bravely take on flying monkeys and witches, yet wait for the man behind the curtain to “grant” us the power that we carried inside us from the very beginning.  

Why is it that women hold back?  Do we avoid, fear, even disdain power?  In her book Powering Up,Anne Doyle quotes Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada and a woman with a great attitude towards power: 


I love power.  I want it.  I'm power hungry. Not for myself but because when I have power I can accomplish things.  I can serve my community, I can help open doors for deserving people and I can influence decisions.  If you think you would exercise it ethically, don’t disdain power.  You must embrace it as the essential currency for making things happen.”

Put that way, embracing power seems much more authentic and congruent with my values.  What do you think?

A Landmaam and an Engineer: Investing in the Next Generation of Women Leaders

Recently I spoke to an impressive group of women leaders attending the Women's Energy Network North Texas leadership conference.  As I looked out on this successful group of women, I couldn't help but think how proud June Brooks (pictured here) would have been.  I was privileged to know Mrs. Brooks in the 1970's when I was a young woman coming of age in the oil patch town of Ardmore, Oklahoma.   An accomplished speaker who proudly introduced herself as a "landmaam," she was the only woman delegate to the World Petroleum Congress held in Tokyo in 1975.  For those not familiar with the term, a landmanrefers to men and women who handle the business end of oil, gas and mineral production. In the 1970's, most landmen were in fact men. So back then knowing a landmaam, much less one who had travelled from Ardmore all the way to Japan, was important to aspiring young women like me.  

Today, more women have entered the energy industry, but few hold top leadership positions. That's why it mattered deeply that Lisa Stewart gave a good part of her day to speak to the Women's Energy Network leadership group. Stewart, a petroleum engineer by training, Founder and CEO of Sheridan Production Partners and former President of El Paso Exploration & Production, spoke with wisdom, humility, humor and grace. (How could you expect anything less from a woman who named her company after her yellow labrador retriever?) But what mattered more than her words was her presence.  This is a woman who has a lot on her mind at the moment, including how to invest almost $3 billion in capital.  She could have met with the group by video conference or rushed in and out.  But she didn't do that.  So her presence sent a message that was more important than any words she, or those of us following her at the podium, could express:

You can do it.  Your leadership matters.  You are someone I'm willing to invest in.

Really the same message June Brooks sent back in 1975. 

So thanks to June Brooks and thanks to Lisa Stewart.  I think your investment is going to pay off.  

Women Lawyers: So many achievers, where are the leaders?

So many achievers, where are the leaders?

Her question is particularly relevant for women lawyers. In a nation where women have comprised half of law school graduates for the past 10 years, a percentage that has steadily increased from 35% in 1985, how is it that so few women fill leadership positions in law firms, industry and government? A recent survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers revealed that only 15% of equity partners in America's largest law firms are women, a number that has changed very little over the past five years. And, according to theMinority Corporate Counsel Association, only one in five Fortune 500 General Counsel is a woman. Women comprise half of American voting public, yet women comprise less then 18% of the U.S. Congress.

At a reception sponsored by Marsha Clark, former President of EDS's health care unit, I joined a group of men and women leaders who gathered to discuss these questions with Doyle, a Hall of Fame sports journalist and former auto industry leader. When it comes to moving from achiever to leader, Doyle speaks from experience. Today women sports broadcasters are commonplace, but when Doyle entered the profession, some sports teams threatened to close locker rooms to reporters altogether rather than admitting her.  Doyle persevered, succeeded and now shares her own insights and those of over 125 women leaders she interviewed for her book.

How do women achievers become leaders?  Doyle's research suggests seven components:

  1. Discover your purpose.  Know who you are, whom and what you care about deeply and lead from that awareness.
  2. Raise your voice. Get past your fears, especially of criticism from others, polish up your communications skills and share your vision.
  3. Break the rules.  Doyle says that women leaders break the rules, but they do that with skill and knowledge.  
  4. Claim power.  Don't wait for someone to give you power.  You have to claim it.
  5. Drink at dangerous waters. Travel, spend time with diverse people, interact with your rivals and take risks.  According to Doyle, it is in these "dangerous waters" that leadership is forged.
  6. Get back in the saddle.  Welcome and learn from setbacks and keep moving.
  7. Embrace the strength of your "womaninity."  To fully understand this concept, you need to read the book.  But here's the gist:  Effective women leaders don't try to be one of the guys. Rather they "relax into their own skin" and bring to the leadership table their unique skills and strengths. They often approach things differently than the guys would, but are equally or more effective.  

Why is it important for women to lead?  Doyle says "size matters."  Citing a 2009 report published byErnst & Young, Doyle reminds us that when female leadership reaches a critical mass in an organization, specifically one-third of the highest level leaders, bottom line performance increases significantly.  For the typical law firm management committee, that translates to 3 to 4 women members.

Doyle closes her book with a quote from poet and author Maya Angelou that pretty much sums it all up:

If you’re born a girl, grow up and live long enough, you can become an old female. But to become a woman is a serious matter. A woman takes responsibility for the time she takes up and the space she occupies.
— Maya Angelou

If your firm or organization has more than one-third women in top leadership positions, I would love to feature you in my blog and share with others what your experience has been.  

Lessons from the Dalai Lama on Building Relationships

Recently, I attended a talk by the Dalai Lama at Southern Methodist University's Hart Global Leaders Forum for high school students. Fortunately for me, my alma mater doled out a few extra tickets to alums and I got to watch in awe from the second balcony as his Holiness connected with those students. It was amazing and, in the process, I learned a few things from him about relationships:

1.  Walk a few steps in your client's/co-worker's/friend's cap.  As the Dalai Lama walks on to the stage, he is dressed as one would expect in a flowing magenta monk's robe.  He bows, acknowledges the audience and then smiles broadly.  With a grand gesture he dons a bright red SMU Mustangs ballcap.  And we love him.  He honors us by wearing our cap.  

When you want to connect with a client or a colleague, wear her cap, literally, figuratively or both.  For example, when you visit the factory floor (you do visit your clients-right?), how are you dressed?  Time to chuck the suit for more casual garb?  And when your office mates wear t-shirts honoring a colleague's victory over cancer do you join the group?  

2.  Acknowledge your friends.  In the front row sits First Lady Laura Bush.  The Dalai Lama recognizes and honors her, an old friend.  He recalls the times he has spent with her and President Bush.  Who are your friends?  When you visit a client, follow up with colleagues or attend a conference, do you seek out your old friends?  How do you honor them?

3.  Understand that friends need not agree.  When a young student asks what he wishes for his people, the Dalai Lama proclaims he wants a democracy, a social democracy.  He smiles broadly.  "I am a Marxist."  He stands in Dallas, TX facing his old friend Laura Bush, whom he clearly loves, and yet he confidently proclaims his belief, much different from hers and from much of the audience.  No matter.  We love him anyway.  And we know he does not criticize those who differ from his opinion in the generally conservative Texas audience.  How many relationships fail because we cannot respectfully agree to disagree?

4.  Know your stuff and be spontaneous.  As he approaches the podium to speak he looks to his aide and asks the topic for the day.  "Democracy," the aide replies.  His Holiness smiles and says to the audience that he speaks from his heart, no notes, just bringing forth what is inside him.  But make no mistake, his Holiness has thoughtfully considered his positions.  He knows where he stands and he knows his audience.  So he is well positioned to speak spontaneously.  From that flows a sincerity that engenders trust.  We see that he is speaking directly to us and that he believes deeply what he says.  We trust him and we connect with him.  

5.  Connect to other generations.  The Dalai Lama tells the audience that this Century belongs to the students in the audience who will lead us.  He understands that we must begin to pass the torch, to acknowledge that they will lead.....soon.   He connects to them.  When he drapes the ceremonial shawl around the necks of those on stage, he waits until last to honor SMU Student Body President Jake Torres and they clasp hands above their heads.  The students cheer.  When you join a meeting, reception or event, do you connect with all generations?  

6.  Walk the walk.  The Dalai Lama was ordained to be the political and spiritual leader of the Tibentan people.  But he believes that religion and government should be separate and that the political leader should be democratically elected.  So he changed the system.  Now the Tibetan people have a duly elected Prime Minister, Samdhong Rinpoche.  His Holiness tells us that he remains the spiritual leader.  He smiles and explains that he could not call for others to be democratic if he did not do the same.  A good message for all of us.  Walk the walk.  Show others that you are true to who you say you are.  Consistently doing what you say you will do will inspire loyalty in others over time.

7.  Happy People Build Better Relationships.  The Dalai Lama has attended to serious business in his life:  leading the Tibetan people in exile, negotiating with the Chinese government, being a champion for peace resulting in his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Yet, he says that our primary purpose in life is to be happy.  And why not?  Happy people build great relationships.  They bring something extra to each undertaking and tend to be more successful in their work and lives.   

There is no doubt in my mind that the audience left that day feeling happier and more connected to others, and that those who came in contact with them that day caught a bit of the infectuous happiness of the Dalai Lama.  

So here's to great relationships and even greater happiness!

Do Your Clients Know How Often You Think About Them?

Last weekend I had a computer crisis that I resolved via Apple's online chat support.  I typed my question and hit "Send."  Immediately a thought bubble appeared on the chat screen.  I love the thought bubble.  It tells me:

I heard you. Don’t worry that I haven’t responded with an answer yet. What you said is intriguing. And I’m thinking about it right now so I can give you a response.

Just like me, clients (and all people for that matter) want to know you care about them, even when they are not paying you to do that.  Chances are they know you are smart and competent or they wouldn't be your client.  But they need to be reminded often that you have their best interests at heart.

In person, you sometimes do that without being aware of it, by your body language, words and shout outs as you pass them in the hall. But when you are communicating remotely, by email, chat, etc., if you don't tell them you are thinking about them, how will they know?   

Here are few ideas:

  1. When you think about a client, send her an email and let her know.  Example:  "Yesterday at our firm lunch, several of my colleagues asked about you.  It made me think how much I appreciate you as a friend and client." 
  2. When a client sends an email request and you don't know the answer, send a quick reply back...."Let me give this some thought."  As your thinking and research progresses, keep him updated.  I often do this with requests that are sent to a group with the idea that not all will have a response, such as requests for referrals or recommendations.
  3. When you come across a new idea, article, or concept, ask which client might be interested, send her the information and tell her why you thought it would be helpful to her and her company.  

How to Accomplish More By Doing Less

Tomorrow I leave for a 2 week vacation in France. As I pull the excess stuff from my overpacked suitcase, I'm applying the wisdom of Leo Babauta's book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Business and in Life, summarized beautifully by Josh Kaufman.  If you don't have time to read the book (the very reason you should read the book), then get a preview by reading Josh's synopsis.  Here are just a few of the big ideas from The Power of Less as summarized in Josh's words:

1. Simplicity means identifying what’s essential, then eliminating the rest.
2. Focusing on the essential produces the most results for the least effort.
3.You must set limits – they don’t set themselves.
4. Focus on only one thing at a time.
5.Limit your active goals and projects to no more than 3-4 at a time.
6. Establish three Most Important Tasks (MITs) every day, and do those before working on anything else.
7. Batch similar tasks together to preserve your focus.
8. Installing positive habits is easiest when you start small, then build on your early success.
9. Consciously minimize your active commitments, and don’t be afraid to say “no” to new ones.
10. Slow down, pay attention, and enjoy the process.

Wish me luck as I accomplish my 3 most important tasks for the day, packing, communicating with others regarding the trip and selecting some great spots to visit.  Suggestions welcome!


Want great leadership? You get what you pay for.

Are you tired of starting new initiatives only to see them fall by the wayside?  Perhaps it is because you are asking for one thing but rewarding another when compensation time rolls around.  

Leadership expert Pat Asp says that the reality is you get exactly what you pay for.  Want diversity, loyal employees, happy clients, a harassment- and jerk- free work place?  (By the way, many of these "soft" concepts correlate to long-term economic success and sustainability for your organization).  Then according to Asp, you must reward behaviors that achieve just that:

If you put in on their W-2s, their hearts and minds will follow.

Asp should know.  She led business units of over 1000 employees and $300 million in revenues and served as Senior Vice President Strategic Management and Performance at The ServiceMaster Company.  Asp points to other proven methods for sustaining the workplace culture you value and making the message stick:

  1. Monitor and measure results and performance.  
  2. In meetings and communications where you share metrics, the metrics you use to measure the initiative must be kept in proportionate importance to other business metrics.  The agenda spot where you put the metrics for diversity, employee turnover, client satisfaction, or anything else you say you value, sends a bold message about how you really feel.
  3. When senior leaders (even the CEO and Board) don't walk the walk, you must address the gapsEVEN IF THEY ARE PERFORMING WELL ON THE OTHER METRICS (for example, generating profits).

Want to develop a great business plan? Play to your strengths

Have you ever tried to accomplish a goal that required you to be someone that you are not?  Lately I've been working with lawyers who participate in my colleague Cordell Parvin's business development coaching groups.  This issue of being authentic keeps coming up.  

I'm just not a sales person type.  I don't like giving speeches.  It feels wrong to ask a friend for business.  Please don't ask me to take people I don't know to lunch.

The Clifton Strengthsfinder is a great tool to help you discover the natural talents you can leverage to develop stronger relationships with clients.  And you don't have to be someone you are not or do things that feel wrong to you in the process.  The truth is that when it comes to business development, one size doesn't fit all.   

As a young lawyer I had 2 role models for client development and they couldn't have been more different. The first, whom I will call Frank, graduated from the local law school, smoked cigars and played golf.  He was brilliant, but you wouldn't know it from casual conversation.  He was a big "teddy bear" who projected a laid back attitude and could ususally be found with his feet propped up on his desk.  He was inattentive to detail and a bit sloppy in his appearance.  He was quick to show irritation but equally quick to forgive. His clients tended to be much like him, local businessmen and women who had succeeded on a big scale, loved golf and were more concerned with getting the deal done than with the details.

George on the other hand dressed meticulously, taught Sunday school, attended a prestigious law school and maintained a very businsess like, almost professorial, demeanor with his clients.  He never lost his cool.  He had a great practice filled with referrals from other attorneys across the country.  They knew him through his writing and speaking or through his law school referral network.  His clients were primarily large banks and insurance companies who valued his care, attention to detail and businesslike demeanor.

What did George and Frank have in common in addition to being excellent lawyers?  Each knew his natural talents and strengths and used those to develop clients in his law practice.  The Strengthsfinder is a great assessment for helping you learn what your talents are.  I've used the Strengthsfinder with hundreds of attorneys.  They like it because it is positive in nature and it focuses on what they can do rather than on weakness and things they cannot do.  

Ready to give it a try?

Here a few tips for using the Strengthsfinder:

  1. You will need a code to take the online Strengthsfinder assessement.  To get the code, buyStrengthsfinder 2.0 at any major bookseller or buy an ebook version if you want to get started right away. You can also get the code in other books published by Gallup such as Strengths Based Leadership.
  2. Block out about 30 minutes to take the assessment.
  3. Answer truthfully.  There are no right or wrong answers.
  4. You'll get a downloadable PDF report that tells you your top five talent themes and ideas for action.  Take time to read it and answer the questions.
  5. If your aim is to use the assessment for business development ideas, look at the ideas for action contained in the PDF report.  Ask how each idea might be applied to building client relationships and business.  Some will fit and others will not.  You only need to find a few to make the effort worthwhile.
  6. Questions?  Drop me an email.  I would love to hear from you. 

What do Lawyers and Pinot Noir Grapes Have in Common?

Last week I heard fellow lawyer/psychologist Larry Richard of Hildebrandt present his research on lawyer personalities to a conference of psychologists held in Napa.  When Larry describes lawyer personalities (he has collected data on over 40,000 of us), regular folks are often most surprised to hear that lawyers are as a group "thin-skinned."  

If you are a lawyer, it's more likely that you don't take criticism well and it offends you more than it does the average person. You also have more trouble bouncing back.  When it comes to criticism, these psychologists assumed lawyers could "take it" because lawyers "dish it out."  But the opposite is true. When outside the well-defined boundaries of the legal battlefield, lawyers are easily wounded by criticism so they avoid difficult conversations and conflict.  

Following Larry's presentation, the group went on a vineyard tour where we learned that pinot is the lawyer of grapes-- thin skinned and easily bruised.  So few pinot grapes survive to harvest that it has earned the reputation of being difficult to cultivate, arduous to grow and prone to rot.  But as any wine lover will tell you, pinot is worth the trouble.  

So if you are a pinot noir kind of lawyer, how do you survive to harvest?  

Bottom line--you must develop resilience.  The American Psychological Association recommends ten ways to do just that:

  1. Connect with others such as friends and family.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems by changing how you interpret stressful events.
  3. Take steps towards your goals.
  4. Take action to address the stressful situation rather than avoiding it.
  5. Look for the opportunity in adversity to learn about yourself and to grow.  
  6. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  7. Maintain a long-term perspective.  Don't blow things out of proportion. 
  8. Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  9. Take care of yourself by eating healthily, exercising and relaxing.
  10. Identify other practices that help you bounce back from stress such as meditation, spiritual practice or writing.

What do Lawyers and Pinot Noir Grapes Have in Common?



  1. They are both thin-skinned and easily bruised.
  2. When carefully and fully developed to harvest, they both produce something extraordinary.  

Three Questions Every Leader Should Ask

Dr. Dale Thompson and his team at Leadership Worth Following study leaders--more specifically “worthy” leaders, those who “guide, direct, or influence people in a way that has great merit, character and value.” 

Dale’s team identified three key characteristics shared by worthy leaders:

  1. Capacity to Lead-the knowledge, skills, acumen and vision to lead
  2. Commitment to Lead –the desire to lead
  3. Character to Lead-actually leading with integrity, courage and humility when the going gets tough and no one is looking

As you decide to take on, or continue in, a leadership position, start with these 3 questions: 

  1. Can I do it?  Is this a leadership position I can do well?  Do I have the needed decision-making skills, legal and business knowledge?  Do I have the energy and adaptability to stay the course? 
  2. Do I want it?  Am I passionate about this undertaking and achieving great results for the group?  Do I strongly want success for this group?  Am I willing to build and develop the people in the group?  Am I committed to my own personal growth in the process?  Am I committed to the firm, my group members and my clients?  Do I want success and excellence enough to make the commitment that is required?
  3. Will I behave with character when the going gets tough?  Is this a role I actually will fulfill with integrity and ethics, openness, courage and humility?  When I am pushed by others behaving badly, expectations that seem impossible to achieve, and with group members who don’t do what they say they will do or just don’t show up, will I nevertheless do the right thing regardless of the personal cost?

If you want to know more, check out the full article:  "The Search for Worthy Leadership" [PDF].